Thursday, October 25, 2012


A walk through the Kathe Kollwitz Museum on the Neumarkt Passage in Cologne is a journey through the life of a woman, who used her art and talent to show her deep concern for the less fortunate. Her’s was a lifelong fight against social injustice. The large imposing self-portrait that greets one at the entrance is of an unsmiling woman, strong and determined to leave ‘footprints on the sands of Time.’ The museum is bright and airy. Spread over 1000 feet, it is the largest collection of her work, from charcoal drawings to etchings, lithography and sculptures in bronze.
Kathe Kollwitz (nee Schmidt) was born in Konigsberg, Russia on the 8th of July, 1867. Her father Karl Schmidt  a social democrat, brought up his children to be sensitive to the plight of the poor and working class. Her maternal grandfather Julian Rupp a Lutheran priest, also exerted a positive influence on her vis-s-vis Religion and Socialism.
Kathe was given to fits of depression from an early age.She also frequently suffered from migraine and hallucinations. However, this did not detract from her artistic talents. At the age of 12, her father arranged for her to take lessons from a local copper engraver. She also made plaster casts and copied the work of famous artists. By the age of 16, she was already drawing pictures of peasants and working class people.
As women were not enrolled in colleges in Russia, Kathe attended a Women’s Arts College in Berlin. She was greatly influenced by the work of Max Klinger and paid special attention not only to his techniques but also to his social concerns. In Berlin, she developed a deep friendship with fellow artist Emma Jeep. Their friendship lasted for many years. As it was difficult to find models, Emma posed for her in the nude in the privacy of their rooms. Later,they both transferred to an Arts College in Munich where they completed their education.
Emma was unhappy with Kathe’s decision to get married. She felt marriage would stand in the way of Kathe’s progress in Arts. But Kathe was not one to be easily influenced. She married Dr. Karl Kollwitz a member of the SDP, who worked in the poorer section of Berlin. In his clinic she learnt more about the lives of ordinary people, especially women who came there with multiple complaints. At first, she was only attracted to proletarian life. But later, she was touched with compassion by their sad stories. It was here that she learnt to “extract the emotional content from every situation and reproduce it.”
Kathe’s cycle of work on “The Weavers” was inspired by a play by Gerhart Hauptmann describing the oppression of Siberian weavers in 1842, and their failed revolt against industrialization. In five years, she produced six works depicting poverty, death, conspiracy and street marches. These canvases brought her wide acclaim.
Her second cycle of work was on the Peasants’ War of 1525. This too was inspired by another play of Gerhardt Hauptmann. Her series of pictures described the violence and carnage that followed after the peasants’ revolt against feudal lords and church leaders.
From 1901 to 1904 Kathe studied sculpture in Paris. In 1907 she spent a year in Florence as part of the Villa Roman Prize she won. Here she was exposed to Medieval and Renaissance Art. Kathe decided early in her career that she had no feeling for colour and its subtle uses. In 1909, ahe began to experiment with sculpture.
Kathe went into deep depression after the death of her son Peter, in World War I 1914. Out of this grief was born the sculpture of her famous work “Grieving Parents,” which stands today in the Vladso German cemetery, as a memorial to her son.
In 1919, Kathe was the first woman to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts. It ensured a regular income, a studio and full Professorship at the Academy. But in spite of all her fame and achievements she was unimpressed by worldly possessions and lived in the poor quarter of Berlin.
Kathe’s self portraits are 84 in all. Some said they were ‘psychological milestones’ depicting her quest for self appraisal. Sadly there is not even a smile in any one of them. It makes her look stern, unfeeling and humourless. But she was extremely kind and unassuming. According to her interviewer Agnes Smedley, Kathe’s rule of life was ‘Love.’
Being a socialist and a pacifist, she spoke against war. “There has been enough dying. Let there not be another war,” she said. She was an active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. But her anti-war posters and pamphlets against war, hunger, deprivation did not go well with those in power. In 1933, she was forced to resign her place in the Academy of Arts, and stripped of all privileges. Her work was removed from all the museums and art galleries. She was banned from exhibiting her work. Yet her pictures of ‘Mother and Child’ were used for Nazi propaganda without her permission.
Kathe now began to work from her own small studio. From 1930 onwards it seems that she was preoccupied with the subject of Death. Her eight pictures in this section are deeply disturbing and reflect the state of chronic grief in her mind.
In July 1936, both she and her husband were threatened by the Gestapo, who wanted to send them to a concentration camp. The couple decided to commit suicide rather than imprisonment. But the order had to be rescinded because of public outcry. Kathe was too famous to be ill treated.
After the death of her husband in1940, Kathe went through another episode of depression. In1943, her house was bombed and many of her drawings, prints and documents were destroyed. She moved to Nordhausen and then to Moritzburg near Dresden, where she spent her last days as the guest of Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony. She died on 22nd April 1945 at the age of 78. Her tomb lies in Freidrichsfelde in Berlin.

