Fritz Hirschberger: Sur-Rational Paintings
Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1912. His father came from the Austrian partition lands of Poland in Galicia, and his mother from Bohemia. Both were Jewish. Hirschberger received a traditional liberal arts education in 1930's Dresden. During his studies he developed affection for the painting of the Renaissance, especially the works of Giotto and Dürer, as well as the German Expressionists of the 1920’s.
In 1938, Hirschberger and his family were arrested by the
Gestapo, as Polish-Jewish aliens and expelled to Poland, his father’s native land. His family was forced at gunpoint by armed SS men to cross the border into Poland.
In September 1939 Hirschberger fought in the Polish Army against the invading Nazis. After the defeat of Poland on September 15, his regiment no longer existed and he fled into the Soviet Occupied Zone. Here, Hirschberger was arrested by NKVD the Soviet Secret Police for being a member of the Zionist organization the
Betar. Subsequently he was sentenced to 21 years and shipped to a slave labor camp in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Komi, behind the Polar Circle.
On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. As a result the Soviets joined the Allies to fight against the German’s. Hirsch
berger, at the time was considered a political prisoner and set free to either fight in the Polish “Anders” Army or Soviet forces. Hirschberger fought with the Ander’s Army in North Africa against General Erwin Rommel and participated in the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.
After the war Hershberger, discovered that his father had been killedat the
Dora labor camp during the Holocaust but that his fiancée Gisela was alive and living in England. The Hirschberger’s came to America in 1948, settling in New York where he worked with various artists at the New School on 12th Street. In 1984 he and his family moved to San Francisco where he lived until his death on January 8, 2004.
Artist Statement: Fritz Hirschberger (PDF) Hirschberger: Other Works
1) The Same Fire
Melting the tallow heretics
Ousting the Jews
Their thick palls flow
Over the cicatrix of Poland, burnt-out
They do not die.
Grey birds obsess my heart,
Mouth-ash, of eye,
They settle. On the high
That emptied one man into space
The ovens glowed like heavens? Incandescent
It is a heart,
This holocaust I walk in,
O golden child the world will kill and eat.
Mary's Son, by Sylvia Plath
Locations at the bottom of the painting: *AUSCHWITZ*BELSEN*CHELMO*
2) LET US PRAY THE PERFIDIOUS JEWS
NULILA SALUS EXTRA
(NO SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH)
The first part of the title is taken from a prayer that was part of the Roman Catholic liturgy until it was rescinded by the Second Vatican Council (1965).
In 1984 a small group of Carmelite nuns established a convent at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in a building that had stored Zyklon B the prussic acid used in the gas chambers to exterminate the victims of the Nazis. In addition the nuns erected a huge cross in front of the building. The nuns believe that praying over the dead would hasten the return of their souls to Jesus. It is morbid and ironic that when the 1,500,000 Jews were murdered at Auschwitz the ones who wanted to rob the souls of the murdered Jews, were silent then.
Despite an agreement reached in 1987 between the European Jewish Congress and the Cardinals of Lyon, Brussels and Poland to relocate, the nuns refused to move to a site away from the Auschwitz camp, now a museum. In February 1990 ground was broken to build an interfaith center outside the camp to settle the dispute between the Polish Catholic Church and the international Jewish organizations. In December 1996, the nuns agreed to remove religious symbols and give up ownership rights to the cloister adjacent to Auschwitz. They moved to a location several kilometers away from the Auschwitz State Museum.
3) THE CONCORDAT
On July 8th, 1933, the year Hitler came to power in Germany, the Vatican signed an agreement (Concordat) with Hitler, by which the Nazi government promised to respect Roman Catholic rights, practices and institutions in Nazi Germany. In return the Vatican and the German Catholic clergy would support the authoritarian and nationalist stances of the Third Reich.
Historians believe this agreement helped end resistance to the Hitler and political parties that had Catholic roots were abolished. Individual clerics continued to speak out against the Nazis and were among the detained and murdered in German concentration camps.
