Photographer Gerti Deutsch was 28 when she fled her home town Vienna in 1936 and relocated to buzzing London, joining a wave of Jewish migrants from the European continent, all looking for a safer future on the British island.
Ms. Deutsch left the Austrian capital two years before the country’s annexation by Nazi Germany, but Austria’s fascist government had already cracked down on artistic freedom before then.
Propagating romanticized images that glorified the Austrian homeland, it prevented Ms. Deutsch from publishing her realistic photography in which she depicted the everyday life of regular Austrians.
Ms. Deutsch’s pictures, many of which survived her time in exile, are now on display at a small Berlin art museum, in a sign of Germany’s long transition from the Nazis’ mass killings of more than six million people, most of them Jews, to a liberal democracy that openly grapples with its dark past.
The exhibition titled “The Fate of Emigration” at Berlin’s Hidden Museum, Das Verborgene Museum, also features the work of another Jewish artist, Jeanne Mandello.
Ms. Mandello, born in what is now Germany’s financial capital Frankfurt in 1907, moved to Berlin at the age of 19 to study photography. In 1929, she opened her own studio in Frankfurt but the rise of the Nazis and growing anti-Semitic hostility prompted her to flee to Paris in 1934, where she rose to fame as a fashion photographer, shooting for couture houses such as Balanciaga and Chanel.
But like Ms. Deutsch, Ms. Mandello was soon forced to leave the European continent altogether. When the Nazis entered Paris in 1940, she and many other Germans were deported to the Gurs internment camp in southwest of France from where she and her husband managed to flee and resettle in Uruguay.
In South America, Ms. Mandello restarted her photography career with a borrowed Rolleiflex camera. The majority of her art did not survive her time in exile, however, leaving the Hidden Museum to preserve the few last pieces of her work.
While Ms. Mandello took pictures of artists and nature and animals for travel publications, Ms. Deutsch also photographed political events. She published a series depicting children of the so-called Kindertransporte, or children’s transports, a British Jewish initiative that rescued kids from Nazi occupied territory and put them up at foster homes, schools or farms across Britain. Some 10,000 children were saved as part of the transports, often becoming the sole survivors of their entire family. Jewish organizations estimate that a total of 70,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia arrived in Britain before World War Two.
Both Ms. Deutsch and Ms. Mandello returned to Europe after the war, pursuing their careers throughout the continent and in Asia.
The Hidden Museum shows the women’s work for the first time, preserving the memories of the two artists whose work was strongly influenced by their fate as refugees and the loss of their homeland.
This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author, please write to [email protected]