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The Conditions of Interpretation: A Reception History of The Synagogue by Max Beckmann

The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it.
-Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1936, second version)

The question to ask of pictures from the standpoint of poetics is not just what they mean or do but what they want – what claim they make upon us, and how we are to respond.  Obviously, this question also requires us to ask what it is that we want from pictures.
-W.J.T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images (2004)

Hermeneutics has long been the coin of Beckmann studies.  Thick with fish, candles, kings, and crescent moons, the frequently arcane pictures of this modern painter are almost preternaturally disposed to interpretation.  Art historians on both sides of the Atlantic have asked and answered the question that Beckmann’s pictures consistently pose: what do they mean?  His well-known Departure (1932, 1933-35) triptych provides a fitting object lesson (Fig.1).  According to the American art historian Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Departure is “an allegory of the triumphal voyage of the modern spirit through and beyond the agony of the modern world.”1  It is also, as the German art historian Reinhard Spieler has argued, a paradoxical representation of humanity’s iniquities and virtues that, it is both  tempting and precarious to claim, masquerades as an indictment of the then-nascent Third Reich.2  Beckmann himself left the interpretive doors open, albeit to those who shared the same “metaphysical code,” when he wrote: “One can only say that Departure is not tendentious, and that it can apply to all times.”3

Figure 1, Beckmann, “Departure”


What is remarkable about the many persuasive interpretations of Beckmann’s work is that they have been earned despite the limitations of the art historical method his figurative paintings seem to invite, namely iconography.  Codified by Erwin Panofsky in the mid-twentieth century, iconography “concerns itself with the subject matter or meaning of works of art, as opposed to their form.”4  The risk in simply decoding those signs and symbols, of converting a visual code into plain text, domesticates Beckmann’s pictures, depriving them of their formal power by creating a conventional (and therefore rigid) one-to-one relationship between symbol (fish) and meaning (fertility).5 To be fair, this approach is often used productively as a starting point in analyses of Beckmann’s pictures.  But when iconography is the alpha and omega of an art historian’s method, it can overwhelm the ineffable quality – embedded in the picture’s formal properties – that summoned the viewer in the first place.

More ambitious than the iconographers, however, are the Beckmann scholars, including Spieler, who have – consciously or not – employed Panfosky’s concept of iconology.  They are more ambitious because they build on the iconographers’ application of literary or thematic knowledge to a given motif by considering the artwork’s production within a broader cultural context.  This enables the iconologist to approach a more “synthetic” – as opposed to “analytic” – interpretation of the artwork’s formal qualities as an expression of its “intrinsic meaning or content.”6  Somewhat paradoxically, it assumes that although the artwork is a historical artifact, its meaning is immutable and unified, waiting to be discovered by the interpreter.  Put another  way, Panofsky’s method assumes the artwork to have symbolic meaning,7 which transcends the historical conditions of its production as well as the conditions of its interpretation.

Consider Beckmann’s lesser-known painting of The Synagogue (1919) (Fig.2).  Like Departure, it is a figurative painting that through the careful, yet disorienting arrangement of forms and subjects invites the viewer to ask questions.  Why is this apparently realistic cityscape at the same time so distorted?  Why is it nearly bereft of human presence, and who are those miniature, costumed figures at the center of the painting?  What does the cat represent?  What does it mean for this German artist, a nonbeliever who was raised Protestant, to have depicted a Jewish house of worship?  At first glance, The Synagogue is a picture that works symbolically; it appears to promise a unified, transcendent meaning that can be clarified through interpretation.  But its apparent symbolic condition is evident less in its symbols (the synagogue, the merry figures, the cat, etc.) than in the way in which Beckmann constructed pictorial space.  His canny application of Renaissance-style linear perspective is evident in the composition’s plunging orthogonal lines, which create an illusion of spatial depth that is reassuring in its denial of the picture plane, its recourse to the atemporal ideal of a more perfect world.

Figure 2, Beckmann, “Synagogue”

In this way, The Synagogue seems to have anticipated Panofsky’s attribution of “spiritual meaning” to what became the title of his 1927 essay “Perspective as Symbolic Form.”  Therein he asserted, with help from Ernst Cassirer, that perspective “may even be characterized as…one of those ‘symbolic forms’ in which ‘spiritual meaning is attached to a concrete, material sign and intrinsically given to this sign’.”8  But my Panofskian interpretation of The Synagogueas a painting of symbolic import shoulders a certain anachronism.  It applies an understanding of a symbolic system – one that had a particular meaning in Quattrocento Florence, for example – to an early twentieth-century depiction of a German cityscape.  Keith Moxey has pointed out that  the use of Panofsky’s notion of perspective as symbolic form “in a diachronic system of interpretation serves only to privilege the Renaissance above all other periods under consideration.”9 In this case, Panofsky’s notion cannot itself adduce the meaning(s) of The Synagogue as a historical artifact.

Upon closer inspection, The Synagogue’s attenuated orthogonals start to quiver and buckle, eventually surrendering to the picture’s artifice.  For Panofsky, perspective as symbolic form relied on the very conditions of its unifying function, that is, the disavowal of the picture’s material support.10  And yet this it is precisely what Beckmann emphasized when he positioned his friends’ house cat on the threshold between the fictive spaces of the picture and the fact of its canvas support.  The picture’s relationship to – its existence in – time becomes apparent in the viewer’s awareness of a connection between her present tense and the embalmed historicity of the image.  The Synagogue starts to behave allegorically, in opposition to the symbol’s transcendence.  Allegory’s temporal contingency, or what Paul de Man dubbed “the rhetoric of temporality,”11  yields in Beckmann’s painting a wider variety of interpretive possibilities across time.  Put differently, The Synagogue wants its viewer to collaborate rather than decode.  It wants her to bring her perspective to bear on her understanding of the picture, what Hans Robert Jauss calls the viewer’s “horizon of expectations” (Erwartungshorizont), her cultural assumptions and worldview in a particular moment and place in time.12

My role in this essay, however, is less that of a viewer than of a historian or a Wissenschaftler in the German academic tradition.  I am more interested in documenting the archival evidence of The Synagogue’s reception, the conditions of its interpretation.  In so doing, I forego my own interpretation of the picture and in its place offer a reception history, one that excavates the painting’s meanings accrued in the intersubjective relationship between it and its viewers over time.13  This study tracks The Synagogue’s rapport with its viewers across four chronological episodes wherein particular qualities or potential uses of the painting become ascendant: Postwar Poetics (1919-1921); Prescient Picture, Historical Document (1945-1964); Art and Politics (1972); Formalist and Pedagogical Uses (1972-present).  Admittedly subjective, my decision to select these episodes was nonetheless contingent on an empirical judgment that a critical mass of evidence (e.g. a concentration of primary sources) could constitute an episode worthy of study.14  Each episode has a distinct sensibility determined by its protagonists and the evidence of their interactions with the painting.  The former are a diverse lot that includes the artist and his critics, his collectors as well as a museum director, curators and art historians, journalists and pedestrians, museum educators and students.  The latter, equally diverse, includes memoir passages and art criticism, letters and telegrams, newspaper articles, exhibition photographs, and a poster as well as an art historical essay, an exhibition catalogue, and several interviews.15  Emphasizing various modes of engagement with the object over time, this reception history (uncommon in Beckmann studies) privileges interpreting the evidence of the episode over that of the painting qua painting.  It understands The Synagogue not as a rarefied object, but rather a historical agent.  My ultimate aim is to demonstrate The Synagogue’s radical authenticity, that is, its unique capacity to both assert and elicit its historical testimony.16

Postwar Poetics (1919-1921)

On a Monday morning in late September 1919, Beckmann hosted a visitor in his Frankfurt studio, which was located just south of the Main river in the city district known as Sachsenhausen.17  Beckmann moved to Frankfurt in the autumn of 1915 following nearly a year of active duty as a medical orderly on the Eastern and Western Fronts.18  Like many of his peers, he suffered a nervous collapse in the war and was furloughed to Strasbourg to convalesce in the summer of 1915; his commanding officer then dispatched him to Frankfurt.19  Eventually the conversation that late September morning in 1919 turned to this modern city of medieval provenance.  Beckmann’s visitor was Reinhard Piper, a friend, colleague and collector of his pictures as well as the founder of the publishing house, R. Piper & Co. Verlag in Munich.20  He inquired after Beckmann’s artistic plans, to which the painter allegedly replied: “I want to paint landscapes again.  For example, the synagogue over there, with its green cupola and the moon above in a green evening sky.  The whole thing has to look quite festive (feierlich).”21  An ambivalent term denoting both joyous celebration and dignified ceremony, feierlich conveys Beckmann’s relationship to the building, its site, and Frankfurt in the months following the end of World War I.  What did he see sur le motif?22

When Beckmann referred to the synagogue “over there,” he meant the relatively new synagogue on the Börneplatz in the heart of Frankfurt’s historic Jewish quarter (Figs.3 and 4).23   It lay just north of the river and east of the city center, a brisk thirty-minute walk from Beckmann’s studio.  As Christiane Zeiller has demonstrated, Beckmann’s sketchbooks reveal his practice of drawing in situ, often on the street; three sketchbooks from this Frankfurt period feature several cursory studies of and a more developed sketch for The Synagogue.24  His subject was one of four synagogues in Frankfurt at the time, a handsome red brick building that was designed by the Berlin architect Siegfried Kusnitzky and erected between 1881 and 1882.  Kusnitzky dressed the synagogue’s corner façade in rusticated masonry, measured fenestration, and a graceful monumentality reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance.25  He crowned the medieval turret-like structure that joined these perpendicular walls with a copper cupola whose near-eastern silhouette gave the synagogue an exotic profile amidst the ordinary apartment and  shop facades on the Börneplatz.26  The sight of so striking a synagogue in the company of vernacular neighbors must have struck Beckmann as picture worthy.27  His elevated perspective28 through a window from the north side of the Börneplatz afforded a sidelong view of the synagogue and three apartment buildings that presided over the triangular city square.29  Assuming Beckmann started the painting sometime in September 1919, it took him about four months to complete; in one of his sketchbooks at the time he declared the picture “finished Christmas 19.”30 That he sought to accent the festive sensibility of this vista seems fitting given the synagogue’s elegant mien in an otherwise pedestrian cityscape.  It might have represented a kind of orthodox spiritual safeguard against Frankfurt’s modern hurly-burly as well as the simmering urban violence and growing anti-Semitism that afflicted Germany after the armistice and end of World War I.

Figure 3, Synagogue, Boerneplatz

Wartime and post-war attitudes toward Jews in Germany were fraught with complications and contradictions.  In August 1914 many Jewish and gentile German citizens alike rushed to war in defense of the fatherland.  Just two years later, however, the War Ministry conducted the so-called Jewish census, or Judenzählung.  Performed ostensibly to combat anti-Semitic rumors of “Jewish shirking,” the census was designed to determine whether more Jewish Germans than others were evading military service.31  However well intended, it had a grievous affect on the political and social status of Jews in Germany by stoking fear and resentment among non-Jewish German soldiers and civilians who sought a scapegoat for their wartime suffering at the hands of corrupt government and military officials.32  As a veteran as well as a friend of Heinrich Simon, the well-connected publisher and chief editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung, Beckmann was almost certainly familiar with these debates.  This mainstream newspaper was against the census and the risky consequences of asking after a soldier’s religious affiliation.33  The November 1918 armistice and subsequent Revolution intensified social unrest throughout Germany and initiated a protracted period of inflation.  Frankfurt saw its share of demonstrations, strikes and plundering in the months following the armistice, primarily due to rampant unemployment.34  A radical, if limited strain of anti-Semitism – one based on a foundation of latent anti-Semitism that infected many Frankfurt citizens – accompanied this postwar unrest,35 despite (or perhaps because of) the civil rights Jews had enjoyed in Frankfurt since 1864.36

Figure 4, Boerneplatz

Neither these social circumstances nor the Börneplatz synagogue’s civic function, and the community it served, likely had a direct bearing on Beckmann’s decision to capture its likeness in paint on canvas.  Still, they raise questions about his relationship to and attitudes toward Frankfurt’s diverse Jewish community.  Beckmann’s social circle included members of the Jewish-German cultural elite in Frankfurt.  For example, he cultivated a professional and personal relationship with the art historian and museum director Georg Swarzenski, who in 1919 purchased Beckmann’s 1917 Descent from the Cross for the Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt (Fig.5).37  And according to Beckmann’s second wife Mathilde “Quappi” Beckmann, Heinrich Simon and his wife Irma were “among Max’s best friends.”38  In fact, in the first half of 1919 Beckmann lived temporarily with the Simon’s along with the journalist and writer Benno Reifenberg.39  Beckmann attended Simon’s regular Friday salon (Freitagstisch) that was, according to Reifenberg, frequented by “the better part of Germany’s intellectuals.”40  One member of the Freitagstisch described Beckmann as “an errant artist, a stranger.”41  This description is not out of step with Reinhard Piper’s characterization of Beckmann, about whom he devoted a chapter in his memoir, first published in 1950 and again in 1964.42  Therein Piper recounted a conversation from one of several visits to Beckmann’s studio in 1919 during which  he quoted the artist having said the following regarding Frankfurt’s Eastern European Jewish population.43

I believe in Germany, because I believe in myself.  I am a German through and through.  The numerous Jews in Frankfurt don’t bother me in the least.  On the contrary, these black-clad, industrious people are in many respects quite beneficial for us.44

Whether Piper transcribed Beckmann’s statement verbatim in the artist’s presence or filtered it through his memory days, months, or years later is impossible to verify.45 The statement exists.  The question is how do we interpret it?  Piper provided some guidance in the preface to his memoir, wherein he speculated that a sense of the times may well emerge in the details of his encounters, in the “many small occurrences” he recorded.46  Though no small occurrence to our eyes, Beckmann’s statement assumes a different tone when placed in the context of immigration debates in Frankfurt during and after the war.  From the end of the nineteenth century, Eastern European Jews (Ostjuden) immigrated to Germany in large numbers to escape economic hardship and violent persecution.47  Wartime populations of Ostjuden swelled with the influx of Eastern European Jewish laborers (recruited and forced) as well as refugees and war prisoners.48  On November 1, 1919, Germany’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Heine issued a controversial edict that allowed Ostjuden to remain in Germany; his detractors within the government and among civilians were outraged that resources would be spent on foreigners while German nationals suffered in the post-war economic crisis.49  In the context of this debate, Beckmann’s statement suggests a tolerant, if “slightly ironic” tone toward the Ostjuden in Frankfurt,50  where they tended to be low- and mid-level merchants and salesmen as well as craftsmen and manual laborers.51  Compared to the assimilated German Jews in Beckmann’s social circle, the Ostjuden, frequently clad in the traditional black caftans of Hasidic Judaism,52  were generally more conservative and observant.  Many of them lived in the Jewish quarter,53 where Beckmann would have encountered them on his visits there to sketch the Börneplatz synagogue.

