The main characters in Charlotte Salomon's work


Charlotte Salomon prefaces her work with a series of gouaches in the form of a theatre programme. Following a prologue, she introduces the protagonists with names whose sounds or meanings say something about them. By giving the work the form of a music theatre piece, she takes artistic licence in her representation of people and events.

Charlotte Kann, alias for Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943)

Salomon herself plays multiple roles in her artwork. As the artist/conductor, she directs the play and has her characters speak and sing in the texts and musical pieces she has composed. She signed the sheets with her initials: C.S. Additionally, she is one of the protagonists, the somewhat withdrawn ‘Charlotte Kann’. Finally, she also plays the role of a neutral narrator, who recounts the events and comments upon them like the choir in a Greek tragedy. With the stage name ‘Charlotte Kann’ (Charlotte Can), Salomon refers to her own abilities, about which she is uncertain. But encouraged by Alfred Wolfsohn (‘Daberlohn’), she also refers to herself as someone eventually capable of creating something extraordinary.

Albert Kann, alias for Albert Salomon (1883-1976)

'Albert Kann,' the father of 'Charlotte,' is a surgeon. He marries Franziska Knarre (Grünwald) in 1915. In 1927, he becomes a professor, but due to being Jewish, he is no longer allowed to work at the university from 1933 onward. He becomes a surgeon at the Jewish hospital. The day after Kristallnacht, on November 9-10, 1938, he is sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His second wife, Paulinka, manages to free him. After his daughter Charlotte escapes to France, Paulinka and Albert flee to the Netherlands.

Salomon sketches her father as the hardworking doctor ‘Albert Kann’, whose ambition is to become a professor. In 1916, he marries the nurse ‘Franziska Knarre’, who commits suicide when her daughter Charlotte is eight years old. When in 1933, as a Jew he is no longer allowed to work at the university, he becomes a surgeon in a Jewish hospital. At the end of November 1938, he is deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His second wife, ‘Paulinka Bimbam’, manages to get him released after several weeks.

Grandma and grandpa Knarre, alias for Marianne Grunwald-Benda (1867-1940) and Ludwig Grunwald (1862-1943)

Salomon portrays her grandparents as assimilated German Jews, for whom a good education and cultural life were paramount. Their lives are marked by both their daughters’ suicides. Following her marriage to Albert, ‘Paulinka’ excludes ‘grandma Knarre’ from ‘Charlotte’s’ life. Her grandparents leave Germany when the Nazis assume power in in 1933. After a year in Rome, they move to the South of France, where a friend offers them accommodation.

With their stage name ‘Knarre’, from the German verb ‘knarren’, which means ‘to creak’, Salomon may be referring to the stiffness that life had provoked in her grandparents.

Paulinka Bimbam, alias for Paula Salomon-Lindberg (1897-2000)

Charlotte’s stepmother, the contralto singer ‘Paulinka Bimbam’, is the daughter of a Jewish teacher and chazan (cantor). For her singing career, she changes her surname Levi to the non-Jewish name Lindberg.

In 1930, she marries Charlotte’s father. When, as a Jew, she is no longer permitted to perform, she continues her career within the Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Federation).

Salomon depicts Paulinka as a strong character, surrounded by people who admire her. The young ‘Charlotte Kann’ both adores and envies her.

The stage name ‘Paulinka Bimbam’ evokes associations with the bell-like ‘bim bam’ (ding-dong) chanted by the choir in Mahler’s third symphony and in Yiddish folksongs. ‘Paulinka’s’ close friends in the piece call Salomon ‘Professor Singsang’ or ‘Professor Klingklang’.

Amadeus Daberlohn, alias for Alfred Wolfsohn (1896-1962)

In the main section, Salomon introduces the singing teacher ‘Amadeus Daberlohn’ as an almost messianic figure who has cured himself of the traumas he suffered in the First World War. He has made it his mission to help others to find their own (singing) voice. Following his introduction to the Kann family, he enters into a love triangle with ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Paulinka’. ‘Daberlohn’ adores ‘Paulinka’ but gradually also becomes interested in ‘Charlotte’, who harbours a great love for him.

The stage name ‘Amadeus Daberlohn’ refers to the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and to the fact that ‘Daberlohn’ has no income.