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‘They are survivors’: Jewish cartoonist who fled the Nazis | art

I1938 Nazi troops invaded Austria, lifting the country into the Third Reich in an incident called “Anchlus”, which brought formal antisemitism along with political violence to a small country. German speaking

The New York exhibition features artworks by three Jewish artists who fled Vienna during Anschluss, surviving and thriving as commercial artists. They use pens with flair, talent and flexibility. Their best work is on view in the Three With a Pen group exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, proving that art can be used as a weapon against fascism.

Artists were fighting fascism with political satire nearly 100 years ago, but their work still resonates. “History doesn’t repeat itself. But there are some phenomena that are at least a reminder, ”said the forum director, Michael Heider.

“When you have some degree of racism, organized hatred in society where people are systematically intimidated, this should be a warning sign,” he said. “After what these artists have experienced, we know the outcome.”

Artists include Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges, who have comic books, drawings, editorial cartoons, and caricatures. They’re shown alongside photos and ephemera helping to show their biographies.

“All three artists have a history of escaping Nazi-occupied Vienna, then building careers and fame – two in New York and one in Paris – elsewhere,” said Heider. At the Jewish Museum Vienna in 2019, I thought, ‘Now let’s go to New York.’ ”

Lily Renée - Señorita Rio comic from Fight Comics, December 1944
Lily Renée – Señorita Rio comic from Fight Comics, December 1944 Photo: Lily Renée Collection

Lily Renée, the artist born in 1921 who celebrated her 100th birthday this year, made the show. “Kindertransport,” a humanitarian effort that allows Jewish refugee children to flee to England. Fortunately, she was reunited with her parents in New York in 1940.

There she worked as a graphic artist and illustrator and became famous for her heroine Señorita Rio, the protagonist of the 1940s comic book who follows a Hollywood star who fights Nazis at night as a spy. She signed her manga as “L. Renee.” Many readers thought she was a man.

Some of Renée’s works include drawings from her cartoon Señorita Rio, created in bright colors alongside illustrations from her children’s book Red Is the Heart.

“Lily lives in an upper middle class family in Vienna. She will not be under normal circumstances in cartoon work. She wants to be an artist who works very seriously in fashion design, ”Heider says.“ Without Anschluss, she could study art and become a designer. ”

As a Jewish refugee in New York, she had to raise money to help her family. She got into comics after her mother found an ad looking for a cartoonist.

“She’s so good, she’s allowed to make her own character,” Heider said, “but she only makes cartoons for income. At that time, the cartoon was looked down upon with contempt. “

She was also one of the few women on the field at the time. “My mother never used the word ‘feminism’ to describe herself or her work,” said René’s daughter, Nina Phillips.

“In fact, she disagrees with being called a feminist because she thinks modern feminism is too ideological and goes too far,” Phillips says. Her grandfather portrays female characters in traditional male roles. ”

Paul Peter Porges - Every afternoon at MOMA except Wednesday Proof Indian Ink and Crayons on New York Paper.
Paul Peter Porges – Every afternoon at MoMA except Proof Wednesdays, India Ink and Crayons on New York paper. Pictured: Jewish Museum Vienna

Paul Peter Porges is an artist who has lived since 1967. From 1927 to 1934, like Renée, he also escaped Vienna through Kindertransport traveled to England but was later confined to a concentration camp in France as a teenager.

In the exhibit there is a portrait of the artist holding a self-portrait he painted during his stay in the US Army in the early 1950s, showing how he used exaggerated physical characteristics. There are also Sigmund Freud’s paintings and some traffic in central Manhattan.

The exhibition also features shocking paintings created within the concentration camp by Wilhelm “Bil” Spira, an artist who lived from 1913 to 1999.Spira entered Auschwitz in 1944, including the gaudy portrayal of angry guards and labor. force

“He entered the concentration camp. But if the guards saw it, he would be executed, ”Heider said.“ He was recording what he saw in the camp. He hid it

“When the Russians who freed the camp burned prisoners’ belongings, everything he owned was gone,” he said. “The only original painting is one that other inmates have smuggled away. Spira also makes copies of other paintings. Which he painted later from memory “

His cartoons of the 1930s are also featured in the satirical Hitler and portraits of Austrian actor Hans Moser, as well as American playwright Sinclair Lewis.

Bil Spira - a painting from the Blechhammer camp.
Bil Spira – a painting from the Blechhammer camp. Photo: Richard Ash / Imperial War Museum London

“Bill Spira is an unbelievable story,” said Heider. “He was published in the Social Democrats actively fighting the Nazis. He left Vienna in 1938. ”

Spira was not granted a visa to enter the United States, was escorted by Gestapo, survived a concentration camp and later lived in Paris.He became a famous cartoonist who worked for French and Swiss newspapers.

“All these artists are different,” Heider said. “They all have unique biographies. They all had a bright life until 1957. Fri. 1938 “

Anschluss caused a sad interruption. But each of them miraculously survived and still made a work of art. These paper drawings are testament to their survival, with only a pen.

“We want to honor the artworks of the three artists to show that they are great artists, even if they are survivors,” Sabine Bergler, co-curator of the exhibit at the Jewish Museum Vienna, told Michael Freund in 2019.

“On the other hand, we want to show them that they are survivors, too,” Berkler said. “We try to show the people behind the art, each of them as an independent artist and disaster as a result. From their work, how “

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