Special exhibition: Ludwig Meidner

Ludwig Meidner - “Suffering of the Jews in Poland”

Ludwig Meidner, Trek of People, 1942-45
Ludwig Meidner, Trek of People, 1942-45, from the cycle "Suffering of the Jews in Poland" or "Massacres in Poland", charcoal, chalk, 56,6 x 74,8 cm
photo: Herbert Fischer, © Ludwig Meidner-Archiv, Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main, Inv. no. JMF1994-0007 II-1028
Special exhibition: Ludwig Meidner

Ludwig Meidner - “Suffering of the Jews in Poland”

… and from 1942 onwards I followed with stunned horror the news of the remorseless extermination of the Jewish people by the Germans ...

Ludwig Meidner, Hinweis auf mich selbst [Referring to myself], 1944 (?)

At the end of 1942, around the time of his release from internment, Meidner began a cycle of watercolors and charcoal drawings addressing the systematic murder of Jews committed in the course of what the Nazis referred to as the "final solution to the Jewish question". In a letter to friends in South America he wrote:

"For weeks now I have been working on a cycle of watercolors titled 'The Suffering of the Jews in Poland'. This work has compelled me to think constantly about the fate of my brothers. My intention is to create images that are vivid, clear and unembellished without being sensationalist or excessively crass. Four of these compositions are finished, and I plan to do around twenty. They approach the tragedy very realistically. Mysticism has nothing to do with this work." (letter from Ludwig Meidner to Hilde and Walter Rosenbaum dated January 13/20, 1943, Institut Mathildenhöhe, Städtische Kunstsammlung Darmstadt, at Stadtarchiv Darmstadt, ST 45 Meidner 1184)

Meidner initially titled the cycle "Suffering of the Jews in Poland" and later "Massacres in Poland", describing it in one instance as made up of 42 images, in another 45, and later even referring to two cycles on this theme made up of a total of 50 images. The cycle is not a homogenous pictorial series with a unified structure or a clear order but is instead composed of works done in a range of techniques that address the theme of genocide in different ways. Along with images that show the persecution of the Jews more indirectly – for instance, in the form of groups of suffering figures or refugees – there are extremely dramatic depictions of mass shootings and gas chambers.

Further reading:
Shulamith Behr, Ludwig Meidner: Exil, Kreativität und Holocaustbewusstsein, in: Horcher in die Zeit. Ludwig Meidner im Exil (exhibition catalog Museum Giersch der Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main), Munich 2016, pp. 148-161.
Kathrin Hoffmann-Curtius, Bilder zum Judenmord. Eine kommentierte Sichtung der Malerei und Zeichenkunst in Deutschland von 1945 bis zum Auschwitz-Prozess, Marburg 2014.
Heuberger, Georg (Ed.), Ludwig und Else Meidner (exhibition catalog Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt, Ben Uri Gallery, London), Frankfurt a. M. 2002.
Tobias G. Natter (Ed.), Im Nacken das Sternemeer. Ludwig Meidner – Ein deutscher Expressionist, (exhibition catalog Jüdisches Museum Wien) Vienne, 2001.