From Life? Or Theater? by Charlotte Salomon

This is the transparency accompanying a gouache by Charlotte Salomon, part of her principal work Life? or Theatre? The gouache is placed by editors at the close of Scene 1 in the Prelude. For the Jewish Historical Museum interactive page see

The associated music is the Christmas carol "Am Weihnachtsbaum die Lichter brennen" - "The Christmas tree is bright with candles" (the preceding gouache includes Christmas scenes).

The gouache depicts the fictional Charlotte Kann (representing Salomon herself and always referred to in the third person) in bed with her mother Franziska.

The text on this transparency reads:

FRANZISKA 'Im Himmel ist es viel schöner, als es auf dieser Erde ist - und wenn dann deine Mutti ein Engelein geworden ist, dann kommt sie runter und bringt dem Häschen und bringt einen Brief, indem sie sagt, wie es im Himmel, wie es im Himmel oben ist.' Franziska war ziemlich sentimental veranlagt. Oft nahm sie das Kind zu sich ins Bett und erzählte ihr von einem Leben nach dem Tode in himmlischen Sphären - das ganz herrlich sein sollte und nachdem sie furchtbare Sehnsucht zu haben schien, und sie fragte Charlotte oft, ob es nicht schön wäre, wenn ihre Mutter ein Engel mit Flügeln würde. Charlotte fand das auch sehr schön, nur aber bat sie die Mutter, nicht zu vergessen, ihr in einem Brief - den die als Engel persönlich zu überbringen hatte und auf Charlottens Fensterbrett deponiert werden mußte - mitzuteilen, wie es im Himmel oben sei. Nach derselben Melodie.

FRANZISKA 'In Heaven it's much nicer than down here - and when Mommy has turned into a little angel she'll come down and bring you her dear little kitty and a letter telling you what it's like up there, what it's like up in Heaven'. Franziska was of a somewhat sentimental nature at heart. She often took the child to bed with her to explain what life after death was like in the celestial spheres, how simply glorious it all must be and how frightfully she longed to be there too, and she often asked Charlotte how splendid it would be if her Mommy turned into an angel with wings. Charlotte could only agree, but asked her mother especially not to forget to tell her in the letter, which she had to deliver personally as an angel and leave on Charlotte's windowsill, what it was all like up there. To the same tune.

Charlotte Salomon's Life? Or Theater? includes some 200 transparencies carrying text intended to overlay their associated gouaches.

The example illustrated here is typical.

The closing gouache of Scene 1 of the Prelude depicts the fictional Charlotte Kann (representing Salomon herself) in bed with her mother Franziska, who is telling Charlotte how wonderful it is in Heaven and how one day she (Franziska) will go there and turn into an angel and bring Charlotte a letter to lie on her windowsill describing life in Heaven. [See the gouache at It is overlaid by the transparency shown above. The combined image of transparency over gouache is shown below as an added view.]

These pages most clearly demonstrate what "Life? or Theater?" by Charlotte Salomon really is. The gouache at is devoted to an important and painful memory associated with her mother Franziska. During another depression period (apparently when she was thinking about death as the only possible way out), she promised her daughter that she would bring her a letter from the sky, where she would write, how she lived there. After the mother’s suicide (Charlotte was told that flu took her away), the girl waited for the promised letter every day. When she realized that there would be no letters and her mother cheated, it was a painful blow, which hit her even more than mother’s death.

On a separte sheet of translucent paper [the image shown above], there is a text with the speech of Franziska, "It's much better in the sky than on this earth. And when your mommy becomes an angel, she will go down and bring you a rabbit and a letter, in which she will tell you how things stand in heaven."

And this is how it looks when the gouache is covered with the superimposing text — two pictures form the third one. [see added view]
Click to select the cover image for this artwork.
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