The lives, legacies of Charlotte Salomon, Anne Frank

Gillian Walnes points out the use of color and style in some of the striking paintings of Charlotte Salomon. Cofounder and executive director of The Anne Frank Trust UK, she toured a Salomon exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie. | Geoff Scheerer/Sun-Times Media
Gillian Walnes points out the use of color and style in some of the striking paintings of Charlotte Salomon. Cofounder and executive director of The Anne Frank Trust UK, she toured a Salomon exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie. | Geoff Scheerer/Sun-Times Media
Mike Isaacs
misaacs@pioneerlocal.com | @SKReview_Mike
Aug. 6 6:05 a.m.

SKOKIE — Artist Charlotte Salomon and writer Anne Frank regularly get mentioned together. They both were killed by the Nazis at a young age during the Holocaust, leaving behind a monumental work likely to live on forever. The lesser known Salomon’s legacy rests in her series of remarkable paintings depicting her life — Frank’s, of course, in her iconic diary that has been read all over the world.

• Charlotte Salomon was born in 1916 in Berlin and was killed in 1943 in Auschwitz. She was 26 and pregnant. Anne Frank was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Weimar Germany and was killed in 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, She was 15.

• Charlotte Salomon created a series of paintings — more than a thousand individual works mostly painted between 1941 and 1943 in the south of France. She called the series “Life? Or Theater?” Anne Frank received an autograph book for her 13th birthday in 1942. She used it as her diary and chronicled her life in what became “Diary of a Young Girl.”

• Following the war, Charlotte Salomon’s paintings were discovered when her father and step-mother went looking for their daughter’s belongings. Charlotte had given “Life? Or Theater?” to a local doctor and friend and asked that it be preserved. Anne Frank’s diary came into the hands of Otto Frank in 1945, after he learned he lost his wife and two daughters in the Holocaust, Miep Gies, who helped hide the Frank family before they were arrested, gave Otto Frank the diary and a bundle of loose notes. She saved them in the hope of returning them to Anne.

• Charlotte Salomon’s paintings featured some dark turns in her family’s life including a string of suicides on the female side. It’s possible that Charlotte’s father was not so eager for all of these expressions to be shared with the public. Anne Frank’s diary was honest about the difficult relationship she sometimes had with her mother. Otto Frank, her father, was eager to share the diary with the world, but not these particular parts.

• Charlotte Salomon’s works remained with her parents for 10 years before they were given to a museum. The collection is under the control of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, the same city where Anne Frank hid. The Anne Frank diary was first published in Germany and France in 1950. It was rejected by several publishers before being published in 1952 in the United Kingdom and the United States.

• Charlotte Salomon’s works have been displayed at different exhibitions and have been the subject of a documentary film, a play and a new opera that opened in Salzburg. Anne Frank’s diary has been published throughout the world in various edited editions. The full unabridged edition was published in 1997. The diary has inspired movies, a play, books and more. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where the Frank family was hidden from the Nazis, has become a popular museum attracting thousands of people every year.

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