The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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19 June 1933

Letter from the painter Arthur Segal to the Maases

In 1933 an artist like Arthur Segal (1875–1944)—Jewish, Romanian-born, affiliated with the avant-garde—was no longer welcome in Germany. Isolated from cultural life, which had been aligned with Nazi ideology, subject to antisemitic hostility and without the opportunity to exhibit his work or earn a living, he had no future as a painter or teacher. As a result Segal decided to leave Berlin with his wife and daughter and move to Mallorca, where his son was already working as an architect.

In this situation he turned to one of his students, Frau Maas, writing her a letter on 19 June 1933 that reveals both his emotional state at the time and his personality as a teacher. He says good-bye to her and her husband and thanks both of them for their support: "My heart is full, not so much because of the money you have provided me with, but because of the humanity, the love, the friendliness and the warmth you have shown me." These are things, he writes, that Jews such as himself rarely encounter "these days." He ends the letter by offering Frau Maas words of encouragement and predicting that she will become "a very capable artist."

After arriving in Mallorca, Segal remained in contact with his students by mail. His early letters referred to the island‘s inspiring light and colors in euphoric terms but he soon became depressed due to financial problems and feelings of homelessness. In December 1933 he wrote to another student, Annemarie Ratkowski-Brown, saying: "Yes, my dears, it is intolerable being a Jew …. For forty years I lived in Germany and painted and worked and loved all things German. Now we are stateless and have been expelled so that we should perish." He repeatedly requested financial assistance—including from Frau Maas, who apparently sent him money.

In 1936, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Segals fled to Britain. There is evidence that Frau Maas helped them get there. In England the family‘s situation remained precarious and in 1940/41 the British interned Segal as an "enemy alien" on the Isle of Man. He died of a heart attack during a bombing raid on London on 23 June 1944.

Henriette Kolb

Categorie(s): artists and writers | Berlin | emigration | school
Letter from the painter Arthur Segal to the Maases (page 1), Berlin, 19 June 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Anne Ratkowski-Wanger Collection, AR 6326

A versatile artist and passionate teacher

"He was the best, most devoted teacher you could imagine," wrote the painter Annemarie Ratkowski-Braun in 1987. "Walking into the room and seeing the paintings, he would tear off his broad-brimmed hat and cry out enthusiastically: 'My word, that‘s marvelous!' He would then praise what deserved to be praised and criticize what deserved criticism in order to help the student."

Arthur Segal opened his art school in Berlin in 1923 and was actively involved in the Berlin art scene. He wrote essays on art theory and joined several artists‘ groups, including the left-wing November Group. He is difficult to categorize stylistically. The works that he produced in the course of his lifetime show the influences of very different artistic movements, from expressionism to naturalism. Segal believed in the moral and healing power of art and wanted to teach these elements to his students.

In 1937 he founded a new school in London—the Arthur Segal Painting School for Professionals and Non-Professionals. He became increasingly interested in the psychological and therapeutic aspects of art and sought out other immigrants such as Sigmund Freud and Ernst Simmel to exchange ideas about them. After Segal died, his wife, Ernestine, and his daughter, Marianne, continued running his school until 1977.

Arthur Segal, London, 1943.
Leo Baeck Institute, Arthur Segal Collection, AR 7105