What makes The Diary of Anne Frank an eternal human document rather than just one of the six million stories of the Holocaust is the haunting question of what that brilliant and good-hearted child might have become had she been allowed to grow up.
While there can never be an answer, there is the parallel case of Charlotte Salomon, a brilliant and good-hearted German Jew who was ten years older than Anne when they were both exterminated, and left a fuller account of what it was like to be a stranger and afraid in the world that Hitler made.
Charlotte: Life or Theater? is the title Salomon gave to the manuscript/portfolio she left with a village doctor before Vichy collaborators arrested her in her refuge in the south of France. "It is my whole life," she told him, and it was. A few weeks later she vanished into Auschwitz.
The parallel runs further: Like Otto Frank, Albert Salomon survived the war, recovered his daughter's testament and gave it to the world. Selections from the narrative and the more than 700 paintings that were in the suitcase she left behind are on display at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.
But the parallel must not be pressed too far, as the JCC's Susan Morganstein points out. Anne Frank's diary is poignant because it contains the private dreams and fears of a young girl, artlessly set down. Charlotte Salomon's opus is powerful because it is the autobiography of a professional artist who knew exactly what she was doing.
It is also complex. Created during her last two years of life, the vivid gouaches change in style according to the period represented. They begin with the naivet,e appropriate to childhood and progress to the realism of a young woman trying to deal simultaneously with family tragedy -- her mother, grandmother and an aunt committed suicide -- and the horrid consequences of being a Jew in her time and place. Finally they evolve into abstractions, as she accepts a philosophy that merges the meanings of life and death.
The ironies are endless. She was trained at the Berlin Academy of Art, from which Jews were officially barred, because her surgeon father was a decorated veteran of German service in World War I (in which the great majority of eligible German Jews fought for the Fatherland alongside Corporal Hitler). She absorbed the philosophy that enabled her to work almost to the very end from a mentor who fashioned it from the madness of trench warfare on the Western Front. In a family of women so susceptible to nameless dread that they often died by their own hands, she maintained her creativity in the shadow of the hand she knew was poised to strike her.
The Jewish Community Center exhibit was excerpted by the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, where Salomon's works are held, and suffers from unavoidable gaps; the sequence is sometimes difficult to follow. While each painting speaks for itself, she intended them to be part of an unbroken narrative, with music.
Her work has been rather freely adapted into the feature film "Charlotte," an award- winning Dutch-German production that will have 17 free showings at the JCC during the first half of October.
Scenes from the film along with historical and family photographs form a separate section of the JCC exhibit, and probably should be viewed before the paintings themselves. The next step should be across the lobby to the corridor containing an exhibit from the National Archives chronicling the development of the Nazis' "final solution to the Jewish question." The dry horror of these official German documents is accompanied by a timetable showing how the the Berlin bureaucracy, arranging meticulously and efficiently for the murder of all Jews it could reach, found the Jew Salomon, Charlotte, in Vichy France and crossed her off.
The visitor who is moved by this fragmentary presentation of Salomon's life and work -- it is hard to imagine not being moved -- will want the massive Viking Press volume that includes the entire opus (and more), which was published at $75 but is on sale for $25 at the center.
CHARLOTTE: LIFE OR ART? -- Through November 13 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville. Open 2 to 5 Sundays, noon to 4 and 7:30 to 9:30 Monday through Thursday. There will be presentations of classic films, lectures, music and dance allied with the Salomon show over the next two months. For the schedule, call 881-0100.