When Beckmann first exhibited his portrayal of The Synagogue in April 1921 at the Frankfurt Art Association (Frankfurter Kunstverein), his critics perceived a provocation and tension in the picture that inspired a range of responses.54  The first review appeared soon thereafter in the Frankfurter Zeitung and was filed by the critic and art historian Wilhelm Hausenstein.  His appraisal began in this way: “The first impression is one of penetration, something absolutely piercing.”55  Hausenstein’s argument that Beckmann was a nihilist as well as an “intransigent naturalist” (ein intransigenter Naturalist) was, he contended, evident in the artist’s pictures, which “groan under the torture of their [pictorial] order.”56  What they needed was a bit of Schubert, he wryly suggested, attributing to Beckmann’s pictures a powerful synaesthetic effect.  The downturned megaphone hanging from telephone wire in The Synagogue’s upper right corner conjured for Hausenstein the sense of “imprisoned noise as in Münchhausen’s frozen coach horn.”57  His readers were undoubtedly familiar with the eighteenth-century Baron von Münchhausen’s misadventures, popularized by Gottfried August Bürger.58  This literary parallel highlighted the fantastic qualities of Beckmann’s otherwise realistic scene.  More significantly, Hausenstein did not so much describe what he saw as what he heard, or did not hear.  It was a remarkable verbal/literary approximation of the picture’s quarantined aurality.  It is unclear whether the leap of faith that his characterization required was one that his readers were willing to make in the absence of an illustration,59 but it likely got a few through the doors to see the show.

Siegfried Kracauer, the Frankfurt School journalist, writer, and sociologist who would become known for his analyses of popular culture and film in Weimar as well as Nazi Germany, penned a four-page essay on Beckmann’s newest paintings for the autumn 1921 issue of Die Rheinlande, a quarterly journal, based in Düsseldorf, for German art and poetry.60  His précis of Beckmann’s career and review of recent pictures opened with a bleak reflection on the artist’s Descent from the Cross, a dessicated painting that expressed the lingering catastrophe of World War I (see Fig.5).  On this evidence, Kracauer declared Beckmann “an artist of our time,” in whose pictures “the pain of contemporary humanity is effectively embodied.”61 A discussion of The Synagogue arrived on the last page and was accompanied by a reproduction of the painting.  Kracauer wrote:

The ground shakes, the temple heaves, and with them sink the tenements and factories…  Everything that our civilization has created is ripe for destruction.  The light-posts, streetlamps, advertising columns, and wooden fences are pulled into a dance of destruction while the gramophone steadily amplifies dreadful street songs, that render mute each scream for mercy and may thus sound sweet to the ears of Hell’s princes.62

Like Hausenstein, Kracauer was attuned to the picture’s uncanny sound effects, but placed them within a familiar urban environment that anticipated disaster, an apocalypse in potentia.  What is more, Kracauer’s early training as an architect with Jewish roots in Frankfurt revealed his familiarity with the cityscape depicted in The Synagogue.63  And yet he dwelled less on the real-world referent than on the contradictory effects of Beckmann’s sign.  Kracauer’s description of the painting was at once symbolic and allegorical,64 a poetic description that was symptomatic of a society in crisis.

Figure 5, Beckmann, “Deposition”

The third critic to review The Synagogue at the time was Benno Reifenberg.  As Beckmann’s former roommate in early 1919, Reifenberg may well have seen The Synagogue in advance of the 1921 exhibition, if not in-progress in Beckmann’s studio.  Revealing an intimate knowledge of the picture as well as the city, Reifenberg published his interpretation in the third volume of Ganymed,65  a cultural yearbook dedicated to visual art, poetry, music, and theater that Hausenstein and Julius Meier-Graefe co-edited.66  Reifenberg’s essay was not an exhibition review per se, but rather a reflection on Beckmann’s current painting in troubled times.  “The war restored the painter to reality, to new subject-matter,” wrote Reifenberg referring to the catalytic impact of the war on Beckmann’s creative transformation, evident in painting such as Night (Fig.6).67

Figure 6, Beckman, “Night”

Regarding Night, completed in early 1919, Reifenberg continued: “The war continued to fester, eating away at humanity…do you believe the war is over, is history?  The war continues.”68 On The Synagogue, which was illustrated in the article in a black-and-white reproduction, his language turned allusive and poetic:

Well it was finally time to again venture back into the streets, even though it at first seemed as if the only street on earth were Friedrichstraße, which was “hell.”  No one, however, could go for a walk beyond the “hustle and bustle” of the city.  At night after closing time, hat pushed back, one could discover all kinds of things there.  For example, the red synagogue with the verdigris cupola.  Everything was quite remarkable: these carefully overlapping lantern posts, advertising column, a small pull cart.  Even the striking contours of a tomcat.  The houses, boxes with many window eyes, stand around something that people call a plaza.  A slab of pavement, around which runs a path, is contained by a wooden fence.  There is order in such a plaza.  A human order.  It is not fundamentally a rational order, like that which grows from a tree or the line drawn by distant hills.

It is rather like the order of honeycomb cells, only these cells do not border one another in a regular manner; they jostle one another, they thrust their shoulders forward, and draw back wall by wall, the ones who stare while the others blink ambivalently out their windows.  Here and there a lamp burns and casts its false light into the twilight.  However, one suddenly senses the devilish calm in this square.  It is nearly emptied of people.  Are the doors bolted shut?  Why are the stores closed?  What is happening here?  The sky twitches with all of its stars in a coppery surge; is everything really okay here?  Oh no, it’s not time to steal away upon secret paths through painted streets into nature, into the open, into idyll.  Let’s go into the rooms.  Who’s hiding there?  What kind of men inhabit such rooms?  We want to meet them, our fellow citizens, to grab them by their coat lapels and look into their eyes.69

By introducing anonymous actors – citizens of Frankfurt – into his account of The Synagogue, Reifenberg verbalized its visual entreaty to its immediate recipients in a way that recalled Beckmann’s 1918 credo: “I hope we achieve a transcendental objectivity out of a deep love for nature and humanity. (…) Perhaps this age will help me.”70  But the utopian optimism that characterized many likeminded texts from the months before and immediately after the armistice was notably absent from both the painting and its initial reception.  As Reifenberg and his colleagues noted, The Synagogue possessed a magical, even ominous quality that was at once unmistakable and invisible.  This must have been acutely familiar to contemporary viewers for whom the violence and suffering of the war persisted in the social and economic crises of the  early 1920s.  In this sense, Reifenberg’s fraught description objectified his horizon of expectations, his lived experience of and attitude toward the site at that time.71

From the vantage point of poetics, these three descriptions exemplify an ancient rhetorical mode known as ekphrasis, that is “the verbal representation of visual representation.”72  Two kinds of description characterize Reifenberg’s passage; his impersonal inventory of the painting’s various props gives way to a description of their unsettling effect.  He enters the painting via its main thoroughfare and proceeds to describe Beckmann’s Frankfurt cityscape and its eerie landmarks as if they were real.73 Moreover, he writes first in the past and then in the present tense, suggesting an intimate familiarity with the painting’s contracted pictorial space and topography.  Reifenberg’s ekphrasis thus constitutes an interpretation of The Synagogue that understood its uncanny reality as central to its meaning.

Reifenberg’s poetic language departed from the formalist discourse that characterized modern art criticism in Germany at the time.74  In this case, ekphrasis in the service of modern art criticism revealed neither iconophilia nor iconophobia,75 but rather the inadequacy of formalist interpretations to account for the artwork’s magnetic inscrutability.  The matter of form qua form was incidental in these three discussions of The Synagogue, a not uninteresting relegation given the formalist praise lavished on Night, Beckmann’s break-through painting.76  For although elsewhere in their texts all three critics explicitly addressed and applauded Beckmann’s formal transformation from Berlin Secessionist to “intransigent naturalist” (per Hausenstein), they each forsook formalist interpretation in favor of poetic descriptions that variously reconciled the picture with the contemporary trauma of lived experience.  Reifenberg’s ekphrasis in particular amounted to an allegorical reading of The Synagogue that recognized the painting’s relationship to its temporal circumstances as both rhetorical and intrinsic.  Put another way, his interpretation was the first to concretize the meaning of The Synagogue as not merely timely, but prophetic – a significant reading given what was to come in the next decades.

Prescient Picture, Historical Document (1945-1964)

What does it mean for an artwork – or, for that matter, an artist – to be prophetic?  The notion of the artist as prophet is a modernist trope that had special currency in Germany.  In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, published in late 1911, Wassily Kandinsky wrote metaphorically of society as a great triangle.  In “The Movement of the Triangle,” he proclaimed: ” In every segment of the triangle are artists.  Each one of them who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to those about him, and helps the advance of the obstinate whole.”77  This belief in the artist’s capacity to elevate the masses through spiritual edification was one that the critic and art historian Paul Ferdinand Schmidt reiterated in 1919 with respect to Beckmann.  He argued that “the true artist is a prophet of his time and not “topical”; his art emerges out of the deep and true religious layers of social consciousness.”78

This attitude may have hastened a particular view of Beckmann’s depiction of The Synagogue.  In 1963, Benno Reifenberg wrote an essay entitled “Max Beckmann in Frankfurt” in which he repeated much of what he said in 1921 about The Synagogue, but with a noteworthy addition: “I’ve always believed that Beckmann had a premonition that this plaza would one day lie horribly empty.”79 In addition to arguing for the artist’s spiritual clairvoyance, Reifenberg’s terse comment demonstrated an inability to reconcile events of Germany’s recent past with the picture’s form and subject.  In the two decades following the end of World War II, poetic description gave way to interpretations of the painting as a prescient picture as well as a  historical document.  In explicit and implicit ways, these interpretations were shaped by the cultural politics of Germany’s emerging Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or the “struggle to come to terms with the past.”80

Perhaps Reifenberg’s more significant reflection on The Synagogue’s troubling prescience came in his 1949 essay on Beckmann entitled “Work and Life” featured in a monograph on Beckmann he co-wrote with Hausenstein.81  Reifenberg’s analysis of the painting takes up ten sentences, six of which he borrowed from his 1921 essay in Ganymed.  He wrote:

At the time, [Beckmann] painted “The Synagogue” (1919), an impenetrable, clotted structure with carefully painted thin colors akin to the many pictures from this period that resembled stained-glass windows.  There stood the red building with the verdigris cupola on the plaza held together by a wooden fence.  The houses spaced around it stare, [while] others blink equivocally out of their windows. “Here and there a lamp burns and casts its false light into the twilight.  However, one suddenly senses the devilish calm in this square.  It is nearly emptied of people.  Are the doors bolted shut?  Why are the stores closed?  What is happening here?”  These questions that were posed with respect to this picture in 1921 (in the journal Ganymed) found an answer seventeen years later when the synagogue was burned to the ground; today only the emptiness of the plaza remains.82

Reifenberg’s readers likely knew the event to which he alluded.  The Kristallnacht – or Night of Broken Glass – claimed the Börneplatz synagogue as one of its many victims in the early morning hours of November 10, 1938 (Fig. 7).83 The consequences of the violence against German Jews were particularly brutal in Frankfurt.  Three days prior, Herschel Grünspan, a  German-Polish Jew living in Paris and former student in Frankfurt, shot Ernst vom Rath, an official in the German embassy in Paris who also happened to be from Frankfurt.84  Grünspan had been desperate to learn more from an uncooperative Rath about the fate of his family who were among the 2,000 Jews of Polish descent that had been recently deported to the German-Polish border.85  Rath died of his wounds on November 9, becoming a pretext to both spontaneous and organized acts of violence against Jews, their homes, and their communities across Germany.  When it was over, nearly all of Germany’s synagogues were either completely destroyed by fire or damaged beyond repair, not to mention the destruction of innumerable Jewish businesses, homes, and cemeteries.  At least ninety-one Jews were murdered in that forty-eight hour period and some 26,000 were arrested including countless Frankfurt Jews, 2,621 of whom were soon thereafter deported to the concentration camp in Buchenwald.86  This reign of terror had a chilling affect on the citizens of Frankfurt, many of whom, according to eyewitness accounts of the burning of the Börneplatz synagogue, appeared immobilized by the violence against their Jewish neighbors.87

Figure 7, Synagogue, 1938

Through his allusions to the Kristallnacht in his two postwar analyses of The Synagogue, Reifenberg moved from a poetic description to what was, in effect, a semiotic analysis; the signifier remained the same, but the signified changed because the cultural and historical context had changed.  Although he repeated elements of his 1921 ekphrasis, Reifenberg offered a new way of thinking about The Synagogue that emphasized its historicity as an object and as a sign.  The destruction of Frankfurt’s Börneplatz synagogue and its Jewish population constituted a macabre answer to the questions he believed the inscrutable painting posed in 1921.  Reifenberg acknowledged that bleak reality when he concluded his 1949 analysis in this way: “…today only the emptiness of the plaza remains.”88  He thus exemplified Jauss’ assertion that meaning unfolds  historically in the dialogue between artwork and viewer, or to paraphrase: when we interpret a text or picture we often ask questions that it did not yet need to answer in its own time.89 The prophetic dimension of Reifenberg’s new interpretation reflected and also helped constitute a cultural reality of Vergangenheitsbewältigung that was beginning to emerge in postwar Germany.

Figure 8, Holzinger

This preoccupation with the painting’s prescience also marked Ernst Holzinger’s efforts to acquire The Synagogue for Frankfurt’s Städel Museum (Fig. 8).  As Director, Holzinger had long desired The Synagogue.  Numerous letters and memos between 1951 and 1972 attest to his determination in an often thwarted, but ultimately successful effort to acquire the painting from Herbert Kurz.  A successful industrialist from Wiesbaden, Kurz bought The Synagogue in around 1936.90  He loaned it to five exhibitions in the fifties and early sixties and, starting in 1951, had an arrangement with the Städel to store the picture between shows along with other works in his collection.91  Holzinger hoped that Kurz would one day either donate or sell it to the Städel Museum.  In a letter to Kurz from 1960, he described the painting as a “Frankofurtensie,” a kind of souvenir or collector’s item with special ties to Frankfurt’s history.92 Holzinger continued:

Because of its subject, the picture is an important ‘Frankofurtensie,’ a memorial, if you like, to the old Frankfurt.  Thus we also hope that someday, when you are able to part with it, you would like to give it to Frankfurt.  I trust that we would be capable of arranging a purchase at any time.93

In a subsequent letter to Kurz from 1961, Holzinger contended that were The Synagogue to enter the Städel’s collection, it would be “an eternal reminder of the burning down of the synagogue in the Kristallnacht.”94  As interpretations of the painting, his arguments of persuasion relied on the sense of presience that Reifenberg also attributed to The Synagogue.  In the coming years, Holzinger built on that assumption a disciplined and complex case for acquisition, one that understood the painting as an important historical document.

Holzinger arrived in Frankfurt before World War II at a time that The Synagogue appeared to anticipate and that recent scholarship has shed new and important light on.95  In 1938, Holzinger became Director of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut after Hanns Swarzenski recommended him for the position that his father – Georg Swarzenski – was forced by the Nazis to abdicate.96  Beginning in 1949,97 Holzinger also presided over the Städel’s Städtische Galerie, a publicly funded institution founded in 1907 by the elder Swarzenski primarily to showcase modern art.98  Between 1936 and 1937, the Städtische Galerie saw its exemplary collection of modern art – including ten paintings by Beckmann – confiscated in the Nazi’s campaign to purge German museums of what they dubbed “Degenerate Art” (Entartete Kunst).99  After the war, like many other directors of German museums (including those in Cologne, Karlsruhe, Essen, and Wuppertal),100  Holzinger began to rebuild the Städel’s modern collection, placing an early emphasis on Beckmann’s paintings.101  He admired Beckmann’s work and knew him personally, having visited the exiled artist in Amsterdam in April 1941.102  Between 1951 and 1959, he acquired five of Beckmann’s paintings either through restitution or purchase.103

Holzinger nonetheless emerged from the war as an ambivalent figure.  In April 1933, a few months following Hitler’s rise to power, he applied for membership to the National Socialist Party while he was a conservator at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich; but in the time it took to vet his allegiance, a moratorium on membership was announced, and Holzinger had by then become disillusioned with the Party’s ideology.104  He never became an official Party member.  In 1941, however, three years into his tenure as Director of the Städel Museum, he was appointed by the “Cultural Chamber of the Reich” (Reichskulturkammer) in Berlin to be an “Authority for the  Securing and the Utilization of Cultural Assets from Jewish Ownership for the Purposes of the Reich.”105  Between August 1941 and the end of 1943, Holzinger prepared some fifty-five appraisals of confiscated artworks that argued for their retention for sale to either German or foreign museums or private collectors.106  On the other hand, it was in this role that he salvaged and after the war repatriated the art collection of Alfred Oppenheim, who had fled Germany for England in 1939.107 What’s more, Holzinger clandestinely stored Carl Hagemann’s extensive collection of Expressionist art, saving it from confiscation by Nazi authorities.108 The jury is still out on Holzinger’s wartime actions, which are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile.109 And yet the evidence suggests that he acted less out of ideology than out of his deep commitment to art.  To be sure, his postwar correspondence regarding The Synagogue suggests a more unequivocal figure, whose discretion, persistence and shrewd aesthetic judgment hastened that painting’s acquisition.

