Felix Nussbaum is a German artist born in 1904 who died after being deported to Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 40. Felix Nussbaum is known as a self-taught artist. Felix Nussbaum was granted a scholarship in Rome by the Berlin Academy of the Arts and he was there when Hitler went to visit the students in the Eternal City to explain how real Aryan artists had to be shaped: glorifying pure-bred men, the values, strength and impetus. Felix Nussbaum then understood that his existence as an artist was about to finish and that possibly his life was in danger too. Felix Nussbaum was, in fact, Jewish. During the following ten years, his dreams crashed and he lived in fear and despair, fleeing and avoiding violence.
Running away with his beloved Felka Platek (a painter met while studying who became his wife during the exile in Brussels) didn’t help, warning his parents to stay away from the Third Reich didn’t help either: they missed home and decided to go back. When they said goodbye it was the last time they saw each other. When the Nazi fury stroke in Belgium in 1940, he was arrested because considered a “hostile alien German”, an unwanted person, an illegal migrant. He was then sent to a work camp in France, the dark violence of those days is fully expressed in his paintings that became increasingly claustrophobic until he was sent to Germany. He managed to run away and reunite with his wife; he lived the next four years as a fugitive supported only by friends and acquaintances because he didn’t have papers to work. His most famous paintings date from this time: Self Portrait with Jewish Identity Card and Triumph of Death. He and his wife were discovered and faced their inevitable fate. A month later, they disappeared anonymously. Jews with numbers XXVI/284 and XXVI/285 were killed.
The city of Osnabrück – proud for its long-standing tradition of peace together with its twin town Münster- hosts a Museum entirely dedicate to Felix Nussbaum. That’s where I have met this artist for the first time and I remember crying while looking at his paintings, to the point that a man working there asked me if I was ok. We started talking and I realised how many Mr Joyful Walnut-trees we lose every day without even realising it. How many geniuses, artists, doctors, architects, musicians, and philosophers we lose, deaf and blind to the Sea Holocaust. How many are victims of our abuses and targets of a despicable manhunt. How much talent do we lose simply because we don’t have the guts to admit that we are men and women children of a single seed that wants to reproduce in space and time. Yet another tragedy struck at sea yesterday. We don’t even count them anymore, the deaths; but we know that we could cobble the sea with their dreams. Numbers are mixed up and nothing makes sense. A thousand, ten, a hundred, twenty. Each one of them with a story that we will never know, each one with a talent that can no longer improve our world, each one with broken hearts and hopes. And with their lungs full of a sea that was meant to save them. In 2015, dying of hope amid general indifference is not acceptable. We will not be able to justify it to future generations. We won’t be able to say “I didn’t know.” We all knew it all, but we are not interested in people dying before our eyes. We haven’t learnt anything. Meanwhile the lifeblood of many Mr Joyful Walnut-trees dies.
* Joyful Walnut-tree is the literal translation of the artist’s name, the first thing I thought when entering the museum was that this was a fortunate coincidence.
This post was written after the umpteenth report of deaths but has been in store for a very long time. This post is dedicate to all those who died of hope.
Translation by Francesca Colantuoni
Original text in Italian by Maria Grazia Patania
As a translator -more than as a friend of hers- I would like to thank Francesca for the great job she did. I wrote the original text and I can guarantee everyone that while reading her translation I feel the same feelings as when reading mine. This text was written in August, but the situation has not improved at all. It has become even worse.
Maria Grazia Patania