Monday, September 24, 2012


 A small plaque in the Memorial Hall at Dachau bears the name of the brave Indian Muslim woman Noor Inayat Khan, who was shot in the head at Dachau Concentration Camp on 13th September 1944. The life of this brave young woman and her contribution to the Allied effort to defeat the Nazi regime is something admirable.
Noor was of Indian Sufi origin. She was born to Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great grandson of Tipu Sultan. He lived with his family in Europe, as a musician and teacher of Sufism. He married Ora Baker of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was also a Sufi. During World War I, he moved his family to London and lived in Bloomsbury. But in 1920, the family was back in France and settled down in Suresnes near Paris.
Noor had an excellent education. She studied Child Psychology at Sorbonne and Music at the Paris Conservatory. When her father died in 1927, she had the responsibility of caring for her mother and siblings. She started writing poetry and short stories for children which were published regularly in children’s magazines and French radio. Her book of short stories for children titled “Twenty Jataka Stories” was published in London in 1939.
After the start of World War II when the Germans overran Paris in June 1940, the family had once again to flee to London.Even though she was a Sufi and a pacifist by nature, she along with her brother, decided to join the British in their war against the Nazis. In 1940, Noor enrolled in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in the rank of Aircraft Woman, IInd Class. Later in 1941, she was recruited to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in France.She received intensive training at the Special Operations Executive Schools and was posted in the Air Ministry as a wireless operator. Because of her fluency in French and her professional competence, she was transfered to the Directorate of Air Intelligence and sent to Nazi occupied France. Noor who called herself Nora Baker, worked in a group called the Physicians Network Radio Operators. It was a hazardous job and many of her colleagues were arrested by the Germans. Noor was given the choice of going back to Britain. But she opted to stay on in France and continued to remain the link between London and Paris. It was a dangerous mission, but she stoutly continued her wireless transmissions in spite of having to move from place to place. Tragically, Khan was betrayed by her own SOE officer Henri Dericourt, who was a double agent for the Abwehr.
On October 13th, 1943, she was arrested and interrogated at S.D. headquarters. Noor would not give them any information about the nature of her work or about her colleagues. They named her ‘dangerous prisoner.’ She tried to escape twice during this period. Hans Kieffer the head of the Gestapo in Paris said she gave them false information and lied consistently. But the S.D. discovered one of her note books. Contrary to service regulations, Noor had kept a record of messages sent to SOE operations in code. But the enemy could decode enough of these, to be able to send messages to Britin in her name. London failed to investigate the anamolies in these messages and considered them authentic.
On November 25th  1943, Noor once again tried to escape from S.D. headquarters with two of her colleagues by climbing on the roof. They were caught. Noor refused to sign a declaration promising not to attempt escape in the future.
Noor was the first enemy agent of SOE to be sent to Germany from France. For a while she was kept at Karlshrue, then transfered to the camp at Pforzhiem where she was handcuffed and in solitary confinement for 10 months. Labelled as ‘highly dangerous,’ the Gestapo could not break her. She gave no information about her work or her fellow operatives.
On 11thSeptember 1944, Noor whose code name was ‘Madelaine,’ was sent to Dachau with eight other female operatives. She was shot in the head on 13th September 1944. Other prisoners testified that she was severely tortured before execution. Her body was then burned in the crematorium.
Noor died with the words ‘Liberte’ on her lips. She was just 30 years old, an Indian Muslim woman who showed exemplary moral and physical courage in one year of active service as a wireless operator. Britain awarded her the George Cross posthumously. France followed by honouring her with the French Croix de Guerre and Golden Star.
 Noor Inayat Khan's personal pistol M1907is on public display at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester.