Holzinger quietly began fund raising for The Synagogue in 1963 when he appealed for a special grant from Frankfurt’s Department of Science, Art, and Education (Amt für Wissenschaft, Kunst und Volksbildung).  In a letter to City Councilman (Stadtrat) Karl vom Rath, Holzinger offered an explicit appeal: “The extraordinary historical importance of the painting for Frankfurt is unquestionable.  Its high artistic status has been splendidly and definitively proven over the years and more recently in the [Städtische] Galerie.”110  The emphasis he consistently placed on the painting’s historical value was throughout supported by a tacit affirmation of the painting’s singular formal qualities.  A pupil of the Swiss art historian and pioneer of formal analysis Heinrich Wölfflin, Holzinger wrote his 1927 dissertation at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich on an early period of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut production.  In pictures from this period, Holzinger identified the artist’s precocious ability to harmonize corporeal forms within  flat spatial planes.111  The Synagogue’s taut integration of both these qualities in a single picture – for example, the witty connection between the cupola’s tumescent drum and its pinnacle that just scrapes the top of the flat picture plane – must have appealed to Holzinger.  For example, the cupola’s drum is tipped back slightly and strapped in by its pinnacle set parallel to the picture plane.  Holzinger later aptly identified the onion dome as the painting’s “key form” (Schlüsselfigur).112

But if Holzinger ever composed a Wölfflinian argument for The Synagogue’s acquisition, it is not contained in his papers in the Städel Archive.  Rather, when it came to building his case, he underlined the painting’s subject matter rather than its formal properties, even though it was precisely the ways in which Beckmann rendered the Börneplatz synagogue that activated its historical associations.  The painting’s subject matter and the uncanny manner in which it was rendered uniquely qualified it for Frankfurt, whose diverse Jewish population and culture were once as vital as their annihilation under Hitler was devastating.  Were it to assume its proper place in a public collection, Holzinger argued, The Synagogue would be a powerful testament to and reminder of that loss.  In this regard, Holzinger was even more explicit in his letter to Rath from June 14, 1963.

No other artist has created such effective, artistic documents of this ominous historical period than Beckmann.  The Synagogue is one such document.  The building was set afire and destroyed in the Kristallnacht – it was the main synagogue of the Israelite community.  One suspects that as he painted the picture, Beckmann foresaw this threatening and impending destruction.113

This was an especially timely, even shrewd argument as evident in a newspaper article tucked into Holzinger’s correspondence regarding The Synagogue.  Just two days before he wrote this  letter in June 1963, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungran a full-page article that consisted of excerpts from newly released and collected documents from the Nazi period pertaining to the oppression of Jews in Frankfurt.114  According to the newspaper’s editor, this powerful new collection “dispense[d] with explication and allow[ed] the documents to speak for themselves.  They were difficult to obtain.”115 Likewise Holzinger avoided interpreting The Synagogue solely for its artistic merits, viewing it instead as a historical document and perhaps as a vehicle for collective Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

Plans for a possible sale began in earnest sometime after Christmas 1962, when Kurz finally expressed his readiness to sell the painting to the Städel.116  Negotiations with Kurz peaked in the fall of 1963 and early winter months of 1964.  Having succeeded in persuading Rath, Holzinger also required the cooperation of other city officials since the acquisition would come through the Städtische Galerie.  And while Kurz did not name a price, Holzinger assumed he wanted at least 200,000 DM (then roughly $50,400) for the painting, based on its then current insurance value approved by Kurz the previous year.117 This formidable price tag, which exceeded the Galerie’s annual acquisition budget, required Holzinger to ask the city’s Cultural Committee (Kulturausschuss) for a special allowance that was neither easily nor quickly approved.118  These protracted deliberations irritated Kurz, who was known for being “a somewhat difficult man.”119  Between September and December 1963, Kurz retracted, reinstated, and retracted his offer again.  Holzinger responded on December 2 to Kurz’s decision as “a hard blow,” its effect “catastrophic.”120  In the meantime, funding was at last approved for the painting’s acquisition on January 13, 1964, but Kurz remained obstinate: “the painting is not for sale and I expect its immediate return.  Money for this painting will not be accepted.”121 Holzinger conceded defeat on January 21 in a letter that was by turns angry and, in its conclusion, inconsolable.

How could your denial not hit me hard, deeply and personally, but also in my professional duties and in my relationship to the city of Frankfurt?  How should I be able to take this lightly?  The picture belongs to no one more than Frankfurt, as Beckmann would have wished; I therefore wanted it more than any other for Frankfurt and not out of ambition.  Now it must leave Frankfurt again under such extremely sad and supremely depressing circumstances.122

Fearing a possible sale of The Synagogueto MoMA, Holzinger made a powerful, but futile last-ditch effort to keep the painting in Germany by applying for its protection under a law against the emigration of German cultural patrimony.123 His letter to the Hessian Cultural Minister (Hessischen Kultusminister) is a summary of all the arguments he had theretofore marshaled in support of the acquisition.  He wrote:

The main synagogue in Frankfurt was burned down on November 9, 1938.  It is the only German synagogue that in modern times has been immortalized in a picture by a great German artist, and in such an undeniably grand manner.  Immediately after the picture was created in a most vital period, Benno Reifenberg commented on it in the Frankfurter Zeitung; [he says] it gives the impression that a catastrophe was imminent.  It came to pass – the synagogue was burned down.  Beckmann had already needed to leave Germany.  There can be no doubt that the painting is a Frankofurtensie of the highest order.  It is equally legitimate to characterize the picture as a national treasure because it belongs to German history, because it testifies to the foreboding power of a great spirit vis-à- vis the future, because it thus becomes a historical document, and because it was created by one of the most significant German painters of the twentieth century.124

Citing, among other reasons, a strict interpretation of the law and a reluctance to protect twentieth-century artworks, the presiding judge denied Holzinger’s request.125

Holzinger’s rejoinder to Kurz and his appeal to the Hessian Cultural Minister are apparent enough.  But the motivation behind them can only ever be surmised, however tempting it is to read them as expressions of Holzinger’s failed attempt at expiation for his, then secret, wartime transgressions.  Whether he sought this sort of redemption we cannot know, but the question of redemption nonetheless looms in the background of this particular episode in The Synagogue’s reception history.  It creates a new condition for interpretation that assumes the profundity of historical experience.  In this way, Holzinger made the not uncommon assumption that art has the power to redeem, “to master the presumed raw material of experience.”126 But, as Leo Bersani argues, such an assumption mollifies historical experience.  Indeed, The Synagogue seemed to activate historical experience in the analyses of its interlocutors in the 1960s.  In this postwar period, the painting’s subject matter appeared to anticipate the Holocaust’s devastation and its mute and prescient forms offered no reassurance; the painting denied the legibility and unity demanded by redemption.  For Holzinger as well as Reifenberg, it offered not an escape from but a constant and necessary reminder of the war.

Art and Politics (1972)

Paradoxically the matter of The Synagogue’s prophetic quality and the role it was obliged to perform in both public and private discussions of Germany under the Third Reich waned as the possibility of a successful acquisition by the Städel increased in the early seventies.  This was in  spite, or perhaps because of, the 1967 publication and widespread success of The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior, co-authored by the Frankfurt-based psychologists Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich.127  The Inability to Mournoffered the German public a socio-psychological diagnosis of its denial of the immediate past, an argument that resonated among West German intellectuals as well as adherents of the 1968 protest movements, many of whom were born or came of age after the war.128 By the early seventies, new advocates for The Synagogue took over from Holzinger.  In the renewed efforts to acquire the painting for the Städel Museum, these advocates needed The Synagogue to address Frankfurt’s cultural politics by appealing to a number of different and not always compatible audiences.

With Herbert Kurz’s death in June 1967, acquisition negotiations were re-opened.129  In February 1970, Kurz’s son gave Holzinger the option to purchase the painting for 750.000DM (then roughly $207,000), an amount based on an offer his mother had received from an American dealer.130  Perhaps out of deference to her late husband’s original commitment to sell the painting to the Städel, Annemarie Kurz agreed to give Holzinger a second chance.  Blanched by the new price tag and reluctant to undertake singlehandedly the acquisition again, Holzinger recognized that a new strategy was required.  He enlisted several individuals in this renewed effort, chief among them was Hilmar Hoffmann, Frankfurt’s newly appointed City Councilor of Cultural Affairs (Kulturdezernent) (Fig.9).  The result was a campaign for the acquisition of The Synagogue – the so-called Aktion Synagoge – one modeled on the Basel Kunstmuseum’s successful public fundraising campaign in 1967 to purchase two paintings by Picasso.131  Like the organizers of this Picasso Aktion, Hoffmann and his team faced the daunting task of raising what, to some, was a nearly insurmountable figure.  Representing the annual appropriation budget for acquisitions in 1971, 250.000DM were recommended early on from the city’s  Cultural Committee (Kulturausschuss) in charge of funding for the Städtische Galerie, but the remaining 500.000DM would have to be raised through various kinds of donations.132

Figure 9, Hoffman

It was not Holzinger, but Hoffmann who largely conceived of, managed, and executed this ambitious plan, which was successfully realized in 1972.  In contrast to Holzinger’s discrete and relatively uncoordinated negotiations of 1963-64, the Aktion Synagoge was a populist and highly disciplined public campaign.133  Hoffmann was at the time in his mid-forties and had come to Frankfurt with a background in theater and film as well as public service.134  A member of the liberal SPD, the then ruling party in Frankfurt, he possessed the energy, experience, and political acumen necessary to realize this ambitious undertaking.  Hoffmann’s mantra “Culture for All” (Kultur für Alle) encapsulated his belief in the essential role of culture in a democratic society and in his commitment to bringing art to the people through meaningful dialogue across society as a whole.135

The Aktion Synagoge thus put Hoffmann’s theories into practice, prompting one journalist to refer to the enterprise as so much “art propaganda” (Kunstpropaganda).136  The two main events of the Aktion occurred in the early summer of 1972.  Hoffmann and his team orchestrated a series of public happenings designed to raise money and call attention to their cause.  They took place on the Hauptwache, a large plaza and site of the baroque guardhouse at the center of Frankfurt, which was and remains one of the city’s most trafficked plazas for pedestrians and subway commuters alike.  It provided Hoffmann’s populist agenda with a dynamic public forum (Fig.10).  For three Saturdays in June and the first in July, local politicians and celebrities took turns on the Hauptwache to help persuade the public to support the campaign.  And on the Aktion’s final Saturday, three British prog-rock bands – Warm Dust, Emergency, and Raw Material – were slated to serenade the audience on the Hauptwache.137

Figure 10, “Aktion Synagogue,” Hauptwache Postcard

On the other side of the river from June 10 through July 9, the Städel Museum hosted an exhibition that placed The Synagogue in the context of Beckmann’s career and Frankfurt history (Fig.11).  Organized by Christian Lenz and Margret Stuffmann, two young art historians and curatorial assistants at the Städel, this small but concentrated exhibition was arranged in a semicircle on temporary walls.138 The Synagogue was installed alone on a wall in the middle of the room, and according to one journalist, in a manner that was “altar-like, reminiscent of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in Dresden and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in Paris.”139  Thus the painting’s authenticity and ritual function, however secularized, remained in tact.  Meanwhile posters featuring a color reproduction of The Synagogue behaved in ways theorized by Walter Benjamin.  These posters launched the painting into “situations which the original itself [could not] attain” and ostensibly liberated “the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.”140

Figure 11, Synagogue Exhibition 1972

Instrumental to the political objective of this two-part Aktion was the production and sale of a poster for 10DM (or about $3.20) (Fig.12).

Figure 12, Aktion Poster

Although this part of the fund drive may have appeared naïve (it ultimately raised a mere 25.000DM), its more powerful function could not be measured in Deutsche Marks.  One city official described it as “the vehicle of the Aktion.”141  The poster featured a color reproduction of The Synagogue with a caption that indicated where the painting could be seen during the Aktion: “The painting is on view in a special exhibition at the Städel Museum from June 10 to July 7, 1972.”142 Below the caption, the following text exhorted:

Citizens of Frankfurt!

In 1919, Max Beckmann painted the synagogue on the former Börneplatz in Frankfurt’s Israelite community.  It was burned to the ground by the National Socialists in the 1938 “Kristallnacht.”

For Frankfurt, this is the most important Beckmann-painting.  Currently in a private collection, it must stay in Frankfurt; it belongs to all its citizens.  Beckmann’s “Synagogue” is a unique document:

–      of a historic district in Frankfurt

–      of the hardship after World War I

–      of a foreshadowing of the events that claimed millions as horrible victims

–      of Max Beckmann’s work in this city until 1933 when, as a “degenerate” artist, he was chased out by the National Socialists.

Secure this picture as a document of your history!

Buy this poster and make possible the purchase of the painting.

City of Frankfurt am Main – Departmental Head of Culture

Donation Account 615, Postal Savings Bank, Frankfurt am Main “Aktion Synagogue”143

The poster was ubiquitous in Frankfurt that summer.  For the duration of the Aktion, it was available for purchase not only on the Hauptwache and at the exhibition in the Städel, but also in other museums, galleries, libraries, and bookstores in Frankfurt.  More than its fundraising ability, the poster’s utility lay in its capacity to stimulate public debate.  This was essential to Hoffmann’s mantra of “Culture for All.”  Following the Aktion, he even claimed that the opportunity to see the original at the Städel Museum was available only to an elite few.144  In one sense, the painting of The Synagogue– the centerpiece of the Städel’s special exhibition – could not alone condition what Benjamin referred to as a “simultaneously collective experience.”145  It was the poster that helped the painting reach a wider audience by placing its technologically reproduced surrogate in new contexts, “on advertising columns, in shop windows, in subway  stations, [and] in various public institutions.”146 But the poster’s advantage over the painting did not, as Benjamin speculated, educe an entirely progressive response.

Through the poster, The Synagogue entered the political discourse in Frankfurt and was reported on and debated by many journalists in the media.147  The painting’s reproduction in the upper half of the poster constituted a rhetorical argument for The Synagogue’s costly acquisition, one that was consistent with its ritual function in the museum.  That the poster was designed so that the reproduction and the exhibition-related caption could be shorn from the text suggests the importance of the painting’s desired ritual function.148  But it was the exhortative text that clarified the painting’s desired political function.  An early draft reveals language that explicitly linked style and content: “Max Beckmann’s picture is realistic, it is political.”149  The final text, drafted largely by Lenz in the early months of 1972, shared with its precursor a conciliatory recourse to the past.150  Eduard Beaucamp, an art critic writing for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung at the time, upbraided Hoffmann and his team for their strategy of manipulating the public.  The Aktion exposed “the duplicity and hypocrisy of overt cultural propaganda (Kulturpropaganda)” by cynically appealing to the public’s guilty conscience.151  Even before the Aktiontook place, another journalist expressed skepticism over the perceived political message of the proposed acquisition, which was alleged “to be an act of reparation” but was more like “a small band-aid on a bad conscience.”152  Perhaps in anticipation of more such skepticism, Hoffmann enlisted none other than Alexander Mitscherlich to help correct the public’s inability to mourn by purchasing a poster.153  Jewish voices in the media received this message of reconciliation favorably.154  Some Beckmann scholars took it a step further by arguing that the acquisition could also atone for the Nazi’s misdeeds against Beckmann, namely driving him into exile in 1937 and confiscating his pictures from public collections.155 Nonetheless, the skeptics, who objected neither to the painting per se nor to the political argument as such, questioned the decision to couple so charged an image and topic with so formidable a sum.