4) "Zyklon B"
with death color,
forgetting the blue
of the sea
to pour death
to take away
deceiving with the
Alice Rogoff, San Francisco 1991
Zyklon "B," prussic acid in the form of amethyst-colored crystals, was used in Auschwitz and other extermination camps to murder by gassing the victims of the Nazis. The crystals were dropped through openings in the ceiling of the gas chambers. To fool the victims and to avoid panic, the gas chambers were disguised with fake shower heads to look like regular showers.
Fear not your enemies,
for they can only kill you.
Fear not your friends,
for they can only betray you.
Fear only the indifferent,
who permit the killers and
betrayers to walk safely on earth.
Yiddish poet who survived the Shoah
only to die in a Communist prison in Poland.
6) DARKNESS U. S. A.
On January 21st, 1943, the Polish Jewish National Committee (ZKN, the political arm of the Polish Jewish Combat Organization ZOB, sent a radio message to New York addressed to Stephen Wise of the American Jewish Congress, Nahum Goldman of the World Jewish Congress and to George Bocker of the Joint Distribution Committee. It notified them of:
The greatest crime of all times, about the murder of millions of Jews in Poland. Poised on the brink of annihilation of the still surviving Jews, we ask you:
1. Revenge against the Germans.
2. Force the Hitlerites to halt the murder.
3. Fight for our lives and our honor.
4. Contact the neutral countries.
5. Rescue 10,000 children through exchange
6. 500,000 dollars for purposes of aid.
Brothers - the remaining Jews in Poland live with the awareness that in the most terrible days of our history you did not come to our aid. Respond at least in the last days of our life. At 6 A.M. on Passover eve, April 19th, 1943, the "last days" began for the Warsaw Jewry as heavily armed SS troops began the total annihilation of the Warsaw ghetto.
7) THE SUN AND THE MOON
SHINE ON ALL: THE MUTE, THE BLIND, THE DEAF
This image is a variant of the "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" theme. The Catholic priest on the left has no mouth; the Rabbi in the center has no eyes; the Protestant Minister on the right has no ears. This is the artist's commentary on the indifference of the outside world toward genocide, especially by religious leadership.
8) PUPPETS ON A STRING
"Puppets on a String" refers to the manipulation of German Jews after the rise of Hitler to power on January 30, 1933. More than 2000 laws were passed limiting the rights of Jews.The artist suggests they became like puppets, unable to act with any freedom within Germany, and without sufficient possibilities to seek places of refuge.
9)TWO JEWISH MOTHERS
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE
In this painting, the artist, using the image of the Virgin Mary and Jesus and a Jewish mother and child in a concentration camp, asks whether there was some problem with the "good news" of the birth of Christ for Christians, and whether that story was part of a 2000 year history of anti-Judaism that somehow led to the Holocaust.
10) SEMPER IDEM
(Always The Same)
Poland, 1946. After the defeat of the Nazis, over 1000 Jews, survivors of the Nazi death camps, were murdered by Poles when they returned to their homes, while the Polish Security Police and clergy stood idly by. After the Shoah, in June 1946, the Jewish population in Poland was 240,489. In July 1946, when the pogroms (attacks) against the Jews in Poland reached their most serious point, about 150,000 terror stricken Jews fled Poland. The remaining Jews, about 80,000, became victims of the 1967 and 1969 anti-Jewish terror campaign by the ruling Communist government. As a result most Jews were forced to leave Poland. Thus after living uninterrupted for 1000 years in Poland, through the combined effort of the Nazis, the Poles and the Communists, the Jewish population of Poland was reduced from over 3,200,000 in 1939 to less than 10,000 in the seventies.
The names in the painting refer to places where pogroms occurred against Jews AFTER liberation, mainly in 1946: Kielce, Lublin, Crakow, Turek, Bogeslaw and other cities.
