In 1944 the annihilation of European Jews in Auschwitz reached a new, horrific climax: from the middle of May more than 440,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered and burned in the gas chambers and crematoria of Birkenau within a few months.
But there were trains arriving at Auschwitz from Western Europe as well: on 31 July 1944 in the Belgian city of Mechelen, the German occupying forces dispatched the last deportation train with Jewish families. This train also contained the German-Jewish artists Felix Nussbaum and his wife Felka Platek. They had both been arrested at their hiding place in the Rue Archimede in Brussels on 20 June 1944 and deported from there to Mechelen transit camp.
We are telling the story of the artist couple Felka Platek and Felix Nussbaum – seventy years after their murder in Auschwitz in August 1944.
Felka Platek was born in 1899 in Polish Warsaw, which was under Russian rule at that time. In the years of Felka Platek’s youth, Warsaw was also a Jewish city: like the Platek family, 36 per cent of the inhabitants had Jewish roots.
Felka Platek left her home town in the 1920s: she was drawn to the bustling, scintillating city of Berlin, where she hoped to realize her life’s dream. She wanted to be an artist.
Whilst studying at the private Lewin-Funcke School, where women and men studied painting and sculpting together, she met Felix Nussbaum in 1924. He was five years younger than her and came from a wealthy middle-class German-Jewish family in Osnabrück.
Since early childhood, Felix Nussbaum’s father had encouraged his son’s desire to become an artist. He was confident in himself and in his abilities. He too was hoping for his artistic breakthrough in Berlin.
The two became a couple. Felka Platek accompanied Felix Nussbaum in 1933, when he won one of the prestigious artist’s scholarships for the Villa Massimo in Rome.
After that, both their lives are marked by persecution, distress, fear and poverty, which led to increasing despair. Their stations of exile took them via Paris and Ostende to Brussels. From there they were taken on one of the last deportation trains via Mechelen transit camp to Auschwitz in August 1944. They were murdered there immediately on arrival.
Today, the world famous works of Felix Nussbaum are on show in his home town of Osnabrück in the Felix Nussbaum House. The museum building was designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind.
Information about the artistic work of Felka Platek is still very sparse. Quite wrongly she stood, and still stands, too much in the shadow of her husband.
Felka Platek and her artistic achievements are also remembered Osnabrück where several of her works are exhibited.
In our find-felka-find-felix art project we are telling the story of Felka Platek and Felix Nussbaum in 40 episodes from December 2013 until August 2014: in remembrance of that, which we have all lost.
Parallel to the growing story of Felka and Felix, pictures by both of the artists will emerge in the background. At the end of the project these pictures will be presented as large-format posters on public buildings in Warsaw, Berlin and Brussels.