On Monday, June 10 following the first Saturday of the Aktion, journalists from local newspapers reported a range of responses from the public, who encountered an unlikely pair alongside Hoffmann selling posters on the Hauptwache (see Fig.9).  Hermann Josef Abs, the Honorary Chairman of Germany’s Deutsche Bank and also Chairman of the Städel Administration, stood alongside Frankfurt’s newly sworn-in socialist Mayor Rudi Arndt.  The alliance underscored the financial and political realities and contradictions of the Aktion that was not lost on some passers-by.  They questioned how their cash-strapped city could afford to pony up for such an expensive painting when schools and hospitals were underfunded.156  A commentator on a local radio program added that the money raised would be better spent on artworks by living artists.157  Still others wondered whether the asking price was an exaggeration of the painting’s true value, a product of art speculators that included Kurz’s heirs as well as their art dealer advisors.158

The Aktion’s political spectacle was dramatized further by the old covered wagon that served as the poster’s point of sale and discussion on the Hauptwache (Fig.13).  Commandeered from a local production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 anti-war play Mother Courage and Her Children, the wagon had its original function renewed in this piece of contemporary epic theatre.  Its anachronistic presence on the Hauptwache generated what Brecht might have referred to as a “distancing effect” (Verfremdungseffekt) that attracted some onlookers and incited others, who were outraged by the painting’s cost.  After the Aktion, Lenz confirmed in his article for the local Frankfurt Kunstzeitung that “in general, the price caused quite a stir.”159  For his part, Brecht (by way of Benjamin) believed that an artwork’s past, indeed its ontological necessity, was erased by its market value because that value transformed the work of art into a commodity.160  Hoffmann wanted and needed it both ways.  He believed it to be a work of art that would – through reproduction – galvanize and inspire Frankfurt’s citizens.  At the same time, however, his efforts assumed The Synagogue to be a commodity worthy of potential donors and his own herculean efforts.  While encouraging the populist rhetoric of the Aktion, he privately and actively sought the financial support of Frankfurt’s most affluent and prominent citizens through a protracted behind-the-scenes letter-writing campaign.  A draft of one such form letter revealed Hoffmann’s definition of the painting as “a meaningful document of Frankfurt history and, in addition, an excellent artistic example of German Expressionism for the city’s art collection.”161  This exercise in cultural Realpolitik paid off on September 20 when Hoffmann announced that Jürgen Ponto, Chairman of the Frankfurt-based Dresdner Bank, had written a check for 100.000DM, which brought the total donations plus city funding to 750.000DM.162  This news arrived too late for Holzinger, who died suddenly on September 8 while on vacation in Switzerland.163  On October 18, 1972 The Synagogue entered the Städel’s permanent collection.164

Figure 13, Klemm

In his 2003 memoir, Hoffmann reflected on the events of 1972.  He wrote: “…above all [the Aktion Synagoge] was a four-week public discussion of the picture’s visionary content…and of the harmful relationship between art and its market.”165  It is difficult to gauge the veracity of the former given the emphasis in the press on the latter.  The leading advocates for The Synagogueand its acquisition were powerful municipal and corporate interests in dialogue with a public that was generally sympathetic to the painting, but deeply skeptical of its asking price mingled with the arguments made on its behalf.  The previously ascendant qualities of the picture’s poetry and its prescience were either irrelevant or taken for granted in this civic debate. Given the public’s horizon of expectations in a political climate that demanded accountability from and integrity in its leaders, the painting itself was marginalized.  Ironically it was the poster that ultimately realized the primary objective of the Aktion, whereas, and not without irony, The Synagogue became an almost phantom presence.

Formalist and Pedagogical Uses (1972-present)

In the months and years following the Aktion, The Synagogue saw its political role in the public arena transformed to support an art historical argument and speak to new and younger audiences.  Its acquisition by the Städel hastened a return to the object that stressed its authenticity compromised in the poster sale.  Shifts in the viewer’s mode of perception privileged the painting’s morphological qualities and demanded a direct encounter with the original work of art.  In this last and most recent episode in The Synagogue’s reception history, three individuals – an art historian and two museum educators – repositioned the painting’s agency to generate new meanings.

Christian Lenz emerged from the Aktion wearing two hats.  As an art historian, he maintained his scholarly commitment to The Synagogue.  In 1973, he published a twenty-one-page essay entitled “Max Beckmanns »Synagoge«” in the Städel Jahrbuch.166  At the same time, he became an advocate for art education reform based on his experience in the Aktion when he shared his insights in the Frankfurt Kunstzeitung article published in the fall of 1972.  The 1973 essay set a high bar for scholarly, single-picture analyses of Beckmann’s oeuvre, and was divided into four distinct parts – formal and iconographic analysis, urban and religious themes, political dimensions, and conclusion.  It was also quite different from the journalistic tone and substance of his much shorter article in the Kunstzeitung.  For the Städel Jahrbuch he wrote in an academic style and offered an analysis of the painting that understood its formal qualities as its primary evidence.  In order to contextualize the puzzling and mysterious effect of the painting’s form, Lenz relied on the “evidence (pictures, written statements) of the painter and his contemporaries.”167  And while he appreciated the contemporary tendency to read the painting prophetically, he dismissed such anachronistic interpretations as unscientific.168  At its core, Lenz’s analysis of The Synagogue was formalist.  In the essay’s final pages he wrote: “From this examination it appears that the particular significance of the picture cannot precede from but emerges first in form.”169  Like Holzinger before him,170  Lenz stressed the high quality of the picture and ranked it among masterworks by Picasso and Klee.171

By contrast, his Kunstzeitung article was considerably more engaged with contemporary politics and society.  Though pleased that the Aktion achieved its ultimate goal, Lenz was less upbeat than Hoffmann, perhaps because he was more attuned to the anemic public response to the exhibition and corresponding lectures.172  Lenz asked: “Why is it that the donations were so arduously solicited, that the lectures and the exhibition were so poorly attended, and that so few posters were purchased?”173  Such deficiencies, he concluded, were symptomatic of the public’s poor visual literacy and indifference to art “caused by an inadequate educational system and inadequate art history.”174  In short, Lenz blamed the schools and its teachers for a public of philistines.  He could have also pointed to the irony of the poster’s effectiveness.  On the one hand, it raised the Aktion’s profile by generating public and media discussions, which arguably attracted the most generous donors.  On the other hand, the poster appeared to have eroded the painting’s singularity, its aestheic power and its vital historical testimony spelled out in the accompanying text.  What the Aktion demonstrated was that the public and even private debates were not about the painting at all, but rather the cultural politics of the day.  Lenz helped redirect the public discourse back to the painting.  In his Kunstzeitungarticle, he exhorted educators “to develop the analogic thinking” skills of their students through new arts education initiatives.175 This informal mandate was taken up at the Städel in decades to come, specifically in conjunction with The Synagogue.

In early November 1988 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Kristallnacht, the Städel opened a small but fine exhibition with an allusive subtitle: »Die Synagoge« von Max Beckmann: Wirklichkeit und Sinnbild, or Reality and Symbol.  It was installed in a small room off of the main permanent collection gallery that housed Expressionist paintings and featured The Synagogue flanked by a selection of Beckmann’s works on paper as well as didactic texts and archival photographs of the Börneplatz synagogue in situ.176  This pedagogical exhibition was the first of its kind at the museum and was conceived of and curated by the Städel’s Head of Education at the time, Susanne Kujer.177 Although nominally commemorative, the exhibition aimed to “move into the viewer’s field of vision a variety of central themes in the analysis of the picture.”178 Iconography served as a foundational method of analysis with the lengthiest chapter in the exhibition catalogue devoted to deciphering the following signs in the painting’s “symbolic language” (Symbolsprache): cat, funnel, advertising column, cupola, cross, triangle/Star of David, moon, glass sphere, and balloon.179  Each sign here was translated with respect to the thing it denoted in the real world as well as its symbolic meaning within the painting, thus establishing the exhibition’s titular link between reality and symbol.  For example, the black-and-white cat is identified as Titti (Ugi and Fridel Battenberg’s house cat) and characterized as a “mysterious idol, a sphinx – knowing and unmoved.”180  Kujer promised: “An interpretation is reached through Beckmann’s characteristic mode of representation and symbolic language with the help of the iconographic method.”181

But the exhibition offered students at a variety of levels, most of whom were born after the 1972 Aktion, something more than an interpretive exercise.  Essential to the exhibition’s objective was the viewer’s sustained observation of the original work of art.  The first impression was especially important, because “the representation of the painting’s motif does not comply with our viewing habits.”182  This immediate disconnect, one might say alienation, awakened in the viewer a critical awareness of a postmodern condition.  By locating “the instructional content in the student’s horizon of experience,”183  Kujer gave the young viewer permission to integrate into her analysis of the painting her growing knowledge of art and, perhaps more importantly, visual culture.  Kujer argued that The Synagogue activated “the broadening and differentiation of [the student’s] perception and knowledge” and “the development of an ability to think critically vis-à-vis the environment and the appearances of visual culture including art itself…”184  This heuristic method was, in a way, consistent with Beckmann’s rules of engagement.  Referring to his Departure triptych in February 1938, he insisted that in order for viewers to arrive at an understanding of the painting, they must do so through “their own inner collaboration… (…)  It can speak only to people who consciously or unconsciously carry within them the same metaphysical code.”185

In other words, viewers must be open to what the picture wants by trusting what they want from it in return.  This rapport requires practice and awareness.  It also assumes a reconciliation of the personal and universal, the individual and collective.  And while Beckmann could not have anticipated his future viewer’s changing modes of experience and perception, his insistence on this sort of self-conscious dialogue between an individual viewer and an original work of art lends itself to some contemporary viewing practices.

In 2009 one of the Education pages on the Städel Museum’s website provided a visualization of how The Synagogue has continued to foster such a dialogue (Fig.14).  The photograph showed five high school-aged students standing before the painting installed in the museum’s permanent collection galleries.

Figure 14, Staedel Screenshot, 2009

In the center middleground and seen from behind, a student vigorously gestures at the painting, her right hand a blur.  She wears a black t-shirt with small white letters that spell out “Städel Museum,” signaling her role as student docent, while the others are shown variously engaged with the discussion.  A young man on the left appears mid-sentence and a young woman on the far right listens attentively while two female viewers, also on the left, appear engaged in their own casual conversation.  According to the text to the right of the photograph: “Students serve up Art” (Studenten servieren Kunst).  In word and image, it constituted an advertisement for a program at the Städel entitled Studentenfutter.  Literally “fodder for students,” Studentenfutteris slang for gorp or trail mix, but in this context implied that looking at and discussing art provides educational nourishment.  Every third Thursday of the month students and young professionals were invited to engage in an informal dialogue about a specific artwork or theme in the museum’s collection moderated by a pair of art students: “pose any question, take contrary positions, learn something new, and initiate conversation.”186 The jocular informality of the photographed encounter with the painting, in tandem with the colloquial tone and expressions of the text, stands in marked contrast to the sobriety of earlier receptions of The Synagogue.

This approach, a sort of participatory history of art in step with recent trends in contemporary art, was one of several strategies that Chantal Eschenfelder as Head of Education at the Städel Musem devised to engage with the public, especially younger audiences.  Following Kujer’s example, Eschenfelder foregrounded The Synagogue in these efforts.  According to Eschenfelder, the painting’s historical dimensions played a role among many in the kinds of informal discussions visualized in the website photograph.187  From a pedagogical perspective, encounters with the painting were designed to be loose and open-ended insofar as the institution neither expected nor enforced an official interpretation.188 The student docents were encouraged to “activate the viewer’s own perception,” which often began with a description of The Synagogue’s “diagonal streets, distorted perspective, threatening atmosphere, as well as its palette.”189  These elements thus became facts in the mind of the viewer, facts that assumed a greater significance because they were self-generated and not imparted by an expert.190  In a way, this interpretive strategy puts the viewer in the position of asking herself what W.J.T. Mitchell proposes in one of the epigraphs to this essay, that is not only to ask what claim The Synagoguemakes upon her, but also what it is that she wants from the picture.191 In the case of The Synagogue, this can only assume the ontological necessity and historicity of the original artwork, for which there can be no substitute.

By way of conclusion, I would like to return here to Lenz’s exemplary essay on The Synagogue from 1973, to a particular passage toward the end of that text.  He wrote:

As a result of observation, the particular meaning [of The Synagogue] cannot precede the process of its creation, but rather emerges first in that process.  It is already apparent that the things in the picture cannot be verbalized through taught historical and art-historical references.  In this way, then, the painting does not reflect private, political, or religious affairs.  These affairs are not pictorial and cannot therefore be reflected.  However the painting cannot simply be determined through itself.  Instead, Max Beckmann created out of his experiences and with his imagination something that amounts to a new position.192

That Lenz made no mention of Beckmann’s critics, of Holzinger, of Hoffmann and the 1972 Aktion is arguably not surprising.  These historical actors and what they required of The Synagoguewere ultimately anathema to his understanding of Beckmann and this intriguing but vague “new position” he attributed to the artist.  Lenz maintained that anyone could have painted a picture of this Frankfurt synagogue that would have been “historically interesting” to, for example, historians of architecture or of Jewish history; but, he continued, it was Beckmann’s unique “mode of representation” that rendered such speculation moot.193

He seems to suggest that the painting’s “particular meaning” may only be earned in the process of observation that, in a sense, reproduces the painting’s creation.  It amounts to a tantalizing transaction that is conditioned by a deep reverence for the artist and the formal qualities of The Synagogue itself.

My investment, however, in this reception history has been to claim for The Synagogue a radical authenticity that obviates the need for the sort of interpretive mastery that Lenz seems to endorse in his essay.  By radical authenticity I mean, pace Benjamin, something more than an artwork from which a copy is technologically generated.  Far from being compromised in the 1972 poster sale, the historical testimony contained within and encouraged by The Synagogue has supported new ritual functions that rest on the singularity of Beckmann’s painting in time and space as well as on its formal properties.  Through its logical yet skewed perspective, its muted yet colorful palette, its harmonious yet dissonant composition, The Synagogue constantly renews itself in the social spaces it activates.  This history began in the mind of the artist, who experienced Frankfurt and its diverse Jewish community anew in his revisioning of the Börneplatz.  Through their poetic descriptions of The Synagogue that alluded to the contemporary trauma of post-WWI Frankfurt, Beckmann’s critics aired real social anxieties in the rarefied context of contemporary art criticism.  After World War II, The Synagogue became important for what it signified, grim historical realities augured by its prescient forms and sensibility as acknowledged by an art critic and a museum director.  But in the years following 1968, The Synagogue’s ritual and political potential became clear as city officials utilized the painting to stimulate public debate about the role of art in society and the relationship between art and its market.  More recently, two museum educators have created forums permitting the painting’s formal attributes and historical textures to work on the viewer simultaneously.  “The uniqueness of the work of art,” Walter Benjamin claimed, “is identical to its embeddedness in the context of tradition.  Of course, this tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable.”194  In mapping the social spaces activated by this strange picture over the past ninety years, I have identified viewers whose varied encounters with Beckmann’s painting yield larger insights about what it is we want from pictures.  In the case of The Synagogue, I believe that desire comes close to grace.  According to Lenz: “Artworks are witnesses to the artist’s conflict with the world.”195 The same might be said of the viewer.


