Lore Krüger’s Life of Exile – posted 6/25/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/3/2016
Immigration is so much in the news these days and there has been no shortage of demagoguery. Now the hating against immigrants is directed at Mexicans and Muslims. I wanted to tell a different kind of immigration story. Because it is little known, I wanted to tell the story of Lore Heinemann Krüger, a Jewish woman who survived the Nazis.
When I was in Paris in May, I went to the Jewish Museum of Art and History. The museum currently has a photography exhibit featuring Krüger’s work. The photos were shot between 1934-1944. Krüger was a pioneer among avant-garde female photographers. Her work was eclectic: she photographed street scenes, workers, gypsies, young Parisians as well as classic still life shots like bowls of cherries. She experimented with highly original and creative techniques that were ahead of her time.
The photos only became public in 2015 when they were displayed at the Gallery C/O Berlin in Germany. Krüger, who died in 2009, did not live to see the exhibition. She had managed to safeguard some of her photos in big folders she kept under her sofa. While much of her work did not survive, about 250 photos remain, of which about 100 are displayed.
Lore Krüger was born in 1914 in the central German city of Magdeburg. On her 10th birthday, her father gave her a camera. She was passionate about photography and she immediately started taking shots.
Krüger’s family was Jewish. With the rise of Hitler and anti-semitism, peril increased. As the Jews achieved pariah status, few friends remained loyal. Most acquaintances kept a wary distance from the family. Lore Krüger had worked as a typist at a savings bank.
On April 1, 1933, after Hitler came to power, Krüger witnessed a “Jew Boycott” and attacks on Jewish stores, offices and medical practices. Krüger later wrote:
“Never in my life will I forget this day. All over town, members of the SA in their brown uniforms with swastika armbands were standing guard in front of buildings in which Jewish doctors or lawyers practiced, or in front of Jewish stores. On the shop windows and nameplates they had smeared the word ‘Jew’ or ‘don’t buy from the Jews – the Jews are our enemies!’ in huge letters.
In 1933, at age 19, Krüger decided to leave Germany. With help from a rabbi friend, she was able to obtain work as an au pair in England. Her parents and sister also fled Germany, moving to Mallorca, a Mediterranean island off Spain.
Krüger ended up joining the rest of her family in 1934 after failing to get an extension of her visa in England. She apprenticed with a photographer in Barcelona. She was also able to study with Florence Henri, a renowned photographer who lived in Paris. Paris was a refuge for exiled European artists and intellectuals escaping fascism. She became friendly with the philosopher Walter Benjamin and the author Arthur Koestler. Both lived in the building where she was staying.
While in Paris, Krüger became more interested in politics. She studied at the Paris-based German Free University, an anti-fascist and communist-oriented evening school. She wrote a dissertation on Nazi ideology. There is a quote in her art exhibition that reflects the change in her life:
“Art was my principal preoccupation, everything revolved around it but politics was increasingly taking over my life.”
As a German anti-fascist, Krüger realized that the world was insufficiently aware of the barbarism Hitler represented. In that time, only the left wing press wrote about the danger the fascists represented. Krüger wrote that the Nazis owned much of the right wing press in France.
In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Krüger supported the Republican side. Her husband-to-be, Ernst Krüger, a German union leader and communist, had fought in Spain. Lore Krüger worked to promote secret distribution of books with anti-Nazi content into the Reich.
Krüger travelled to Mallorca to visit her parents. Things were sticky because the Falangists, the Spanish fascists allied with Hitler, controlled the island. A Republican regiment landed on Mallorca and contested control of the island. After a battle lasting several days, the Republican forces lost. Krüger’s parents knew an officer who allowed Lore entry into the war zone. She went there with her camera. She wrote:
“I will never forget the stench of the corpses filling that completely deserted place. The inhabitants had left suddenly, all the doors were open. Corpses of young people littered the streets. Franco’s troops had poured petrol over them and set them alight. I will never forget that sight. My heart bled but I said to myself, “You must take photographs, you musn’t think about anything else!”
Krüger had a very difficult time returning to Paris. The Spanish police confiscated most of her photos when she left Mallorca. In April 1939, Franco’s fascist forces, with huge help from Hitler, won the Spanish Civil War and they tightened the noose on Jews. The authorities told Krüger’s parents to leave Mallorca within 10 days. Unable to get a visa to a safe country and afraid of falling into the hands of the Spanish police or the Germans, Krüger’s parents committed suicide together. They had a realistic fear of torture at the hands of the fascists or removal to a concentration camp.
Lore Krüger did not find out about her parents’ suicide until years later. Both parents wrote their children absolutely heart-rending letters explaining their decision. Those letters are displayed in the photo exhibition.
After the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Lore and her sister Gisela were imprisoned in an internment camp in southern France. They were considered “hostile foreigners”. Both were freed months later. Since they lacked a residence permit, the only route of escape they saw was to leave Europe by ship from Marseille. They hoped to get to Mexico, a country that took in anti-fascists, Spanish Republicans and their families.
Lore, her future husband, and her sister were all able to get to Marseille with forged papers. Both the journey to Marseille and the next six months in Marseille where they hid out were fraught with great danger. They knew that if they were caught they could be handed over to the Gestapo. With help from the French Vichy government, the Germans were combing through lists of people who had been in camps and they were hunting down opponents.
Lore lived in constant fear of raids. She and her little band moved constantly, staying in cinemas and hotels that charged by the hour. In May 1941 they finally were able to get a collective visa that allowed all three to leave for Mexico on a cargo ship, the Winnipeg.
En route to Mexico a Dutch gunboat captured the Winnipeg. The gunboat forced the passengers to go to the island of Trinidad. From there, Krüger appealed to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an organization of Americans who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. The Lincoln Brigade raised the money and helped with the transit visa to get to New York. The Krügers settled into a small apartment in Long Island City. Because of a law change, they were never able to get to Mexico.
Once in New York, the Krügers helped to found an anti-fascist newspaper, the German American. Krüger worked on the paper from May 1942 until 1944. Writers for the paper included Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Mann, and Lion Feuchtwanger. Krüger wanted to demonstrate that not all Germans were Nazis. In the photo exhibition, Krüger is quoted saying that she believed there were many Nazi sympathizers in the United States at the time, especially in the press.
Krüger was especially concerned about the lack of an anti-fascist press. She wrote:
“The first number of The German American came out in May 1942. The editorial entitled “What we want” stated that out of the more than two hundred newspapers and reviews published in the United States, including more than a dozen dailies, there was not a single anti-fascist paper, not even during the war.”
After the war, in 1946, the Krügers returned to Germany to live. Krüger wrote, “who should bring about a change in Germany… if not German anti-fascists everywhere in the world, if they didn’t return.”
In 1947, Lore became ill. She came down with a case of diptheria and she sustained heart damage. She did not continue with photography after that. She became an English to German translator in the later part of her career. Among other books, she translated “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Robinson Crusoe” and books by Doris Lessing, Joseph Conrad and Henry James.
Krüger died on March 3, 2009.
In a very dark time, she lived an honorable life of principle and artistic self-expression. As we face the growth of extreme right wing and fascist parties around the world, Krüger’s example shines bright.