lotte_nelly2005.04.17 – 2005.08.31

Lotte Laserstein and Nelly Sachs
– On living in exile.

Nelly Sachs once wrote the poem “Sternverdunkelung”, stellar eclipse. The actual word is her creation, too. To me that word brings back the plight of the six million Jews and other victims, whose lives were so cruelly terminated during the Holocaust. But I also think of those who, despite everything, managed to survive. The few who found a way out before it was too late. Their existence had been darkened by Nazi persecution, but they were still able to create a new life in exile, after their escape.

“Sternverdunkelung” was the name of an exhibition at The Jewish Museum in Stockholm, depicting the lives of two German Jewish women, who were both forced into exile and found a refuge in Sweden. When Hitler seized power in 1933 their situation deteriorated dramatically, and it became virtually impossible for them to live and work in Germany.

Exile proved hard for the two artists, who paid a high price for their escape. The trauma of having been forced to leave their native country was a heavy burden to bear. They missed and longed for the dear ones at home, they grieved and worried about those who had been left behind. Nelly Sachs writes about constantly suffering from a guilty consience at the thought of what happened to those who remained.

In Sweden Lotte Laserstein unfortunately remained an outsider to the artistic establishment. Still, she was able to make a living painting portraits, although she did not enjoy it much. However, at the age of almost 90 she was afforded the joy of international recognition, and is currently viewed as one of Germany’s most important artists of the interwar period.

As a sign of gratitude for having been allowed to come here, Nelly Sachs started translating the works of Swedish writers into German. This meant she made valuable contacts in literary circles. The pain she felt took shape in her poetry. From 1950, when her mother died, and onwards she lived a life marked by solitude and isolation. The only joy she derived came through her writing. Then, on 10 December 1966, on her 75th birthday, she received the Nobel Prize for literature.

I sincerely hope “Sternverdunkelung” will help stimulate a broader discussion on the nature and conditions of exile, but equally about people’s unfathomable resilience, our ability to start over. Beside the ever current issue of exile, visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to dwell on the expressive art of Lotte Laserstein.

Yvonne Jacobsson,


nelly_citatNelly Sachs (1891-1970)

– born 10 December 1891 in Berlin, died 12 May in Stockholm

Nelly Sachs was born and grew up in Berlin. She was a solitary child who spent her days dreaming about friends to play with and dancing while her father played the piano. The love and affection that Nelly longed for she seems never to have found.

Nelly suffered constantly from a sense of being abandoned. In the garden at Siegmundshof where she played with her dolls by herself there was a little roe deer that she became attached to and that she called her little brother. Much later she donated a small bowl decorated with a deer to Lenke Rothman, her much younger kindred spirit or Seelenschwester and the person who helped her to trace her Jewish roots.

Nelly Sachs did not want to travel and least of all to move to a foreign country. But she set out on a journey, a physical as well as a spiritual journey, in order to survive. Political circumstances obliged her to leave Germany and she arrived in Sweden on 16 May 1940. A few days prior to her departure she had received orders to report to a work camp. She was rescued at the last minute; something that she was grateful for throughout her life.

She had started to write while still in Germany but the small number of published works had not yet established her reputation. It was in exile that she began to write in earnest. And it was in exile that she found her own very personal style as a poet, a style that spoke to the hearts of women and men and that brought her widespread recognition as well, in due course, the Nobel Prize for Literature.


(Leonie) Nelly Sachs is born in Berlin on 10 December.


Nelly is given Selma Lagerlöf’s Gösta Berling’s Saga as a fifteenth birthday present.


Starts to correspond with Selma Lagerlöf.

Gudrun Dähnert travels to Sweden to prepare a rescue for Nelly and Margarete Sachs.

Nelly Sachs arrives in Stockholm on 16 May.

Sternverdunkelung published by Bermann Fischer Verlag, Amsterdam.

Margarete Sachs, Nelly s mother, dies on 7 February.

Aber auch die Sonne ist heimatlos. Contemporary Swedish poetry translated into German by Nelly Sachs published by Georg Büchner Verlag, Düsseldorf and Darmstadt. The same year saw the publication of an essay Leben unter Bedrohung in the magazine “Ariel” and a number of poems in “Texte und Zeichen.”

Nelly Sachs receives the Meersburger Droste Prize for women poets.

Fahrt ins Staublose. Die Gedichte der Nelly Sachs (Collected Poems) published by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. Flykt och förvandling. A selection of her poems edited by Erwin Leiser, with an introduction by Johannes Edfelt published by Folket I Bilds Lyrikklubb, Stockholm. Nelly is elected a corresponding member of the Free Academy of Arts in Hamburg. Dortmund establishes a cultural award in honour of Nelly Sachs, the Nelly Sachs Prize and makes the initial award to Nelly Sachs.

Nelly Sachs is elected a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Arts.

Än hyllar döden livet: Dikter av Nelly Sachs (Poems by Nelly Sachs) translated by Erik Lindegren. Albert Bonniers förlag, Stockholm

Awarded the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers Association.

Nelly Sachs receives the Nobel Prize for Literature. She shares the award with Shmuel Yosef Agnon.

Nelly Sachs dies on 12 May and is buried on 19 May in the Jewish cemetery at Norra begravningsplats in Stockholm.



When Nelly Sachs fled from Germany she could only take with her a single suitcase with room for some clothes and a few personal items. One thing that she put in her case was this scrapbook which had been a comfort to her when she was a child. She called it her Oblatenalbum and as she looked at the pictures she dreamed of something that she had lacked in real life: friends to play with. She returned to the album when she felt lonely and in need of comforting during her exile.
Loan from the Royal Library, Stockholm.