My initial encounter with The Synagogue was in February 2001, when I embarked on my first study of the painting for a graduate seminar in art history.  In the months prior to and following September 11 of that year, I kept a color reproduction of the painting taped to the wall of my home office in Brooklyn.  During that period, my understanding of the picture deepened in ways I do not yet fully understand.  In one way, this image of a city contracting in the wake of an un(fore)seen, but palpable trauma approximated my experience of a city that was at once familiar and unfamiliar, reassuring and discomfiting.


I owe much to the readers who gave their time and expertise to the many versions of this article.  I would like to thank Charles Haxthausen, Robert Lubar, Barbara Buenger, Connie Moon Sehat, David Sehat and the three anonymous readers for their generous insights and meticulous commentary.  I would also like to thank St. Catherine University for the two Faculty Research & Scholarly Activities Grants I received to conduct archival research on this article in January and June 2009. Unless otherwise indicated, translations are mine.
1.  Quoted in Peter Selz, Max Beckmann (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964), 55.
2.  Reinhard Spieler, Max Beckmann (1884-1950): The Path to Myth, trans. Charity Scott Stokes (Cologne: Taschen, 2002), 106, 108.
3. “Es kann nur zu Menschen sprechen, die bewußt oder unbewußt ungefähr den gleichen metaphysischen Code in sich tragen.  (…)  Festzustellen ist nur, das »Die Abfahrt« kein Tendenzstück ist und sich wohl auf alle Zeiten an wenden läßt.” Beckmann to Curt Valentin, Amsterdam (?), February 11, 1938.  In Beckmann, Briefe Band III, 1937-1950, eds. Klaus Gallwitz, Uwe M. Schneede, and Stephan von Wiese (Munich: Piper, 1996), III: 29.
4. Erwin Panofsky, “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art,” in Meaning in the Visual Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), 26.   Panofsky first published his essay definition of iconography in 1939 and lightly revised it in 1955.  The revised version employs more specific language around the concept of iconology.
5.  See Clifford Amyx, “Max Beckmann: The Iconography of the Triptychs,” Kenyon Review 13 (1951): 613-623.  In a conference paper entitled “Interpreting Beckmann,” Charles W. Haxthausen offered an important cautionary tale in his brief analysis of Amyx’s essay.  Paper presented at the Beckmann Reconsidered symposium hosted by the Tate Modern, London, March 2003.  See also Robert Storr’s assessment of “the game of semiotic hide-and-seek” prevalent in Beckmann studies in his essay on “The Beckmann Effect,” in Max Beckmann, ed. Sean Rainbird, exh. catalogue (London: Tate Publishing, 2003), 12.  More recently, Rose-Carol Washton Long and Maria Makela acknowledged this iconographic siren song in the Introduction to their edited anthology Of ‘Truths Impossible to Put in Words’: Max Beckmann Contextualized (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2008), 25-26.
6.  Panofsky, “Iconography and Iconology,” 32, 30.
7.  Panofsky’s notion of symbolic form was indebted to the work of Ernst Cassirer, particularly his three-volume tome entitled Philosophy of Symbolic Forms.  For more on Cassirer’s influence on Panofsky, see Keith Moxey, “Panofsky’s Concept of ‘Iconology’ and the Problem of Interpretation in the History of Art,” New Literary History, Vol.17, No.2 (Winter 1986): 268-269, and Michael Ann Holly, Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1984), 114-157.
8.  Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, trans. Christopher Wood (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 40-41.
9.  Moxey, “Panofsky’s Concept of ‘Iconology’,” 268.
10.  Joel Synder, review of Perspective as Symbolic Form, The Art Bulletin 77, no.2 (June 1995): 340.
11.  Paul de Man’s discussion of allegory and symbol is especially instructive here.  See de Man, “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971), 187-208.
12.  This expression was coined by Hans Robert Jauss, the German literary scholar and pioneer of Reception Theory in the late 1960s.  See Hans Robert Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1982), passim.
13.  Although W.J.T. Mitchell does not offer a method per se, his argument about relationality is apposite here: “The point…is not to install a personification of the work of art as the master term but to put our relation to the work into question, to make the relationality of image and beholder the field of investigation.  The idea is to make pictures less scrutable, less transparent; also to turn analysis of pictures toward questions of process, affect, and to put in question the spectator position: what does the picture want from me or from “us” or from “them” or from whomever?”  W.J.T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004), 49.  For other examples of an artwork’s reception history, see Cynthia Saltzman, Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece (New York: Viking, 1998) and also Andrée Hayum, “Afterlife of a Monument,” in The Isenheim Altarpiece: God’s Medicine and the Painter’s Vision (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 118-49.
14.  I wish to thank my second anonymous reader for asking me to address this decision as well as 1) to countenance what a mistaken account might look like and 2) to demonstrate the relevance of my reception history of The Synagogue over other reception histories.  A mistaken account might well amount to no account at all or, indeed, to all accounts.  To that end, I chose the indefinite article “a” – over the definite article “the” – for the essay’s title to signal my recognition that my reception history is one of potentially many.  I readily acknowledge that I made decisions within each episode regarding what specific accounts to include and what to leave out, and I made those decisions based on my methodological framework.  My objective is to offer a reception history of The Synagogue as opposed to a chronicle of its reception.  Both approaches have heuristic value, but I chose the former because it afforded an opportunity to address what I see as some methodological limitations and opportunities in the historiography of Beckmann’s oeuvre.
15.  Specific documents and their locations are indicated throughout, but the majority of the unpublished primary sources I relied on for this research can be found in the Städel Museum Archive in Frankfurt, the Institut für Stadtgeschichte in Frankfurt, and the Max Beckmann Archive in Munich.  Elsewhere I have relied on secondary sources (and even a tertiary source) to provide either historical context or theoretical frameworks for each episode of the reception history.
16.  Reflecting on the consequences of the technological reproducibility of art, Walter Benjamin had this to say about the artwork’s “highly sensitive core”: “The authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it.”  In Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” (1936, second version) in Selected Writings: Volume 3, 1935-1938, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Howard Eiland, and others (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 103.
17.  Reinhard Piper, his guest, confirmed the exact date – September 22, 1919 – in an unpublished, typed manuscript entitled “Besuch bei Max Beckmann in Frankfurt am Main im Atelier Schweizerstrasse 3,” 3, Max Beckmann Archive, Munich.  Much of the content of this manuscript eventually made it into the second half of Piper’s memoir that was reprinted – together with the first half – fourteen years later.  See “Durch Vier Jahrzehnte mit Max Beckmann” in Piper, Nachmittag: Erinnerungen eines Verlegers (Munich: R. Piper & Co.  Verlag, 1950), 11-53, and Piper, Mein Leben als Verleger: Vormittag, Nachmittag (Munich: R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1964), 315-349.
18.  On Beckmann and World War I, see Barbara C. Buenger, “Max Beckmann in the First World War,” in The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism: The Literary and Artistic War Colony in Belgium 1914-1918, eds. Rainer Rumold and O.K. Werckmeister (Columbia, South Carolina: Camden House, Inc., 1990), 236-269 and Charles W. Haxthausen, “Beckmann and the First World War,” in Max Beckmann: Retrospective, eds. Carla Schulz-Hoffmann and Judith C. Weiss, exh. catalogue (St. Louis and Munich: The Saint Louis Art Museum and Prestel-Verlag, 1984), 69-80.
19.  Stephan von Wiese recounts a 1968 exchange with Erich Heckel in which Heckel confirms this reason for Beckmann’s transfer to Frankfurt.  See Wiese, Max Beckmanns zeichnerisches Werk, 1903-1925 (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1978), 172n126.  Also, according to Barbara Buenger, Beckmann continued in his capacity as medical officer until 1917.  See Beckmann, Self-Portrait in Words: Collected Writings and Statements, 1903-1950, ed. and annotated, Barbara Copeland Buenger (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), 178.
20.  For more on Piper’s friendship with Beckmann as well as other artists and writers, see Christian Lenz, Max Beckmann: Briefe an Reinhard Piper, exh. catalogue (Munich: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, 1994) and Reinhard Piper, Briefwechsel mit Autoren und Künstlern 1903-1953 (Munich: Piper, 1979).
21.  “Zum Beispiel die Synagoge da drüben mit ihrer grünen Kuppel und dem Mond drüber im grünen Abendhimmel.  Das Ganze muß sehr feierlich aussehn.”  Quoted in Piper, “Besuch bei Max Beckmann,” 4, Piper, Nachmittag, 33, and Piper, Mein Leben als Verleger, 331.  I wish to thank my first anonymous reviewer for their assistance with translating the term feierlich.
22.  In the newly published catalogue raisonnè of Beckmann’s sketchbooks, Christiane Zeiller sheds new light on the topography and business tenants of the Börneplatz and how they informed Beckmann’s conception of reality.  In particular, she identifies the presence of a butcher and barbershop on the Börneplatz, based on Beckmann’s sketchbook studies.  See Zeiller, Max Beckmann: Die Skizzenbücher (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010), 26-27, 474.
23.  This urban center was the site of the Jewish Market that was renamed the Börneplatz in 1885 after Ludwig Börne, an early nineteenth-century Jewish writer, journalist, and Frankfurt native.  For more on the Börneplatz and its history, see Hans-Otto Schembs, Der Börneplatz in Frankfurt am Main: Ein Spiegelbild jüdischer Geschichte (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Waldemar Kramer, 1987).
24.  Ibid., 27, 474-475, 507, 518, 528, 549.  See also Zeiller’s nuanced distinction between a study and a sketch with respect to Beckmann’s creative process and conception of visible reality.  Ibid., 26-33.
25.  This was a decidedly secular style then typical of government, commercial, and private buildings.  For a sacred structure, it was an unorthodox vestment for orthodox worshippers, a stylistic paradox that highlighted a struggle for leadership within the conservative Jewish community.  The commission of the Börneplatz synagogue ca.1880 came at a moment of conflict among Frankfurt’s reform, orthodox, and neo-orthodox factions, wherein liturgical disputes (fueled by the assimilative desires of some Frankfurt Jews) splintered the once unified Jewish community there.  The monumentality of this synagogue in tandem with its unconventional facades projected an air of authority and self-confidence that served not only to codify the identity of the orthodox congregation within the community, but also to ameliorate some of the divisiveness.  See Harold Hammer-Schenk, Synagogen in Deutschland: Geschichte einer Baugattung im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (1780-1933) (Hamburg: Hans Christians Verlag, 1981), 1: 390-393 and Rachel Heuberger and Salomon Korn, The Synagogue at Frankfurt’s Börneplatz (Frankfurt am Main: Jewish Museum, 1996), 3-34.
26.  For a discussion of the Moorish-Islamic influence in nineteenth-century synagogues, see Carol Herselle Krinsky, Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1985), 81-85, 130n196.
27.  Beckmann especially loved the shape of the cupola, exaggerating it in the final painting as well as in a preparatory sketch.  See Wiese, Max Beckmanns zeichnerisches Werk, 110, 216nr.428.
28.  Further proof of Beckmann’s elevated perspective can be found in a preparatory sketch for the painting that shows Beckmann and his friends Ugi and Fridel Battenbergs cavorting on an apartment balcony with the synagogue in the background.  See Herwig Guratzsch, ed., Max Beckmann: Zeichnungen aus dem Nachlaß Mathilde Q. Beckmann (Leipzig: Wienand Verlag, 1998), 104-105.
29.  According to Barbara Buenger and based on archival documents provided by Elmer Stracka, Beckmann probably selected this view from an apartment building at Battonnstr. 42 and Börnestr. 16.  A Levi family member was registered in this building; Buenger believes that this could have been Ernst Levi, a prominent Jewish district court judge and president of the Frankfurt Kulturbund, with whom Beckmann was acquainted.  Buenger, e-mail message to author, July 1, 2010 and telephone conversation, March 20, 2011.  See also Paul Arnsberg, Die Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden seit der Französischen Revolution, vol.3 (Darmstadt: Eduard Roether Verlag, 1983), 268.
30.  See Zeiller’s discussion of the role Beckmann’s sketchbook drawings and commentary played in the genesis of the painting.  Zeiller, Max Beckmann: Die Skizzenbücher, 21-22.
31.  Rachel Heuberger and Helga Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto…: Juden in Frankfurt am Main 1800-1950 (Frankfurt: S. Fischer Verlag, 1988), 131-132, and Werner Jochmann, “Die Ausbreitung des Antisemitismus,” in Deutsches Judentum in Krieg und Revolution 1916-1923, ed. Werner E. Mosse (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1971), 425-427.
32.  Ibid., and Ibid., 426-427.
33.  Heuberger and Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto, 132.
34.  Waldemar Kramer, ed., Frankfurt Chronik, 3rd ed. (Frankfurt: Kramer, 1987), 404.  See also Wolfgang Klötzer, “Frankfurt am Main 1915-1933,” in Max Beckmann: Frankfurt 1915-1933, ed. Klaus Gallwitz (Frankfurt am Main: Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, 1983), 299-300.  n.b. From 1960 to 1983 Klötzer was the Deputy Director of the Stadtarchiv (today known as the Institut für Stadtgeschichte) in Frankfurt, and from 1983 to 1990 he served as its Director.  He is currently an Honorary Professor at Frankfurt’s Goethe Universität.
35.  Heuberger and Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto, 121, 123.
36.  In 1864, Frankfurt was the second German city to grant Jews citizenship and equal rights under the law, which opened the doors to significant social, political, and economic integration.  Liberal, assimilated Jews fared particularly well under these circumstances, as prosperous business and banking families were well integrated into bourgeois German society by the early years of the twentieth century.  Heuberger and Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto, 85-128.  See also Paul Arnsberg, Die Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden seit der Französischen Revolution, vol.1 (Darmstadt: Eduard Roether Verlag, 1983), 613-628.