Monday, August 27, 2012



About fifteen kilometers east of Regensberg is an architectural marvel called Walhalla. It sits on a high hill overlooking the Danube and is modelled on the Pantheon. In the mid-19th century, King Ludwig I had this built as a Hall of Fame for distinguished Germans and people of German origin. It is home to 130 marble busts and 65 plaques commemorating famous Germans. On 22nd February  2003, the bust of Sophie Scholl was the last to be installed in Walhalla. It was the 60th anniversary of her execution by Hitler’s squads.
Sophie Scholl was born on 9th May 1921 in a little village called Forchtenberg. She was brought up as a Lutheran, by parents who were God-fearing and believed in the essential dignity of every human being irrespective of race, colour or social status. Her father was opposed to Hitler’s dictatorship and was imprisoned for telling one of his colleagues that Hitler was ‘God’s Scourge.’
The home where Sophie was born and grew up in is now the Town Hall at Forchtenberg. A small bust of Sophie stands in one corner.
Though at the age of 12, Sophie joined The League of German Girls, she soon became disillusioned with its practices. In 1940, when she finished High Scool, she became a kindergarden teacher with the hope of avoiding National Labour Service. But she was forced to do a compulsory stint as Nursery teacher in the Auxiliary War Service. This brought about an aversion towards Nazi ideology and practices.
In May 1942, Sophie entered the University of Munich as a student of Biology and Philosophy. Her brother Hans also was studying Medicine at the University. Her boy friend Fritz Hartnagel was serving in the Army on the Eastern Front. From him she received news about the atrocities conducted on prisoners of war and Jews.
Sophie was greatly influenced by the essays and sermons of Cardinal John Neumann. In1942, her brother Hans along with like-minded students Willi Graf and Christopher Probst secretly began to write anit-Nazi pamphlets, urging people to resist Hitler’s ideology. To start with, Sophie was not included in this group as they feared for her life. Later, they felt that as a woman, she would not raise suspicion when she went on her secret forays to distribute pamphlets.
This was the beginning of the ‘White Rose’ movement, which advocated passive resistance to Hitler’s dictatorship. The members were against anti-Semitism. They read books by Thomas Mann, Paul Claudel and others which was prohibited reading. They smuggled food to those in concentration camps and cared for relatives of prisoners. But their most important activity was authoring six anti-Nazi leaflets and secretly distributing them among University students. Some leaflets were sent to undetectable locations for distribution. They used their own pocket money for paper, envelopes, stamps, and printed them out on their typewriters.
Unfortunately, during the distribution of the sixth leaflet, they were caught by one of Hitler’s spies and sentenced to death for treason at the People’s Court, by a cruel judge called Roland Freisler. That Sophie limped into the courttoom with a broken leg was proof of the torture she underwent in jail. At her trial and sentencing, Sophie based her defence on ‘The Theology of Conscience’ referred to by Cardinal Neumann.
“Somebody afterall has to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”
Sophie and the members of the White Rose Resistance showed exceptional spiritual courage in the face of death. They were not afraid to verbalize their collective dissent against Hitler’s absolute dictatorship. Sophie recalled the words of her father when she was growing up. “What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be.”
Ironically, the sixth leaflet was smuggled out to UK and used by the Allies. They dropped millions of copies over Germany under a new title, “The Manifesto of The Students of Munich.”
 Sophie was just 21 when she and other members, were beheaded at Stadelheim Prison in Munich on 22nd February 1943. They are buried in the Perlacher Friedhof next to the prison. Her last words were ,”Such a fine day and I have to go. But what does my death matter if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred into action!”
Many children born during that time were named after Sophie and her brother. The German Major Brigitte called her the greatest German woman of the 20th century. Later, films and books were made, based on her life. The most comprehensive book released in 2009 was titled “Sophie Scholl –The Real Story of A Woman Who Defied Hitler.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012



On the Walk of Fame (Bonngasse) in Bonn, is the faded star of Johanna Kinkel, trampled upon by thousands of pedestrians every day. Most of them know nothing about this brilliant musician of the 19th century, whose life unfortunately was not a song. Johanna was born on the 8th of July 1810 in Bonn, to a couple of average means. Being aware of her love for music, they arranged for her to study the piano under Franz Anton Reis, the man who tutored Beethoven. Even as a teenager, she was an accompanist to other musicians and also a coach to younger students.
When Johanna married Johann Paul Mathieux a music bookseller from Cologne in 1832, little did she realise that her life would be a living hell through physical and emotional abuse. She left him six months later, but the trauma she had endured sent her into severe depression. Her divorce came through several years later.
However, through the support of her friends, she recovered enough to resume her musical career. Her meeting with Mendelsohnn in1836 was a morale booster. He recognized her talent and encouraged her to concentrate on music. She then moved to Berlin and continued her musical studies under Karl Bohmer and William Taubert. To support herself, she gave music tuitions to students.
As her musical prowess increased, she acquired a measure of popularity among musicians of her day and was welcomed into Literary circles. Her compositions were appreciated even by composers like Robert Schumann.
Johanna returned to Bonn in 1839 in connection with her divorce proceedings. Her popularity as a musician, writer and composer were recognized by society. She was the first German woman composer of her own choral group ‘Gesangverein.’
In 1842, Johanna married a Protestant theologian, lecturer and poet called Gottfried Kinkel. Together they formed the ‘Maik√§ferbund’ – a group of poets. It was active from1840-1848 until the Revolution started.
Gottfried dabbled in Politics. In 1848, during the revolutionary upheaval in Germany, he was imprisoned in Berlin and condemned to death for his political activities. But Johanna through her influential friends, had the sentence overturned to life imprisonment. However, Gottfried escaped from Spandau prison and sought asylum in London.
By now Johanna had borne Gottfried four children. In 1851, she moved to London with them, to join her husband. The Kinkel residence became the centre of the expat German community in London. But Gottfried was totally immersed in Politics and had no time for his family. Johanna was the sole breadwinner but also had to cope with household duties and the care of her children. She not only taught music but became an author of merit on musical subjects.She was also a composer and director of a choir. Her reviews were regularly published in newspapers.
Rumours began floating around about Gottfried’s infidelity. Perhaps this was what drove Johanna into depression again. On Novenmer 8th 1858, her body was found in her garden, She had fallen from her third floor apartment window. Was it a suicide? Was she pushed by somebody else? The matter was never investigated. Her autobiographical novel ‘Hans Ibeles’  was published posthumously in London in1860. She was buried at Brookswood Cemetery in Woking. Engraved on her tombstone were three simple words which summed up her life - Freiheit, Liebe, Dichtung (Freedom, Love, Poetry.)
On the 8th of July 2012 which was Johanna’s 202nd birth anniversary, there were no celebrations in Bonn. Pedestrians rushed over her Star of Fame unaware on whose face they trod.