When I began this project people asked me two questions: firstly, who was Alice Salomon, and following my answer, how would I make art from social reform and social work? The first question indicates the importance of doing the project, the second illustrates the difficulty.
Alice Salomon is an inspiring figure not only for her numerous achievements but for her open minded and cosmopolitan attitude to life. She possessed a rare combination of skills including intelligence, intuition and pragmatism at a time when women of her social class were denied higher education and were expected to remain in the home. Her autobiography “Character is Destiny”, the last book she wrote, sadly published only 40 years after her death, provided a basis for my research. A mirror of history, an account of social justice and injustice, it raised many questions in my mind regarding her identity from personal, cultural and historical perspectives.
The most remarkable things happen as I trace the past and connect to the present through my art. New discoveries and intense moments are experienced. And not always alone. Alice Salomon accompanied me during the months of painting, cutting, and pasting, my Berlin studio windows closed to prevent the fragments of paper from flying around. It was difficult to keep all the legible information in the collages visible, as was making a choice amongst the vast number of Alice Salomon’s acquaintances, colleagues and friends. Finding suitable photographs of these people was not always possible and this influenced the decision. I would have liked to include more of her colleagues, for example the social worker Siddy Wronsky and Dr. Franziska Tiburtius, who studied medicine in Zürich, to mention only two.
I knew little about Alice Salomon until I met Isabel Morgenstern in February 2016, at the Mitte Museum in Berlin during my exhibition “Kaufhaus N. Israel, 1815 – 1939”. Both Isabel and I deal with memory in our work and she wrote to me suggesting the names of five women for a future project. So firstly, I must thank Isabel for her gesture.
I spent a lot of time at the Alice Salomon Archives which is near my Berlin studio, and I am grateful to Prof. Dr. Sabine Toppe and Carina Huestegge for their interest and assistance in supplying information especially in giving me the original unabridged English version of Alice Salomon’s autobiography to read. The description on Engelberg, which reveals the artistic and poetic side of Alice Salomon’s personality, was omitted in the published version. Engelberg raised associations to another town in Switzerland, Geneva, closer to my home in the French part of the country. Switzerland was not only a tourist destination for Alice Salomon. For her international work she came to Geneva every autumn and in 1934 stayed six months to do research on schools for social work.
For my research I found a lot of information online, thanks to the Leo Baeck Institute, the Jewish Women’s Archive, Wikipedia, and online libraries.
I am grateful to the three institutions which have financially supported this edition: Stiftung ZURÜCKGEBEN, the Ursula Lachnit-Fixson Stiftung, and the Gerda-Weiler-Stiftung; to Claudia Berger, who has been a strong source of support, and to Dr Adriane Feustel, founder of the Alice Salomon Archives, who willingly shared and discussed her knowledge, and contributed her essay to my book; to Nina Lustig, Public Relations, Johannisches Sozialwerk e.V. for sending me photographs of the Franz Mendelssohn family and house concert room; to friends Ines Heinrich, Andrea Siemsen and Dr Maureen Stoessel, my brother-in-law John Eliasov, my husband Hervé Petroz, my neighbours Irmgard and Dieprand von Richthofen, all of whom helped in different ways to collect material; to Dr Petra Lange, Joerg Hammer, Marguerite Marcus, Carolina Winkler, Ayana Halpern and Ulrike Hofmann for their encouragement, to Beatrixe Klein and Kim Engels from the frauen museum wiesbaden for their interest in my project from the very start.