37.  This is significant, as the painting was the first of Beckmann’s wartime pictures in new style to be acquired by a German museum.  See Erhard and Barbara Göpel, Max Beckmann: Katalog der Gemälde (Bern: Kornfeld and Cie, 1976), 1: 133-134.  For an analysis of this acquisition in the context of Swarzenski’s aesthetic vision for the Städel, see Markus Kersting, “»Stete Intensivierung«: Sammlungsideen im Städelschen Kunstinstitut,” in ReVision: Die Moderne im Städel 1906-1937, ed. Klaus Gallwitz (Frankfurt: Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinsitut, 1991), 18-22.
38.  “Dr. Heinrich Simon, Chefredakteur der “Frankfurter Zeitung” (seine engsten Freunde nannten ihn Heinz), und seine Frau Irma gehörten zu Max’ besten Freunden und zu seinen ersten Sammlern.”  Quoted in Mathilde Q. Beckmann, Mein Leben mit Max Beckmann (Munich: R. Piper, 1983), 13.
39.  The Simon’s lived at 3 Untermainkai, which was not far from Beckmann’s studio on the Schweizerstraße.  Max Beckmann, Briefe Band I (1899-1925), eds. Klaus Gallwitz, Uwe M. Schneede, and Stephan von Wiese (Munich: Piper, 1993), I: 450.  At the time, Reifenberg was presumably writing for the Frankfurter Zeitung, where he was later the chief editor of the Feuilleton from 1924-1930.  See Reifenberg, “Max Beckmann in Frankfurt,” in Was da ist: Kunst und Literatur in Frankfurt, ed. Adam Seide (Frankfurt am Main: Typos Verlag, 1963), 24.
40.  “Es läßt sich sagen, daß an diesem “Freitagstisch” kaum eine bedeutende Figur vorübergegangen ist…  An dieser Runde ist ein gut Teil des geistigen Deutschlands zu Gast gewesen.”  Quoted in Reifenberg, “Der Sinn für Qualität,” in Beiträge für Georg Swarzenski (Berlin: Mann, 1951), 258.  For more on the intellectual climate of Frankfurt in general, see Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Intellektuellendämmerung: Zur Lage der Frankfurter Intelligenz in der zwanziger Jahren (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1982).
41.  “So wirkte er bei Simons wie ein fahrender Artist, ein Fremdling…”  Christoph Bernoulli, “Am Mittagstisch bei Heinrich Simon in Frankfurt,” in Ausgewählte Vorträge und Schriften, ed. Peter Nathan (Zurich: Baumann, 1967), 196.
42.  Piper, “Durch Vier Jahrzehnte mit Max Beckmann,” in Nachmittag, 11-53, and in Piper, Mein Leben als Verleger, 315-349.
43.  More specifically, the visit may have taken place between July 4 and 6, 1919, based on Piper’s unpublished, typed manuscript in the Beckmann Archiv, “Besuch bei Max Beckman.”  Although this manuscript does not include the statement about the Jews, it features text that appears in close proximity to the former in the published memoir.
44.  “”Ich glaube an Deutschland, weil ich an mich selbst glaube.  Ich fühle mich durchaus als Deutscher.  Die vielen Juden in Frankfurt stören mich gar nicht.  Ich finde im Gegenteil, diese schwarzen betriebsamen Leute sind für uns in mancher Beziehung recht nützlich.”” Quoted in Piper, Nachmittag, 31, and Piper, Mein Leben als Verleger, 330.
45.  Piper’s son, however, asserted that from the beginning of his father’s career he kept a notebook with him in which he recorded impressions from his meetings with his contemporaries and with works of art.  See Klaus Piper, “Zum Geleit,” in Piper, Mein Leben als Verleger, 4.
46.  “…erzähle ich von vielen kleinen Geschehnissen.  (…)  Ich habe kein allgemeines Zeitbild geben wollen, sondern Menschen zu zeichnen versucht, die mir begegnet sind – berühmte und unberühmte.  Darin mag dann auch etwas vom Zeitbild enthalten sein.”  Piper, “Ein paar Worte zu Beginn,” in Mein Leben als Verleger, 11.
47.  Between 1880 and 1914, approximately three million Eastern European Jews fled widespread poverty and brutal pogroms in Poland and Russia, among other countries.  See Trude Maurer, Ostjuden in Deutschland, 1918-1933 (Hamburg: H. Christians, 1986), 46-47.
48.  Ibid., 47-54, 270-274.
49.  Annemarie H. Sammartino, The Impossible Border: Germany and the East, 1914-1922 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 2010), 174-175, and Maurer, Ostjuden in Deutschland, 281-285.  See also Arnsberg, Die Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden, vol.1, 905-906.
50.  To my knowledge, Christian Lenz is the only other Beckmann scholar to have addressed this quote.  About it, he wrote: “Das klingt wohlwollend, doch auch distanziert, wobei die Distanz in für Beckmann eigentümlicher Weise leicht ironisch formuliert ist.”  Lenz, “Max Beckmanns »Synagoge«,” Städel Jahrbuch 4 (1973), 314.
51.  Heuberger and Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto, 135.
52.  Steven Aschheim, Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923 (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 15, 58-79.
53.  “Die meisten Ostjuden waren Mitglieder der Israelitischen Gemeinde.”  Heuberger and Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto, 139.
54.  According to the modest four-page exhibition pamphlet, 205 works were featured; these included seventeen paintings created between 1915 and 1921, six gouaches illustrating the parable of The Prodigal Son (1918), as well as 157 etchings and lithographs that spanned his career. “Max Beckmann: Ausstellung im Frankfurter Kunstverein in Gemeinschaft mit dem Graph. Kabinett I.B. Neumann Berlin, 10. April-5. Mai 1921,” Beckmann Archive, Munich.
55.  “Der erste Eindruck ist Penetranz; etwas Durchdringendes schlechthin.”  Wilhelm Hausenstein, “Max Beckmann (Zur Ausstellung im Frankfurter Kunstverein),” Frankfurter Zeitung (April 24, 1921): 1.
56.  “Die große Spannung tut den Bildern weh wie ein Daumenschraube.  Sie ächzen unter der Folter ihrer Ordnung.  (…)  Vor allem dies (und es ist wichtig, dahin zu deuten): ihm konnte nicht geschehen, daß er je auf die Partei-Phraseologie des Expressionismus hineinfiel.  Kategorie blieb jenseits von ihm.”  Hausenstein refuses here to employ the “partisan phrase” Expressionism, arguing that “categories are beyond [Beckmann].”  Ibid.  For more on Hausenstein’s criticism and attitudes toward Expressionism, see Charles W. Haxthausen, “A Critical Illusion: “Expressionism” in the Writings of Wilhelm Hausenstein,” in The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism, eds. Rainer Rumold and O.K. Werckmeister (Columbia, South Carolina: Camden House, Inc., 1990), 169-191.
57.  “Dazu der Lärm – gefangener Lärm wie in Münchhausens gefrorenem Posthorn.”  Hausenstein, “Max Beckmann,” 1.
58.  The “frozen coach horn” appears in Chapter 6 of Bürger’s version.  Münchhausen’s servant finds that his horn has inexplicably frozen as he guides the coach and his master down a narrow path, forcing Münchhausen to place the coach on his head to avoid colliding with an on-coming coach.
59.  Put differently, Hausenstein’s characterization is an example of what W.J.T. Mitchell calls “ekphrastic hope…when the impossibility of ekphrasis is overcome in imagination or metaphor.”  Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 152.
60.  Siegfried Kracauer, “Max Beckmann,” Die Rheinlande 21 (1921): 93-96, plus four pages with four illustrations of paintings including The Synagogue.  That same year he was named editor of the arts section at the Frankfurter Zeitung.  See Gertrud Koch, Siegfried Kracauer: An Introduction, trans. Jeremy Gaines (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 8.
61.  So sieht dieser Künstler unserer Zeit… (…)  Er spurt, daß in ihnen nicht bloß ein mehr oder weniger belangvolles Ich seine Qual in die Welt hinausschreit, sondern daß die Qual der gegenwärtigen Menschheit selber in ihnen gleichsam unmittelbar sich verkörpert.”  Ibid., 93.
62.  “Die Erde bebt, die Gottestempel schwanken, und mit ihnen sinken schließlich auch die Mietskasernen, die Fabriken dahin…   Alle Dinge, die unsere Zivilisation geschaffen hat, sind reif für die Vernichtung.  Und zu dem wilden Untergangsreigen, in den Lichtmasten, Bogenlampen, Plakatsäulen, Bretterzäune mit hineingerissen werden, erschallen aus dem Grammophon unentwegt scheußliche Gassenhauer, die jeden Schrei des Erbarmens unhörbar machen und darum den Ohren des Höllenfürsten lieblich klingen mögen.” Ibid., 96.
63.  See Koch, Siegfried Kracauer, 3-10.
64.  Walter Benjamin’s definition of these terms is here both apt and timely.  In his Origin of the German Tragic Drama, written in 1924, he made this now well known characterization: “Whereas in the symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured face of nature is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption, in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified, primordial landscape.” Benjamin, The Origin of the German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London, New York: Verso, 1998), 166.
65.  Benno Reifenberg, “Max Beckmann,” Ganymed 3 (1921): 37-49, plus seven illustrations of paintings including The Synagogue.
66.  Kenworth Moffet, Meier-Graefe as Art Critic (Munich: Prestel, 1973), 122.
67.  “Dem Maler hat der Krieg zur Wirklichkeit verholfen.  Zum neuen Gegenstand.”  Reifenberg, “Max Beckmann,” 39.
68.  “Der Krieg eiterte weiter, zerfraß die Menschheit.  Glaubt ihr, die ihr fragt, schon vergessen zu dürfen, glaubt ihr, der Krieg erledigt, Geschichte?  Der Krieg ist.”  Ibid., 44.
69.  “Nun war es am Ende Zeit, sich wieder auf die Gassen zu wagen, obschon es zuerst schien, als gäbe es nur die Friedrichstraße auf Erden, und das hieß die „Hölle“.  Doch nein, in der Stadt, die abseits vom „Betrieb“ lag, konnte man spazieren gehen.  Abends, nach Feierabend, den Hut im Nacken: da ließ sich allerlei entdecken.  Zum Beispiel die rote Synagoge mit der Grünspankuppel.  Es war alles sehr bemerkenswert: diese sorglich überdeckten Lanternenpfähle, Litfaßsäulen, ein Rollwägelchen.  Auch der bedeutsame Kontur eines Katers.  Die Häuser, Kästen mit vielen Fensteraugen, stehen herum um etwas, das die Menschen einen Platz nennen.  Ein Stück Pflaster, um das die Wege laufen, das ein Bretterzaun zusammenhält.  Es ist Ordnung in so einem Platz.  Menschenordnung.  Im Grunde keine vernünftige, wie sie aus einem Baum herauswächst oder aus dem Linienzug ferner Hügel.  Es ist eher Bienenzellenordnung, nur grenzen die Zellen nicht gleichmäßig aneinander, sie stoßen sich, schieben die Schulter vor; fahren zurück, gleich wändeweis, die einene starren, die andern blinzeln zweideutig aus ihren Fenstern.  Hie und da brennt zwar eine Lampe ihr falsches Licht in die Dämmerung.  Aber auf einmal spürt man die verteufelte Stille auf diesem Platz.  Er ist ja beinahe menschenleer.  Sind die Türen verriegelt?  Warum hat man die Läden geschlossen?  Was geschieht hier?  Der Himmel zuckt mit all seinem Gestirn in Kupferbrandung, und hier bleibt alles still?  O nein, es ist nicht an der Zeit, sich auf Schleichwegen durch malerische Gassen in die Natur zu stehlen, ins Freie, zur Idylle.  Hinein in die Kammern.  Wer steckt darin, was für Menschen bevölkern sie?  Wir wollen sie kennenlernen, die Herren Bürger; sie am Rockzipfel fassen, ihnen ein wenig in die Augen schauen.”  Reifenberg, “Max Beckmann,” 45-46.  I would like to thank Christiane Zeiller and Paul Fleming for their assistance translating this passage.
70.  Beckmann, “Creative Credo,” in Self-Portrait in Words, 185.  Originally published in Kasimir Edschmid, ed., “Schöpferische Konfession,” in Tribüne der Kunst und Zeit 13 (Berlin: Erich Reiß Verlag, 1920), 60-67.
71.  See Hans Robert Jauss’ discussion of the social function of literature in Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, 39-45.
72.  James A. W. Heffernan, Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 3.  Perhaps the most well known example of ekphrasis is Walter Pater’s 1893 description of the Mona Lisa.
73.  See Michael Baxandall’s analysis of Libanius’ ekphrasis in Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985), 2-3.
74.  See Christoph Engels, Auf der Suche nach einer “deutschen” Kunst: Max Beckmann in der Wilhelminischen Kunstkritik (Weimar: VDG, 1997), and Amy K. Hamlin, “Between Form and Subject: Max Beckmann’s Critical Reception and Development, ca.1906-1924” (PhD diss., New York University, 2007).
75.  As Heffernan argues, “ekphrasis commonly reveals a profound ambivalence toward visual art, a fusion of iconophilia and iconophobia, of veneration and anxiety.”  Heffernan, Museum of Words, 7.
76.  See “»Überfall, Gewürge, Schreck«: Dokumente zur frühen Rezeption des Gemäldes Die Nacht und der Mappe Die Hölle,” compiled and introduced by Thomas Heyden in Max Beckmann Die Nacht, ed. Anette Kruszynski (Stuttgart: Hatje, 1997), 151-164, and Hamlin, “Between Form and Subject,” 224-240.
77.  Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. M.T.H. Sadler (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1977), 7.
78.  “Der wahre Künstler ist ein Prophet seiner Zeit und nicht “aktuell”; seine Kunst entsteigt tieferen und wahrhaft religiößen Schichten des sozialen Bewußtseins.” See Schmidt, “Max Beckmann,” Der Cicerone 11 (1919): 684.
79.  “Ich meine immer, Beckmann habe eine Ahnung davon gehabt, dieser Platz werde einmal fürchterlich leer daliegen.”  Reifenberg, “Max Beckmann in Frankfurt,” 24.
80.  The literature on and of Vergangenheitsbewältigung is too voluminous and variegated to explore here, but among the important texts that have been translated into English include Hannah Arendt’s 1950 essay “The Aftermath of Nazi Rule: Report from Germany,” in Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994), 248-269 and Theodor Adorno’s 1959 essay “What does coming to terms with the past mean?” in Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective, ed. Geoffrey H. Hartmann (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986), 114-129.  See also Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior, trans. Beverly R. Placzek (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1975).  Prominent among the English-language texts is Charles S. Maier’s The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust and German National Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).
81.  Benno Reifenberg, “Werke und Leben,” in Max Beckmann, Benno Reifenberg and Wilhelm Hausenstein (Munich: R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1949), 7-32.  Published just a year before Beckmann’s death in December 1950, this monograph was apparently well received by the artist.  See Beckmann to Benno Reifenberg, St. Louis, March 9, 1949.  In Beckmann, Briefe, III: 247-248.
82.  “Er hat damals “Die Synagoge” (1919) gemalt, so ein undurchdringliches, schlagflüssiges Gemäuer, mit den dünnen sorgfältigen Farben, wie manche Bilder dieser Epoche den Glasfenstern ähneln.  Da stand das rote Gebäude mit der Grünspankuppel an diem Platz, den ein Bretterzaun zusammenhält.  Die Häuser im Abstand darum starren, andere blinzeln zweideutig aus ihren Fenstern.  “Hier und da brennt eine Lampe ihr falsches Licht in die Dämmerung.  Auf einmal spürt man die verteufelte Stille auf dem Platz.  Er ist ja menschenleer.  Sind die Türen verreigelt?  Warum hat man die Läden verschlossen?  Was geschieht heir?”  Diese Fragen, die 1921 angesichts des Bildes aufgeworfen wurden (in dem Jahrbuch “Ganymed”) haben siebzehn Jahre später Antwort gefunden – als die Synagoge niedergebrannt worden ist; heute ist da nur die Leere des Platzes übriggeblieben.”  Reifenberg, “Werke und Leben,” 19.
83.  The Börneplatz synagogue, renamed Dominikanerplatz by the National Socialists in 1935, was one of four synagogues in Frankfurt that burned during the Kristallnacht.  And while the ruins of three were razed in 1939, the empty shell of the Westend Synagogue remained until it too was destroyed by Allied bombers on March 20, 1944.  See Schembs, Der Börneplatz in Frankfurt am Main, 138, 115, and “Die Synagogen brennen…!”: Die Zerstörung Frankfurts als jüdische Lebenswelt, exh. catalogue (Frankfurt am Main: Historisches Museum, 1988), 4.2.
84.  Heuberger and Krohn, Hinaus aus dem Ghetto, 178-179.
85.  Ibid., 178.
86.  Ibid., 180.
