Art that arose from the fear of death
Monday, 30 June 2008 04:00

From Knut Teske

Their fates produced headlines that went around the world. One survived the Holocaust, the other the kidnapping of the “Landshut”. Now the artists Rachel Gera and Gabriele von Lutzau are exhibiting in Berlin.

Photo: M. LengemannKunst, which was created from a shock: Rachel Gera (l) and Gabriele von Lutzau with one of their exhibits

It’s a meeting of two ladies whose fates have produced world headlines. Both were playthings of dark powers. Both of them, blonde and related in nature, became artists who survived, albeit at different times in completely different places in the world, and who made their own art out of this art to survive. Berlin will now be able to see these exhibits.

One, Rachel Gera, is not only a sought-after designer of unique jewellery in Israel. The other, Gabriele von Lutzau, creates metre-high sculptures made of wood cast in bronze. The artists are united in their fight against the ugly, dirty, against dictatorship and oppression. Both never wanted to give themselves up, not to be dictated by “criminals and idiots”. They sought and desired successfully with their art – Gabriele von Lutzau belligerent, Rachel Gera with luxury, beauty and aesthetics.

The beginning of the career was shock.

The German Gabriele von Lutzau presents her large yet filigree figures, which always have something to do with air, lightness and bird’s flight, i. e. they are always on the move and keep an eye on everything, from Frankfurt via New York to Shanghai. And now in Berlin, in the Commerzbank on Pariser Platz. The Israeli Rachel Gera is one of her customers. The late US actor and singer Danny Kaye and Sir Peter Ustinov also bought from her.

Both had something to do with the shock they had to go through and deal with at the beginning of their careers. Rachel’s shock, if you will look at it, lasted five years, Gabrieles five days. One of them began with art in 1939 at the age of a child, the other in 1977 at the age of 23. One was a victim of racial madness as a Jewess, the other as a stewardess, a victim of the kidnapping of the “Landshut” to Mogadishu. They survived, shaped for life. Both stories reflect the brutality of the 20th century.

Rachel’s pencils actually fell to his feet once upon a time

Rachel began painting at the age of three or four when she found forgotten crayons from an ancient wardrobe somewhere deep in the East of Europe – far away from home, from friends and all forms of security. Born in 1936, apparently in Tel Aviv’s security, Rachel and her mother got into the mills of National Socialism on September 1st when relatives visited Poland. They fled, persecuted by the Nazis and as Jews also disliked by the Poles, for months through the country. Wherever the mother was arrested, locked up and exploited in labour camps, the three-year-old daughter was there, had to help. On the run there were about 300,000 Jews who knew only one thing at that time: never fall into the clutches of the Nazis. Always fleeing to the east, they came to Lviv, today’s Lviv, in the Ukraine.

There, the crayons fell out of a worm-like cabinet and fell into her fingers. Rachel Gera remembers her first “painting”, showing a man with a mask, symbolizing the dark, which she tries to push into the background through artistic freedom and beauty.

Lviv remained a place of relative security, even though it was still further away from the father, the sun of Israel and her Palestinian homeland, despite the sad living conditions. But in the meantime, however, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which saw Poland as the German-Russian prey, won through in Russia, with the consequence that Poles were also persecuted in Stalin’s empire, Jews anyway. To this day, Rachel is not clear what she and her mother were before the foundation of Israel: Poles, stateless people or Palestinians. But whatever – nothing would have guaranteed justice and security. “The years back then have cost me my youth,”says Rachel Gera today.

