Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

Crooked Forest Poland photo by Kilian SchonbergerAt a show many years ago, I had an old woodsman jokingly tell me that my trees were so twisty and crooked that he could barely get a board foot of lumber from them.  I can’t imagine what he would do with the trees that make up the Crooked Forest located in a corner of western Poland.

It is a group of about 400 trees all bent at 90 degree angles at the base of their trunks, creating a large timber “C” or “J” depending on how you look at them.  They are surrounded by a larger forest of straight trees.  They are believed to have been planted around 1930 but how and why they obtained their unique shape remains a mystery, one no doubt lost when the Nazis invaded Poland in the years after their planting.  The local village was decimated and not really repopulated until the 1970’s so there wouldn’t be any long lived locals to tell the tales of the trees.

Some theorize that German tanks somehow crushed the young trees but that doesn’t explain the surrounding forest that is undamaged.  Plus the idea of a group of trees uniformly surviving such a trauma seems pretty far fetched.  Others say it is the result of some strange gravitational anomaly but that sounds kind of iffy at best.

Snow? Again, why just this smaller group of trees of the same age as their neighboring trees?

Aliens?  Now, you’re talking.

Okay, maybe not aliens.  Actually, the most widely accepted theory is that the trees were deformed to provide curved timber for either furniture or, more likely, boat-building.  There is written documentation of trees being grown specifically to be compass timbers, which provide bracing for the inner curve of a boat’s sides.

Whatever the case, they make a unique and eerie sight.  The photos here are from photographer Kilian Schönberger.  For more of her visually striking views of nature please visit her site by clicking here.

Crooked Forest Poland 2 photo by Kilian Schonberger Crooked Forest Poland 3 photo by Kilian Schonberger

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Lotte Laserstein- Evening Over Potsdam (Abend Uber Potsdam) 1930

Lotte Laserstein- Evening Over Potsdam (Abend Uber Potsdam) 1930

While looking up some the artwork that was branded as being entarete kunst, or degenerate art, by the Nazis in 1930’s Germany, I came across a number of  amazing works, many by well known artists  but some from artists who were unknown to me.  Many of these were Germans who were well on their way to establishing big careers as important artists before the war and its buildup  but never really regained their momentum after the war.  That is, if they even survived.

Lotte Laserstein at work on "Evening Over Potsdam"

Lotte Laserstein at work on “Evening Over Potsdam”

The painting shown above, Abend Uber Potsdam, or Evening Over Potsdam,  by  German-born artist Lotte Laserstein , stopped me in my tracks when I stumbled across it.  It speaks volumes with just a glance.  At first, all I could see was a sort of  classic Last Supper type arrangement as if painted by Norman Rockwell while he was in the deepest depths of despair.   It was big and brilliant. The facial expressions and the body language evoke a mood that is beautiful and tragic at once, perhaps filled with the foreboding of what was to come for these people and  that city and that nation.

Perhaps the dog, a sleeping German Shepherd, is symbolic of the German people being unaware of what is ahead, an omen of what is lost when a shepherd is not always vigilant.

This was painted in 1930, just as the Nazis were beginning to make their fateful  move to take over the German government.  I can only that imagine someone with keen perceptive powers could easily imagine what might be coming with those dark clouds massing over that German city.

Lotte Laserstein- In Gasthaus ( In the Restaurant)Laserstein grew up in Prussia and was trained as an artist in the creative whirlwind that was post- WW I Berlin .  Art in all forms was flourishing, fueled by the desperation and fatalism of living in a post-war world.  There was change in the air.  Women were becoming more bold and empowered and modernity was pushing away the conventions of the past.   Laserstein embraced this life, typifying the image of the single, self-sufficient New Woman.  The painting shown to the right, her Im Gasthaus (In the Restaurant), is a great example of that time, showing a single woman with bobbed hair and fashionable clothes sitting alone in a restaurant.  The hands are strong and the expression is pensive, thoughtful.  It’s a great piece and a wonderful document of the time.

Laserstein was gaining stature at this point but in 1933 was marked as being Jewish and her career began to stall in Germany.  In 1937, the same year as the famous Entarete Kunst exhibit put on by the Nazis where they displayed and mocked artwork labeled as being degenerate then destroyed much of it ( a story worthy of another post) , Laserstein was invited to have a show in Sweden.  She went there and stayed until her death in 1993.

After the war she basically fell off the radar, although she was active until the end of her life. However, her work after the beginning of World War II lacked the fire of her earlier Berlin work.  It was good work but it was less full, less expressive.  Perhaps the war had sapped away a great part of her.  Her earlier work was rediscovered in her late 80’s and had a retrospective at a London gallery and in 2003, ten years after her death, she returned to Berlin with a   large retrospective.

There were many victims of that horrible time.  Lotte Laserstein did survive and did produce work for half a century after it so perhaps one might not call her a victim.  But there was something lost i n this case and we may never know fully what might have been for her without the war.  As it is, she has left us some wonderful work.

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Yesterday, as I was painting in the studio, I had the pleasure of seeing two of my favorite movies, Hangmen Also Die and The Seventh Cross from the WW II era, two films that dealt with the citizens of countries occupied by the Nazis at that time.   Both dealt with underground resistance efforts and how they operated to undermine and hinder the Nazi’s hold on their countries.

I’ve always been intrigued by these movies made during wartime, movies that deal not with the soldiers in the field but with the citizens who struggle to live day to day under a brutal occupier.  The depiction of the resistance fighters in both of these movies is remarkable in that they are portrayed as totally unremarkable people.  Just everyday people who overcome their fears to perform small acts of bravery that collectively become large actions against their oppressors.

In many ways, these people are more inspiring and heroic than the John Wayne style heros of that era’s battlefield films.  When I watch these films, I always find myself wondering how I, or people I know, would react in such situations.  Would we be able to muster the will to put aside our fears and work to oppose our occupiers?  Or would we cave and submit willingly?

I know we would all love to say that we would take the heroic route, that we would fight against the powers that oppressed us.  For me, I can only hope that this is true.  I can’t be sure.   I’ve lived long enough to know that, for most,  the expediency of momentary security often trumps heroic intentions and the very thought of courageous actions.

I hope I never have to know the answer to these questions.

So, if you wish to be inspired by the courage of common folk, take a gander at these two films.  Maybe it will help you be braver in your own lives…

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