Once Upon a Time:
Art of Jewish Children in Germany on the Eve of World War II
The exhibition is a gift of Düsseldorf, Haifa’s sister city, to mark the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence.
Curators of the exhibition: Bernd Kreuter, Stadtmuseum, Düsseldorf & Adi Selach, Haifa Museums, Israel.
At the heart of the present exhibition are fifty paintings by Jewish children in Germany on the eve of the Second World War.
Jewish children were among the first to experience the change in the social climate before and during the Nazis’ rise to power. In 1933, regulations were announced, limiting the number of Jewish pupils in the general education system. The race studies that were introduced in the school curriculum led to a terrible sense of inferiority, and the children suffered from alienation, social ostracism, persecution and harassment from their former classmates.
The pictures reflect the innocence and hope of childhood, but not without expressions of fear. Art gave the children space to dream and be free, a chance to ‘unload’ their anxieties and give expression to their inner world. The high standard of the artwork is a tribute to Levin, who found a way to touch his pupils’ souls. In the end, most of them perished in the Holocaust.
The pictures were selected from a unique collection of over 1,800 items, part of the estate of artist and teacher Julo Levin (born 1901, perished in Auschwitz, 1943). His close friends worked hard to save Levin’s works and preserve his legacy, and donated the collection to the Stadtmuseum of Düsseldorf.
The relationship between teachers and students was close and free. The children found refuge in the school from the constant tension. The memories of teachers and students teach about the warm relationship, the informal atmosphere and the great use of humor that alleviated the distress, even for a while.
In 1936 the artist Julo Levin joined the staff of the Jewish school as an art teacher. Levin was a promising artist at the beginning of his career when his career was cut short when Hitler came to power. He is persecuted as a Jew and a political activist who opposed the regime. He and his fellow artists were forbidden to exhibit and even paint in their private studio.
Julo Levin aims to strengthen the spirit of the children, and art studies are designed to contribute to this. The paintings of his students presented in the exhibition deal with the contents of travel and emigration, Bible stories and Jewish holidays, family and community life, and relate to the children’s close and distant environment:
Art, portraits, subjects from literature, peoples and distant cultures. The paintings reflect innocence And hope, alongside an expression of fears and emotional emptiness. They tell about the inner freedom teachers and students Were able to find the persecution.
Alongside the paintings are also photographs of the city of Düsseldorf in the years preceding the war. These are intended to illustrate the urban environment in which the children were raised – the public spaces in which they walked and played, the human landscape and the style of clothing and the city’s sights.
The school and the adjacent synagogue were destroyed on Kristallnacht, in November 1938. The school reopened in a different location, under increasingly difficult conditions, until the final closing of all Jewish schools in Germany in June 1942.