87.  According to one witness: “But we did not dare go any closer because of the SA [Sturmabteilung].  It might have prompted us to make a remark of some sort and we did not want to have any public profile owing to the fact that we were still part of a resistance group, albeit one that was not properly organized.”  For the remainder of this and other accounts, see Rachel Heuberger and Salomon Korn, The Synagogue at Frankfurt’s Börneplatz (Frankfurt am Main: Jewish Museum, 1996), 36-43, and Dokumente zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden 1933-1945 (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Waldemar Kramer, 1963), 28-54.
88.  “…heute ist da nur die Leere des Platzes übriggeblieben.”  Reifenberg, “Werke und Leben,” 19.
89.  Jauss, “The Poetic Text within the Change of Horizons of Reading,” in Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, 170.
90.  On the painting’s provenance, see Göpel, Max Beckmann,1: 144.  Kurz bought the picture from Günther Franke in Munich around 1936.  He was the second and last private owner of The Synagogue before it was acquired by the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 1972.  Prior to Kurz, it was owned by Paul Multhaupt, who procured the painting from Beckmann’s dealer I.B. Neumann in the early twenties.  Multhaupt was an engineer and industrialist from Düsseldorf whose impressive collection consisted of artworks by artists including Beckmann, Heinrich Campendonk, Marc Chagall, Conrad Felixmüller, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, and Anton Räderscheidt.  4-page, typed inventory of Multhaupt’s collection from the late 1920s.  I would like to thank Pascal Räderscheidt for sharing a copy of this unpublished document with me.
91.  This arrangement lasted from 1951 until 1964, during which the painting underwent conservation and was exhibited in the Städel from September 1962 until January or February 1964.  Holzinger to Karl vom Rath, Frankfurt, January 24, 1964.  “Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  With tastes akin to Multhaupt’s, Kurz also collected paintings (that he stored at the Städel) by modern artists including Edvard Munch, Franz Marc, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Oskar Kokoschka.  See file note, ibid.
92.  I wish to thank Andreas Hansert for explaining this neologism.  Andreas Hansert, e-mail message to author, January 25, 2010.
93.  “Das Bild ist seines Gegenstandes wegen ja eine wichtige “Frankofurtensie”, wenn man so will, ein Denkmal für das alte Frankfurt.  Deshalb hoffen wir ja auch, dass, wenn Sie sich einmal von ihm trennen können, Sie es nach Frankfurt geben möchten.  Ich glaube, dass wir jederzeit im Stande sein würden, einen Ankauf durchzuführen.”  Holzinger to Kurz, Frankfurt, April 23, 1960. Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
94.  “…wir wünschen sehnlich, dass dieses Frankfurter Bild zur ewigen Erinnerung an das Niederbrennen der Synagoge in der Kristallnacht einmal bei uns seinen Einzug halten möchte.”  Holzinger to Kurz, Frankfurt, September 23, 1961.  Ibid.
95.  I refer here to the newly published volume edited by Uwe Fleckner (currently Professor of Art History at Hamburg University) and Max Hollein (currently Director of the Städel Museum) entitled Museum im Widerspruch: Das Städel und der Nationalsozialismus (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011).  It is the sixth in a series of seven volumes devoted to a more comprehensive understanding of “Entartete Kunst” and cultural policies during the Third Reich.  Founded by Fleckner in 2003, this ambitious research project brought together a team of new and established German art historians.  The six scholars that contributed essays to Museum im Widerspruch relied on documents from the NS-period in the Städel Archive that were made available in 2001.  See Fleckner and Hollein, “Vorwort,” in Museum im Widerspruch, viii.  n.b. The research for this article was conducted coterminously to the research contained within Museum im Widerspruch.
96.  Esther Tisa Francini, “Im Spannungsfeld zwischen privater und öffentlicher Institution: Das Städelsche Kunstinstitut und seine Direktoren 1933-1945,” in Museum im Widerspruch, 105.
97.  Dorothea Schöne, “Revision, Restitution und Neubeginn: Das Städel nach 1945,” in Museum im Widerspruch, 243.
98.  The public Städtische Galerie was intended to complement the refined collection of Old Master paintings and prints in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, a private institution founded in 1817 by Johann Friedrich Städel.  For more on the history of and relationship between these two institutions, see Thomas W. Gaehtgens, “Die Organische Einheit von alter und neuer Kunst: Georg Swarzenski, das Städel und die Gründung der Städtischen Galerie,” in Museum im Widerspruch, 1-24.
99.  See Nicole Roth, “»Schwere Verstümmelung und sehr merkbare Rangminderung der Sammlung«: Die Beschlagnahme »entarteter« Kunstwerke im Städel 1936-1937,” in Museum im Widerspruch, 201-240.  See also, in the same volume, the detailed list of confiscated works that Roth assembled in her research.  Ibid., 293-307.
100.  Schöne, “Revision, Restitution und Neubeginn,” in Museum im Widerspruch, 266.
101.  Ibid., 262.
102.  See Andreas Hansert’s discussion of Holzinger’s visit to discuss what would become a commission to illustrate the Book of Revelation known as the Apocalypse.  Hansert, Georg Hartmann (1870-1954): Biografie eines Frankfurter Schriftgießers, Biliophilen und Kunstmäzens (Vienna: Böhlau, 2009), 180.  Beckmann and his second wife Mathilde “Quappi” Beckmann had been living in Amsterdam since July 1937 when they fled Germany immediately following the opening of the Degenerate Art exhibition.  In the years following Beckmann’s dismissal from his teaching position at the Städel’s Art School (Kunstgewerbeschule) in March 1933, his pictures were systematically confiscated from public collections throughout Germany.  See Stephanie Barron, Exiles + Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1997), 58-67.
103.  These are Double Portrait (1923), Still Life with Saxophone (1926), The Quay Wall (1936), In the Circus Wagon (1940), and Frankfurt Train Station (1942).  See Sabine Schulze, ed., Das 20. Jahrhundert im Städel (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1998), 27-34.
104.  Tisa Francini, “Im Spannungsfeld zwischen privater und öffentlicher Institution,” 105-106, and Andreas Hansert, “Kunsterwerbungen zwischen Raub und Rettung: Ernst Holzinger als Städeldirektor 1938 bis 1972 (lecture, Haus am Dom, Frankfurt am Main, July 6, 2009), 2.  Manuscript available online; last modified, August 2012,  After Hitler took power in March 1933, many rushed opportunistically to become members of the NS-Party.  Many of these so-called “March casualties” (Märzgefallene), including Holzinger, applied out of self-preservation to save their careers by pledging allegiance to the new governing party.  See Wolfgang Benz, A Concise History of the Third Reich, trans. Thomas Dunlap (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 35.  See also Jonathan Petropoulos, The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 21-22.
105.  In German, “Sachverständige für die Sicherung und Verwertung von Kulturgut aus jüdischem Besitz für Zwecke des Reiches.”  I wish to thank my first anonymous reviewer for assistance with this translation.
106.  Francini, “Im Spannungsfeld zwischen privater und öffentlicher Institution,” 107-108, and Hansert, “Kunsterwerbungen zwischen Raub und Rettung,” 6-7.
107.  See Andreas Hansert, “Zum Schicksal der Sammlung Alfred Oppenheim während und nach der NS-Zeit,” in Moritz Daniel Oppenheim: Die Entdeckung des jüdischen Selbstbewusstseins in der Kunst, eds. Georg Heuberger and Anton Merk (Frankfurt and Cologne: Jüdisches Museum and Wienand, 1999), 304-325.
108.  A prominent Frankfurt art collector, Hagemann died in a car accident in 1940. In agreement with his heirs, Holzinger risked storing his collection at the Städel in an eighty-kilogram crate innocuously labeled “Paintings” (Gemälde).  Eva Mongi-Vollmer, “Alltägliches Recht, Alltägliches Unrecht: Die Gemäldeerwerbungen des Städel 1933-1945,” in Museum im Widerspruch, 182-184.  See also Ursula Grzechca-Mohr, “Die »Kunst der Gegenwart« im Frankfurter Städel und die Anfänge der Städtischen Galerien,” in Künstler der Brücke in der Sammlung Hagemann: Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff, Nolde, ed. Eva Mongi-Vollmer (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2004), 13-14.
109.  Holzinger’s work as an appraiser for NS authorities has made him a controversial, even indefensible figure for some in Germany.  The exhibition in 2008-09 at the Jewish Museums in Berlin and Frankfurt entitled Raub und Restitution: Kulturgut aus jüdischem Besitz von 1933 bis heute prompted a public discussion.  See for instance Julia Voss, “Kulturgut aus jüdischem Besitz: Restitution ist keine Stilfrage,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (April 22, 2009).  Significantly, in the introduction to Museum im Widerspruch, Uwe Fleckner and Max Hollein acknowledged these external debates and the necessity of their team of scholars to wrestle with them in addition to the intractable evidence of Holzinger’s tenure as Director of the Städel during much of the Third Reich.  See Fleckner and Hollein, “Vorwort,” in Museum im Widerspruch, ix.
110.  “An der ausserordentlichen historischen Wichtigkeit des Bildes für Frankfurt ist nicht zu zweifeln.  Sein hoher künstlerischer Rang hat sich in jahrelangem Umgang und jetzt in der Galerie vorzüglich und sicher bewährt.”  Holzinger to Karl vom Rath, Frankfurt, June 14, 1963.  Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  From September 12, 1962 until February 1964, The Synagogue was installed in the Städel on temporary loan from Kurz.  See Holzinger to Kurz, Frankfurt, January 16, 1964, and shipping receipt dated February 13, 1964.  Ibid.
111.  Ernst Holzinger, Untersuchungen zur Frage von Dürers Baseler Stil (1927) (Rudolstadt: Mänicke & Jahn AG, 1929), 8-9.  For a brief analysis of the dissertation and a discussion of Holzinger’s aesthetic sensibility, see Andreas Hansert, Geschichte des Städelschen Museums-Vereins Frankfurt am Main (Frankfurt: Umschau, 1994), 119-121.
112. Speech at the opening of the exhibition on The Synagogue at the Städel, June 10, 1972, in Max Beckmanns Synagoge für Frankfurt, ed. Amt für Wissenschaft, Kunst und Volksbildung (Frankfurt: Amt für Wissenschaft, Kunst und Volksbildung der Stadt Frankfurt, 1972), n.p..
113.  “Kein anderer Künstler hat für diese schicksalsschwere historische Zeit so gültige künstlerische Dokumente geschaffen wie Beckmann.  Zu diesen gehört die Synagoge.  Das Gebäude ist in der Kristallnacht in Brand gesteckt worden und zugrunde gegangen – es war die Hauptsynagoge der israelitischen Gemeinde.  Man meint, Beckmann habe, als er das Bild malte, den drohenden bevorstehenden Untergang vorausgeahnt.”  Holzinger to Karl vom Rath, Frankfurt, June 14, 1963.  “Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
114.  “Zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden: Aus einer Sammlung von Dokumenten,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 12, 1963).  The book was edited by the Kommission zur Erfoschung der Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden, ed., Dokumente zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden 1933-1945 (Frankfurt am Main: W. Kramer, 1963).  Lastly, a photograph of the Börneplatz synagogue in flames during the Kristallnacht figured prominently in the FAZ article (akin to Fig.7).
115.  “Er [der erste Band] verziehtet auf Erläuterungen und läßt die Dokumente selbst sprechen.  Sie waren schwer aufzutreiben.”  “Zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden,” n.p..
116.  Holzinger, File note, January 1, 1963.  Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  Holzinger also remarked in these notes that it seemed from their phone conversation that Kurz’s business was suffering.
117.  Elizabeth Heinemann (Holzinger’s Secretary), File note, June 22, 1963. Ibid.
118.  Holzinger confronted similar obstacles in his initial bid to acquire Matisse’s Fleurs et Céramique (1913).  See Hansert, Geschichte, 124-127, and Stephan Mann, “Erworben 1917, Beschlagnahmt 1937, Zurückerworben 1962,” in ReVision, 75-78.  Moreover, the city’s public acquisition funds for 1963 had already been exhausted in the purchase of Paul Klee’s Blick in das Fruchtland (1932).  See Holzinger to Rath, Frankfurt, January 24, 1964 and January 24, 1964, “Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  See also the minutes from Cultural Committee’s meeting on August 27, 1963.  Ibid.
119.  “Wie Sie wissen ist Herr Kurz aber ein etwas schwieriger Herr.”  Hans Konrad Röthel to Holzinger, Munich, April 26, 1960.  Ibid.
120.  “Wenn es bei Ihrer heutigen Ablehnung bliebe, wäre dies für mich persönlich ein ganz schwerer Schlag, es wäre aber auch für alles, was wir in Zukunft versuchten, um etwas besonderes zu erreichen, geradezu von katastrophaler Wirkung.”  Holzinger to Kurz, Frankfurt, December 2, 1963. Ibid.
122.  “Wie sollte mich Ihre Absage nicht aufs schwerste treffen, aufs tiefste schmerzen, und zwar ganz persönlich, aber auch in meinem Amt und in meinem Verhältnis zur Stadt Frankfurt.  Wie sollte ich es leicht hinnehmen können, dass das Bild, was wie kein anderes nach Frankfurt gehört, das auch Beckmann hierher gewünscht hätte, das ich deshalb – wie kein anderes – nicht aus Ehrgeizt, für Frankfurt ersehnte, nun auf eine so überaus traurige, in jeder Hinsicht zutiefst deprimierende Weise Frankfurt wieder verlassen soll.”  Holzinger to Kurz, Frankfurt, January 21, 1964.  Ibid.
123.  Holzinger to Hessian Cultural Minister, January 27, 1964, “Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  Therein he stated: “It is clear that American museums, above all the Museum of Modern Art, have an active interest in this picture that is set to play an important role in the large, upcoming American Beckmann exhibition [at MoMA].”  (“Es steht fest, daß amerikanische Museen, vor allem das Museum of Modern Art, das lebhafteste Interesse an diesem Bild haben, das auf der bevorstehenden großen amerikanischen Beckmann-Ausstellung [beim MoMA] eine besonders wichtige Rolle spielen soll.”)  Peter Selz, the curator of this show, successfully secured the loan of The Synagogue for his landmark Beckmann retrospective in 1964-65.  n.b. Holzinger composed a letter to Selz in an effort to preempt MoMA’s ostensible interest in the painting.  See Holzinger to Selz, March 23, 1964.  Ibid.
124.  “Die Frankfurter Hauptsynagoge ist am 9. November 1938 niedergebrannt worden.  Es ist die einzige deutsche Synagoge, die in neuerer Zeit von einem großen deutschen Künstler im Bild verewigt worden ist, und dies auf eine zweifellos grandiose Weise.  Unmittelbar nachdem das Bild in einer höchst lebendigen Zeit entstanden war, ist darüber von Benno Reifenberg in der Frankfurter Zeitung bemerkt worden, es gebe den Eindruck, als ob einee Katastrophe bevorstünde.  Sie ist eingetreten, die Synagoge ist niedergebrannt worden.  Beckmann hatte schon zuvor Deutschland verlassen müssen.  Es kann danach keinerlei Zweifel darüber bestehen, daß das Bild eine Frankofurtensie höchsten Ranges ist.  Es ist ebenso berechtigt, das Bild als national wertvoll zu bezeichnen, weil er zur deutschen Geschichte gehört, weil es Zeugnis der ahnenden Kraft eines großen Geistes angesichts der Zukunft ist, weil es dadurch zu einem historischen Dokument wurde und weil es von einem der bedeutendsten deutschen Maler des 20. Jahrhunderts geschaffen ist.”  Holzinger to Hessian Cultural Minister, January 27, 1964, “Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