11) Deutsche Kammermusik(German Chamber Music)
At Auschwitz/Birkenau extermination camp some of the world's finest musicians were forced to perform for the amusement of the Nazi SS guards, while their Jewish victims were tortured and gassed. Henry Meyer, a cousin of the artist, played the violin in one of the death camp orchestras at Auschwitz/Birkenau. He survived and became a protege of Isaac Stern. Henry Meyer and three other survivors of the Shoah, founded the world famous "La Salle" string quartet.
12) AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE WHAT FORGIVENESS ?
The artist poses the question of whether the Nazis can be forgiven for their crimes not only against Jews, but others who suffered during their regime and World War II. Simon Wiesenthal, in his book THE SUNFLOWER, suggests that the forgiveness question is one that must be worked out between the perpetrator and victim, if the latter is still alive and in contact, or between the perpetrator and God.
The title of the painting comes from a line in T.S. Eliot's poem
"Gerontion" from 1920:
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What's not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what's thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.
The poem ends with the lines:
"Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season."
Which may have been the root of the image in this painting.
13) THE HYPOCRITICAL OATH!
The image refers to the medicial experimentation done on inmates at various concentration camps. The most infamous experiments were at Dachau (hypothermia and high-altitude experiments), Dr. Mengele's lethal experiments on twins at Auschwitz and simulated gunshot experiments on women at Ravensbreuck. The paradox of the Nazi era was that an order from Goering in October, 1933, prohibited experimentation on animals.One of the results of the medical aspects of the Holocaust was the Nuremberg Code for Medicine, 1947.
14) ARBEIT MACHT FREI
Slogan over the main entrance to the extermination camp Auschwitz.
Many artists during and after the Holocaust used the image of a crucified
Christ to represent the Jewish people. In this image, "Work Makes You Free" replaces the typical Latin INRI in Christian iconography, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."
It is believed that "Arbeit Macht Frei" originated with the inscription on the gates of the Dachau concentration camp, outside of Munich, which opened in April 1933. It may have had roots in the slogans of the Nazi Party during the 1930s. Most camps duplicated this phrase, with Buchenwald being the exception having the inscription "Jedem Das Seine" at the entrance ("To Each his own."). Simon Garfield in "Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World" (Norton, 2002) states that the original use of the phrase "Arbeit macht Frei" was a slogn on posters to discourage unionization at the I.G. Farben synthetic rubber plant at Buna before it used slave labor and was the Auschwitz administrtion. In 1941 the new plant became Auschwitz-III-Monowitz. However, it seems logical to assume that "Arbeit Macht Frei" was borrowed from the concentration camps inside of Germany, as Auschwitz III-Monowitz/Buna was not in action until 1943. Also, historian Carl Schorske points out that the term "Wissenschaft Macht Frei" ("Science liberates") was popular in Vienna after 1885.
Some sources believe that SS General Theodor Eicke was responsible for the slogan on the concentration camps.
15) THE LAST SUPPER AT EVIAN
THE FISH STINKS FIRST FROM THE HEAD
Delegates from over thirty nations met at Evian, France, from July 6th to July 14th to find a solution to the plight of the "involuntary immigrants" (Jews who had fled Nazi Germany to save their lives). The conference resolved nothing. With the exceptions of Denmark and the Netherlands, the refugees were either refused admittance or only accepted under small limited quotas by other European countries or the United States. The Dominican Republic, in a strange episode, offered to take in 100,000 Jews. 5,000 visas were issued but only 645 refugees actually came to the island.
Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, took the refugees partially as a compensation deal because of his order in 1937 to kill 25,000-30,000 Haitian illegal aliens who had crossed the Dominican border. The massacres, called by some historians a "genocide," was an event taken up by the US State Department and Pan American Union in 1937.
The delegates to Evian resolved to meet again in the future. Another meeting did take place, The Bermuda Conference, (April 19 - 29, 1943), but produced no results again.
Evian represents a critical turning point in Hitler's policy toward Jews. It confirmed his suspicion that the rest of the world would not act with force to protect the Jews. Emigration of German, Austrian and Jews from the Reich became difficult. The Nazi thinking switched from emigration to "enlosung," or "Final solution." This meant mass murder.