In Chelion Nelly Sachs described her childhood in Berlin. When she was small she was known as Liechen and Chelion is derived from this. In Chelion she writes of how fond she was of her grandmother’s Oblatenalbum, that she loved Theresa who was her nursemaid, that she danced when her father played the piano and that she admired her father’s collection of precious stones. There are very few copies of Chelion in existence. This one belonged to Gudrun Dähnert.
Loan from the Royal Library, Stockholm.


William Sachs had a fine collection of rock crystal and precious stones. His entire collection was confiscated by the Nazis. After 1933, both in Berlin and in exile, Nelly Sachs lived in very limited circumstances but she felt that it was important to rebuild the collection. Stones were important to her. Stones mean life and they appear in her poems. She placed stones and shells on a pink dish because pink was her favourite colour.
Loan from the Royal Library, Stockholm.


Nelly Sachs kept small objects that she brought with her from Germany in this case. Photographs of friends, some of her father’s medals, recipes, notebooks and a poetry album.
Loan from the Royal Library, Stockholm.


Nelly Sachs’s own copy of Selma Lagerlöf’s novel Gösta Berling’s Saga. She was given the book as a birthday present in 1906. She was so fascinated by the story that she started to correspond with Selma Lagerlöf. Thanks to this exchange of letters with Selma Lagerlöf and with help from her friend Gudrun Dähnert Nelly Sachs was able to flee to Sweden in May 1940.
Loan from the Royal Library, Stockholm.


lotteLotte Laserstein (1898-1993)

Lotte Laserstein’s predominant theme was people. When she left the Berlin Academy in 1927, she quickly gained recognition for her sensitive and skilfully executed portraits of characters typical of the age: fashionable urban ladies, young women applying make-up or foreign faces encountered on the streets of cosmopolitan Berlin.

Lotte Laserstein admired the Old Masters and kept her distance to avant- garde and abstract art. Nevertheless her paintings from the Berlin time convey perfectly the spirit of the modern age. The amazing blend of traditional craft and contemporary motifs, the striking mixture of sober observation and delicate brush work have lost nothing of their fascination until today.

In 1933 the promising career came to en end. The National Socialists declared Lotte Laserstein a “three-quarter Jew”, and the artist was increasingly prevented from exercising her profession. An exhibition at Stockholm’s Galerie Moderne in 1937 provided the propitious opportunity to leave Germany with a large body of her works. Sweden became her “second home”. Here she lived for more than fifty years and it was here were she painted most of her works.

Following the Stockholm exhibition Lotte was commissioned to paint a number of high-ranking portraits. In her efforts to establish a career in the new country, she yielded to the wishes and tastes of the new clients and catered for the conventions of representational art with all the virtuoso dexterity of her craft. In Sweden she also devoted more attention than ever before to landscapes. With brightly coloured, delicate impressions of Stockholm and with atmospheric views of the archipelago the artist appealed to a broad public.

Although Lotte Laserstein was able to make her living as a painter, the economic and psychological strains were not conducive to upholding her former artistic standards.

Her mourning about all she has lost through emigration including her former creative power is reflected in a series of impressive self-portraits.


Lotte Laserstein is born in Preussisch-Holland, a small town in Eastern Prussia (now Palsek in Poland).


First art lessons in Elsa Birnbaum’s private school of painting.


The family moves to Berlin.

Advanced school certificate (Abitur).
Lotte Laserstein matriculates at Friedrich-Wilhelms-University, Berlin, to study Philosophy and History of Art; she also attends a school of applied art.

Lotte studies at the Akademische Hochschule für bildende Künste (Academic College of Fine Arts) in Berlin under Erich Wolfsfeld, from 1925 to 1927 in his master class.

Moves to 15, Nachodstrasse in Wilmersdorf.
Laserstein’s style changes around this time, exchanging flat surfaces with strong contours for a looser, airier brush.

As a Jew Laserstein is no longer able to exhibit. She is discharged from the executive committee of the Association.

Laserstein emigrerar till Sverige. Hennes december-utställning på Galerie Moderne i Stockholm är framgångsrik och den följs av ett antal porträtt-uppdrag.

To obtain Swedish citizenship, Lotte Laserstein marries Sven Marcus pro forma, but never liveswith him. She makes fruitless efforts to help her mother, her sister Käte and Käte’s companion to leave Germany.


Meta Laserstein dies in Ravensbrück concentration camp; Käte escapes persecution by going into hiding, surviving the war in Berlin.



Lotte Laserstein joins Konstnärernas Riksorganisation, the Swedish association of fine artists.

Awarded Kalmar’s Culture Prize.

Exhibition at Agnew’s and the Belgrave Gallery, London, heralding Lotte Laserstein’s international rediscovery.

Lotte Laserstein dies in Kalmar aged 94.



Evening Conversation, 1948
Oil on hardboard, 121 x 173 cm
Private collection, Germany
photo: Friedhelm Hoffman


Self Portrait in front of
“Evening over Potsdam”, 1950
Oil on canvas, 65 x 55 cm
Private collection, UKs
photo: From the catalog “Sternverdunkelung”


Two Jewish Girls, c. 1937
Oil on paper, 34 x 45, 5 cm
Private collection, Norway
photo: Friedhelm Hoffma


Pictures from the exhibition


Russian Girl with Compact, 1928
Oil on panel, 31,7 x 41 cm
Nybro Kommun, Sweden
photo: Rolf Lind


Self Portrait at the Easel, 1938
Oil on plywood, 128 x 47,5 cm
Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
photo: Rolf Lind

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