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  • Writer's pictureAli Assareh


Charlotte Salomon’s story shook me to my core when I first heard it. I immediately bought her masterpiece, LIFE? OR THEATRE?

Born in 1917, Charlotte lost her mother to suicide when she was only 8 - though she grew up thinking her mother had died of influenza.

In 1938, Nazis sent Charlotte’s father to the camps, and Charlotte fled to her grandparents’ in France.

There, her grandfather revealed to her that her mother had actually committed suicide. Not only that, but that her aunt, great grandmother, great uncle, and grandmother’s nephew had also all committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, Charlotte’s grandmother also committed suicide.

Trying to make sense of all this personal, and societal, tragedy, between 1941 & 1943 Charlotte drew a series of 769 autobiographical paintings, layered with texts, captions & notes – titled, beautifully, LIFE? OR THEATRE?

In 1943, as the Nazi encirclement drew closer, Charlotte mailed the collection to a local doctor. In her note, she wrote, “Keep this safe, it is my whole life.”

Charlotte was transported to Auschwitz on October 7 1943, and gassed there on October 10, 1943.

Life, or theater?

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