16) THE CHILDREN'S HOME AT JOZEFlNSKA STREET
"At Jozefinska Street, the Germans started to liquidate the "KINDERHEIM" (Home for Children). Wagons arrived into which the children were loaded. The small ones were thrown into baskets and carried to the wagons, several at a time. The older were led to the square and shot at the corner of the blind alley."
From the book
The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish gentile pharmacist who owned and operated a pharmacy in the ghetto, and an eyewitness to the murder of the children. Publisher "The Holocaust Library," New York. Originally published in Poland.
To understand the iconography in this painting see,
St. George and the Dragon.
17) MARTYR NUMBER 44074
Born a Jew, Edith Stein converted to Catholicism and became a nun before Hitler assumed power in Germany. She lived as a Catholic, yet she died in 1942 in an Auschwitz gas chamber as Jew number 44074, during the time of the Concordat.
Edith Stein is recognized by the Vatican as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Discalced Carmelite and was canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church on October 11, 1998. Her canonization caused much debate between Jewish and Catholic groups. Did she die as a Jew (she had four Jewish grandparents and thus qualfied "racially" as a Jew under the Nuremberg Law (1935), or did she die as a Catholic and because of miracles attributed to her as a nun?
18) THE LAST LESSON
A Nazi guard talking to a nine year old Jewish boy who is on his way to be gassed in an Auschwitz gas chamber:
"Well my boy, you know a lot for your age"
"I know that I know a lot, and I also know
that I won't learn any more,"
replies the boy.
From the sworn testimony of witness Wolken. 1965 trial of Nazi criminals. Frankfurt am Main, Germany. From the book account Auschwitz,; page 88, by B. Nauman. Publisher F. A. Praeger, New York, NY.
19) HERR LANDAU COMES HOME
Arrested in September 1939 in Hamburg, Germany, by the Nazis; Mr. Landau was shipped to the notorious concentration camp "Dachau," located in Bavaria about 15 km northwest of Munich. While in Dachau, Mr. Landau was murdered and cremated by the SS camp guards. His ashes, in a cigar box, are then delivered by an official of the Gestapo (Secret State Police) to the home of the Landau family in Hamburg. There the guard threw the cigar box on the kitchen table in front of Mrs. Sala Landau and her daughters, 11 year old Karin and 16 year old Cecille. When asked about the meaning of the box, The Gestapo man's only cynical reply was: "Mr. Landau!"
Mrs. Sala Landau died of starvation in the Lodz ghetto. Karin was murdered by Nazis. Cecille miraculously survived the Shoah. From the German edition of the book
don Asche zum Leben published in 1992. Author Lucille Eichengreen nee Cecille Landau.
Eichengreen's book is available in English under the title,
. FROM ASHES TO LIFE
20) THE WAY OF ALL MY FISH
THE STIGMA OF FRAGMENTS OF MEMORY
The painting is suggesting of a parent sitting in the foreground with a small rocking horse, and the horrible memory of the loss of his family in a gas chamber, marked in the image as "bath house." The artist suggests that those who have been through the Holocaust can never fully recover from it, especially the negative memories of loss.
This exhibition can be booked for loan through CHGS. Terms: No rental fee. Gallery or museum site pays transport expense. Requires 150 running feet of space and secured area.
Photos at the top of the page.
Fritz Hirschberger in uniform of the Polish Anders Army in Berlin, 1946, with "Basia" a German shepherd dog "liberated" from the Germany military after a battle in Italy.
Fritz Hirschberger after El Alamein in the Western Desert 1943. Hirschberger served in the Polish "Anders" Army.
Linked Photos: Family, Taken in 1913.Fritz is on his mother Hermine's lap. The other people in the photo were friends of the family,the Schäfer's who fed them during World War I. They all remained friends untl til the Hirschberger's were deported from Germany to Poland in 1938. The Schäfer boy in the photo died at the Battle of Kiev.
Father, Photo of Hirschberger's father's ID card.
Pages updated 2012.