Life consisted of labour camps and barbed wire

At some point on this flight they reached Central Russia and eventually left it again. The brain of a six-year-old doesn’t work according to facts, but according to impressions. For them, who in the meantime spoke Russian and Polish, the giant empire consisted only of grey labour camps, oppressive narrowness, barbed wire, hunger, stench, rachitic figures, foot marches, borscht and beetroot, but also of the primal instinct for survival. And then the turnaround on June 22,1941: Hitler’s invasion of Russia was over with the German-Soviet Entente. Suddenly Poland became a Soviet ally, that is, the exile Poles. Poland itself was occupied. A Polish general founded an exile army on Soviet soil – a desolate pile of emaciated figures that held only one thing together: their national pride. But when the bush radio spread that this troop went to Persia for recreation, bringing their families and Polish orphans with them, Rachel and her mother also wanted to leave.

The mother remained behind for lack of a Polish husband; she spent her daughter as an orphan because Jewish children were not allowed to join in and practically threw her onto the train at the last moment. She herself came four months later. With her last piece of jewellery she had bribed a single Pole. In this dramatic and illegal way, 862 Jewish children survived in Persia, from where they – now with the support of the Jewish Agency – finally reentered their homeland via Karachi on long detours years later. They all went down in history as the “Tehran children” for the foundation of Israel. Rachel Gera’s story will be broadcast on ZDF on November 9th in “The Children’s Odyssey”.

Gabriele was the only calm and quiet person during a five-day horror

The career of the other artist, Gabriele, started after a catastrophe as unimaginable as Rachel survived. As the daughter of an architect who kept the family afloat with vinegar and oil paintings in the post-war period, she found her way to art after a five-day shock. The stewardess Gabi Dillmann, then unmarried, just recently fallen in love and in the middle of life according to the motto “what the world costs”, was in service on the Lufthansa aircraft “Landshut”on October 13,1977. On the flight from Mallorca to Frankfurt the plane was hijacked by an Arab command.

A five-day horror flight through the Middle East began. Sometimes they were allowed to land, sometimes not, sometimes there was kerosene, then again not. A flight of error, which also plunged Germany into fear and terror. The kidnappers demanded the release of eleven imprisoned German and Turkish terrorists under desert threats. The crisis cabinet around Chancellor Helmut Schmidt met day and night, while the 86 passengers gradually sank into their own filth in the blazing heat, trembling with fear of the ever more nervous criminals. The only one who kept calm, despite the constant panic, was 23-year-old Gabriele.

She mediated, supplied, reassured the passengers – until the pilot Jürgen Schumann was shot, immediately next to her and forced by the terrorists before his execution to kneel down. There it was over for a moment with her version. She was unconscious and had to watch the body being thrown out of the cockpit onto the runway. When the GSG 9 suddenly stormed the machine after five days with flash grenades, the drama of the “German Autumn” was far from over.

Some people don’t even know who they are

The next day Baader, Ensslin and Raspe committed suicide in Stammheim, and another day later Hanns-Martin Schleyer was found murdered in the trunk of an Audi 100 in Mülheim, France. Gabi Dillmann became the “Angel of Mogadishu”according to the descriptions of the liberated passengers in Germany. She received the Federal Cross of Merit from Chancellor Schmidt, but then quit her job and withdrew from the public – so much so that there are still acquaintances today who do not know who is hiding behind Gabriele von Lutzau in reality.

Since then, the paths of the two women, who were brought together by Berlin media professional Stephan M. Vogel, have crossed in an abstract sense and with similar motifs: Gabi von Lutzau, née Dillmann, has also begun to work artistically – not on the wildest of her imagination, but only after eleven years of learning with Walther Piesch, professor at the University of Strasbourg. She keeps coming back to him in his courses.

Fate has played a terrible role for the two women, but they can’t break them. Not the German Gabriele von Lutzau, a Jeanne DArc of strength and courage, who loves her material with a helmet and chainsaw to create something delicate. She says:”The power of lightness, love and lust against the power of terror, death and the shackles of the world.” Fate could not break the other one either, the narrow Jewess Rachel Gera, whose smile reminds of Jane Birkin: charming, knowing and a little mysterious.

Until 31 July daily 11 a. m. to 8 p. m. (except Tue), Commerzbank am Pariser Platz