In 1943, Nazi Germany declared “Berlin Without Jews,” after eight years since the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, antisemitic and racist law. Not all Jews were persecuted despite the law. There were survivors who tenaciously fought for their lives, one of whom was Gertrude Sandmann, an artist.
Born into a German-Jewish family in 1893, Sandmann studied at the Berlin Association of Artists and had private tutelage from Kathe Kollwitz. Unlike her teacher whose works focused on social and political subjects, Sandmann worked on portraits of women. After the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, Sandmann was prohibited from practicing her profession and eliminated from the Artists Association, meaning that she was no longer able to work as a professional artist. In 1942, she received a deportation order, which she ignored and instead faked her own suicide. Sandmann hid in an underground apartment with the help of her friends. During massive air raids, she waited in silence until bombs were away. Even in the midst of despair and fear of death, Sandmann continued to pursue artistic activities. Despite great difficulty in getting access to art materials, she worked on the quite with basic drawing materials she could find. This black-and-white drawing on paper illustrates a woman, drowsing after a tiring day, with her face downward. It looks as though she is in no position to lie straight on her bed and rest peacefully, the woman in the painting looks anxious. Maybe she is the artist’s self-portrait, a precursor to a gloomy future.
Presumed to have created more than 1,000 pieces of drawings, most of which were unfortunately lost during the war, Sandmann, a survivor of two world wars and Holocaust, led a prolific artistic career beyond anyone’s expectation. After the war ended, Sandmann not only lived as an artist but also as an active LGBT rights advocate and died at the age of 88. While she was alive, Sandmann was a dead Jewish woman, but she was reincarnated as a courageous Berlin woman.