A Young Woman Who Was Meant to Kill Herself

Jeremy Harding

  • Life? Or Theatre? by Charlotte Salomon
    Duckworth, 840 pp, £125.00, September 2017, ISBN 978 1 71565 247 0
  • Charlotte by David Foenkinos, translated by Sam Taylor
    Canongate, 224 pp, £8.99, January 2018, ISBN 978 1 78211 796 4
  • Charlotte Salomon and the Theatre of Memory by Griselda Pollock
    Yale, 542 pp, £45.00, March 2018, ISBN 978 0 300 10072 3
  • Charlotte Salomon: ‘Life? Or Theatre?’ A Selection of 450 Gouaches by Judith Belinfante and Evelyn Benesch
    Taschen, 599 pp, £30.00, November 2017, ISBN 978 3 8365 7077 0

The commune of Gurs in the foothills of the Pyrenees is famous for its internment camp, built by the French to house fugitives from Spain after the Republic fell to Franco in 1939. A succession of internees went through the camp before it closed on New Year’s Eve 1945. With the Spanish Republicans came International Brigade volunteers who couldn’t get home – Germans, Austrians, Poles. After the Nazi invasion in May 1940, the French began detaining ‘enemy aliens’: anyone of German (or Austrian or Sudeten) origin, including refugees from the Nazis, was suspect. The drafts of ‘undesirables’ in the summer of 1940 included nearly ten thousand women, hundreds with young children. Several were well known: Hannah Arendt; Dora Benjamin, Walter’s sister; Marta Feuchtwanger, wife of Lion; the actress Dita Parlö, whose character falls in love with Jean Gabin’s in La Grande Illusion; Lisa Fittko, a passeuse who risked her life guiding scores of refugees out of France across the Pyrenees – among them Walter Benjamin – before leaving by the same route. Several artists produced memorial sketches and artefacts, a practice begun by Spanish Republicans.

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