125.  Hessian Cultural Minister to Frankfurt’s magistrate in the Bureau for Science, Art and Education, February 28, 1964.  Ibid.
126.  Leo Bersani, The Culture of Redemption (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 1.
127.  Additionally, the election in 1969 of Willi Brandt, the first Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chancellor since the war, and his public genuflection (also known as the Warschauer Kniefall) at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial in 1970, further contributed to an atmosphere of openness about the past.
128.  For a critical analysis of this book and its largely favorable reception, see Tobias Freimüller, Alexander Mitscherlich: Gesellschaftsdiagnosen und Psychoanalyse nach Hitler (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2007), 303-321.  See also Friso Wielenga, “An Inability to Mourn?  The German Federal Republic and the Nazi Past,” European Review 11, No.4 (2003): 551-572.
129.  The lack of correspondence between Kurz and Holzinger in the Städel’s files between Feburary 1964 and the time of Kurz’s death in 1967 suggest that no further negotiations took place.  After 1967, Holzinger politely but persistently appealed to Kurz’s widow and son, Annemarie and Herbert E. Kurz, although it was not until 1970 that the possibility of acquisition was back on the table.  The Synagogue was reinstalled in the spring of 1971 at the Städel Museum on another extended loan. It had not been seen in Frankfurt since February 1964 when it was returned to Kurz, who later that year dispatched it to Boston (and on to New York, Chicago, and Hamburg) for the traveling Beckmann retrospective organized by Peter Selz.  See Herbert E. Kurz to Holzinger, February 14, 1971 and Schwarzweller to Schaarschmidt, Frankfurt, February 13, 1964.  In “Alter Schriftwechsel bezügl. Erwerb Synagoge v. Beckmann bis 1968,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
130.  Holzinger, File note, February 19, 1970, “Weitere Korrespondez mit Familie Kurz,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  I have not been able to identify this American dealer, but Richard Feigen – then and now the foremost American dealer of Beckmann’s paintings – recalls that there was considerable interest in The Synagogue from private American collectors at that time.  Interview with Richard Feigen, June 1, 2010.  There was also interest within Frankfurt from art dealer Ewald Rathke; he represented a private collector, who wanted just 720.000DM for the painting.  In any event, Holzinger was crushed by the new price, calling it a “punishment.”  Holzinger to Karl Gustaf Ratjen, Frankfurt, December 18, 1971, “Korrespondenz mit Administration,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
131.  See Philip Ursprung, “‘I like Picasso’: Picasso und Basel 1967,” in Picasso und die Schweiz, eds. Marc Fehlmann and Toni Stoos (Bern: Stämpfli Verlag, 2001), 91-97, and Bernhard Scherz, Die Basler Picasso-Story (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1981).
132.  See Motion of the CDU-Faction, July 28, 1971 and Herbert Beck, File note, October 26, 1971, “Korrespondenz mit Stadtverwaltung Frankfurt/Main,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
133.  Planning for the Aktion began in November 1971 and included an impressive cohort of city leaders in the arts as well as a host of museum directors and curators.  It was organized according to expertise and interest; Hoffmann’s collaborators were each assigned numerous and skill-specific tasks.  See the detailed five-page agenda for a meeting on May 10, 1972.  Ibid.
134.  From 1951-65 he was the Director of the Volkschule in Oberhausen, where he founded the Westdeutschen Kulturfilmtage (today known as the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen).  See Hilmar Hoffmann, Erinnerungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), passim.
135.  Hilmar Hoffmann, Kultur für Alle: Perspektiven und Modelle (Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981), 29-30.
136.  ddp, “Beat für Beckmann und Hoffmann,” Frankfurter Neue Presse, July 3, 1972.
137.  See MdL, “Beatbands spielen für die “Synagoge,” Frankfurter Neue Press (July 1, 1972), and pi, “Beatbands spielen zur “Aktion Synagoge” auf,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (July 1, 1972).
138.  Interspersed with didactic texts, the exhibition featured some ten original prints from Beckmann’s early Frankfurt period of the late teens/early twenties and about a dozen historical photographs – including one of the Börneplatz and its synagogue ca.1900 and two depicting the smoldering synagogue following the Kristallnacht.  These exhibition photographs are archived in the Max Beckmann Archive, Munich.  The exhibition also featured a short film by Anton Triyandafilidis entitled “Die Zeit der Toten,” which explored Beckmann’s graphic production during World War I.  See Göpel, Max Beckmann,1: 124, f., “Wo kann das Beckmann-Poster kaufen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 16, 1972), and related correspondence in “Allgemeines,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
139.  “Seit Samstag ist es im Städel-Parterre einer publikums-demonstrativen Ein-Bild-Ausstellung gewürdigt, altarartig wie einst Raffaels Sixtinische Madonna in Dresden und Leonardos Mona Lisa in Paris.”  n.a., “Beckmann kehrt heim: Zwei Frankfurter Ausstellungen werben für Ankäufe – Städel und Hochstift,” Frankfurter Neue Presse, June 12, 1972.
140.  Benjamin, “The Work of Art,” (second version), 103, 106.
141.  “Das Poster wurde zum Vehikel der gesamten Aktion.”  Arnulf Herbst, “Die öffentliche Finanzlage erfordert neue Ideen,” in Max Beckmanns Synagoge für Frankfurt, n.p..
142.  “Das Gemälde ist vom 10. Juni bis 9. Juni 1972 in einer Sonderausstellung des Städelschen Kunstinstituts zu sehen.”  Aktion Poster.
143.  “Bürger Frankfurts!  Max Beckmann malte 1919 die Synagoge der Israelitischen Gemeinde Frankfurt am ehemaligen Börne-Platz.  In der “Kristallnacht” 1938 wurde sie von den Nationalsozialisten niedergebrannt.  Das Gemälde befindet sich jetzt als befristete Leihgabe im Städel.  Dieses für Frankfurt wichtigste Bild Beckmanns, jetzt in Privatbesitz, muß in dieser Stadt bleiben; es soll allen Bürgern gehören.  Beckmanns “Synagoge” ist ein einzigartiges Dokument: – für ein altes Frankfurter Stadtviertel – für die Not nach dem 1. Weltkrieg – für eine Vorahnung der Ereignisse, deren schreckliches Opfer Millionen von Menschen wurden – für die Arbeit Max Beckmanns in dieser Stadt, bis ihn 1933 die Nationalsozialisten als “entarteten” Künstler davonjagten.  Erwerben Sie dieses Bild als ein Dokument Ihrer Geschichte!  Kaufen Sie dieses Plakat und ermöglichen Sie dadurch den Ankauf des Gemäldes.  Stadt Frankfurt am Main-Kulturdezernat  Spendernkonto 615 Postscheckamt Frankfurt am Main “Aktion Synagoge.”  Aktion Poster.
144.  Hilmar Hoffmann, “Kunstkauf als Aktion,” in Max Beckmanns Synagoge für Frankfurt, n.p..
145.  Benjamin, “The Work of Art,” (second version), 116.
146.  “Die Vierfarben-Reproduktion hing vier Wochen lang an allen Litfaßsäulen, in Schaufenstern, in den U-Bahnhöfen, in den verschiedensten öffentlichen Institutionen.”  Hilmar Hoffmann, “Kunstkauf als Aktion,” in Max Beckmanns Synagoge für Frankfurt, n.p..
147.  An extensive and apparently unedited selection of newspaper articles from the time of the Aktion is contained in the file S3A/ 12900, “1972/Aktion Synagogue,” Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt.  Some of these same articles, and several additional articles, are contained in the file for The Synagogue in the Max Beckmann Archive in Munich.
148.  Two articles made note of this feature.  See dpa, “Spenden für Beckmanns Synagoge,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 5, 1972) and f, “Plakate für die “Synagoge,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 8, 1972).
149.  “Das Bild von Max Beckmanns ist realistisch, es ist politisch.”  Georg Bussmann, head of the Frankfurter Kunstverein, likely composed this undated draft (probably late November or early December 1971) on Frankfurter Kunstverein letterhead.  The minutes for an organizational meeting on November 23, 1971 indicate that, early on, Bussmann and Hoffmann were in charge of drafting the poster text. “Beckmann Poster Herstellung,” Aktion Synagoge, Büro Stadtrat Hoffmann, Signatur 304, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt.
150.  Lenz’s annotated, handwritten draft heavily corresponds to the language reproduced on the poster.  I would like to thank Christiane Zeiller for assisting me in transcribing the draft.  See “Synagoge,” Max Beckmann Archive, Munich and also “Korrespondenz mit Stadtverwaltung Frankfurt/Main,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
151.  “Die Konfrontation enthüllt jedoch mit seltener Deutlichkeit die Doppelzüngigkeit und Heuchelei der öffentlichen Kulturpropaganda.”  Eduard Beaucamp, “Heuchelei,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (July 28, 1972).  I would like to thank Christiane Zeiller for sharing her insights into this complex article.
152.  “Die Kommune schließlich…würde mit dem Ankauf kaum einen Akt der Versöhnung zustande bringen, eher ein Pflästerchen auf ein schlechtes Gewissen kleben.”  Dieter Hoffmann, “Versöhnung oder Gewissenspflaster: Was wird aus Max Beckmanns Bild der Frankfurter Synagoge?,” Frankfurter Neue Presse (December 18, 1971).
153.  See Hoffmann’s scheduling grid in “Hauptwache Posterverkauf,” Aktion Synagoge, Büro Stadtrat Hoffmann, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt, and bgo, “Leute, kauft bei Mitscherlich!,” Frankfurter Neue Presse (June 22, 1972).
154.  See R.M.W.K., “Aktion Synagoge,” Jüdische Rundschau Maccabi (June 22, 1972) and the title page of the Frankfurter Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt (1971).
155.  Lenz certainly made this case in the poster text and in his writings on the painting at the time.  See also Stephan von Wiese’s insightful article, “Frankfurt sammelt für Beckmann,” Hamburger Abendblatt (June 12, 1972).
156.  See hd, “Frankfurts Bürger kaufen ein Bild,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 12, 1972) and Henry Kamm, “Attempt at Symbolic Contrition for Acts Against Jewish Artists Meeting Apathy in Frankfurt,” New York Times (July 19, 1972).  For a critique of the Aktion in favor of spending money on social services, see Willi Günther, “Kein Geld da,” Frankfurter Neue Presse (February 3, 1972).
157.  Westdeutscher Rundfunk, “Kritisches Tagebuch,” June 13, 1972.  Transcript in “Presse,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.  See also Gerd Winkler, “”Kunst und Politik”: Wie Hermann Josef Abs und der liebe Gott der Stadt Frankfurt ein “Kunstwunder” bescherten,” Magazin Kunst, nr.48 (December 1972), 77.
158.  See bgo, “Leute, kauft beim Trödler A…,” Frankfurter Neue Presse (June 12, 1972).
159.  “Überhaupt hat der Preis die Gemüter erregt.”  Lenz, “Max Beckmann – ‘Die Synagoge’,” Kunstzeitung: Informationen der Frankfurter Kulturszene, nr.1 (1972), n.p..
160.  Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” (1936-39, third version) in Selected Writings: Volume 4, 1938-1940, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Howard Eiland, and others (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 274n16.
161.  “Wir würden uns freuen, wenn Sie sich für eine solche Aktion zur Verfügung stellen könnten, um es der Stadt Frankfurt zu ermöglichen, ein bedeutendes Dokument Frankfurter Geschichte und darüber hinaus ein hervorragendes künstlerisches Zeugnis des deutschen Expressionismus für die städtischen Gemäldesammlungen und damit für alle Frankfurter Bürger zu erwerben.” “Hauptwache Posterverkauf,” Aktion Synagoge, Büro Stadtrat Hoffmann, Signatur 304, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt.
162.  The Frankfurter Neue Presse also reported that Hermann Josef Abs as well as Annemarie Kurz donated 20.000DM each and an anonymous banker gave 35.000DM. WL, “„Synagoge“ bleibt in Frankfurt: Dresdner Bank stiftete 100 000 Mark – Restbetrag gesichert,” Frankfurter Neue Presse (September 20, 1972).  For itemized list of funding, see “Allgemeines,” Aktion Synagoge, Büro Stadtrat Hoffmann, Signatur 304, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt.
163.  Hansert, Geschichte, 141.
164.  Hoffmann to Schwarzweller, Frankfurt, October 18, 1972. “Korrespondenz mit Stadtverwaltung Frankfurt/Main,” Beckmann Synagoge 1971, Städel Archive, Frankfurt.
165.  “Es ging mir dabei vor allem um eine vier Wochen währende öffentliche Diskussion über den visionären Bildinhalt des Metaphysikers Max Beckmann und über das lädierte Verhältnis von Kunst und Markt.”  Hoffmann, Erinnerungen, 119.
166.  Lenz, “Max Beckmanns »Synagoge«,” 299-320.
167.  “…vielmehr müssen ergänzend andere Zeugnisse (Werke, schriftliche Äußerungen) des Malers und seiner Zeitgenossen herangezogen werden, um die Vermutungen über »Die Synagoge« zur Gewißheit werden zu lassen.”  Ibid., 305.
168.  Ibid., 316-317.
169.  “Aus der Betrachtung ergibt sich, daß der besondere Sinn des Bildes nicht vor der Formung dagewesen sein konnte, sondern in der Formung überhaupt erst entstand.”  Ibid., 317.
170.  Lenz was certainly familiar with Holzinger’s art historical methods having served as a curatorial assistant at the Städel beginning in 1970.  Prior to what became a ten-year stint in Frankfurt, Lenz had a two-year internship at the Kunsthalle Bremen under Günter Busch, who championed Beckmann’s work.  Busch also stressed a formalist approach to Beckmann’s paintings.  See, for example, Busch, Max Beckmann: Eine Einführung (Munich: R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1960).  n.b. Between 1966 and 1976, Busch was the head of the Max Beckmann Gesellschaft, which dissolved in 1984.  Lenz revived the group in 1996 when he established the Freundeskreis Max Beckmann Archiv, which was renamed Max Beckmann Gesellschaft in 2005.
171.  Lenz, “Max Beckmanns »Synagoge«,” 317, 318.  In a possible homage to Holzinger’s characterization of the cupola as a “key figure” (Schlüsselfigur), Lenz described the cupola as “the most powerful rounded form in the picture.”   (“Die Kuppel ist die mächtigste Rundform im Bilde.”)  Ibid., 301.
172.  Both Lenz and fellow Beckmann scholar Friedhelm Fischer delivered lectures in conjunction with the exhbition and Aktion on June 20 and 28, respectively.  See draft of Hoffmann’s letter to the Directors of Frankfurt Schools in “Aufrufe,” Aktion Synagoge, Büro Stadtrat Hoffmann, Signatur 304, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt.
173.  “Woran liegt es, daß die Spenden so mühsam erbettelt, daß die Vorträge und die Ausstellung so schlecht besucht und so weige Plakate verkauft wurden?”  Lenz, “Max Beckmann – ‘Die Synagoge’,” n.p..
174.  “Dieser geringe Wirkungsgrad der von Kunst(jahr)märkten, Monumentalausstellungen, Kunst-Shows und Akademie-betrieb verleugnent wird, hat seine Ursache in einem mangelhaften Erziehungssystem und in mangelhafter Kunstwissenschaft.”  Ibid.
175.  “Es wird zur Aufgabe einer neuen Kunsterziehung gehören, hinsichtlich der Kunst und aller anderen Lebensbereiche bei den Schülern das richtige analogische Denken zu entwickeln, damit sie sich selbstständig zurechtfinden können.”  Ibid.
176.  Interview with Susanne Kujer, June 23, 2009.
177.  Ibid.
178.  “Diese vorwiegend auf schulische Vermittlung hin angelegte didaktische Ausstellung rückt unterschiedliche Schwerpunkte der Bildanalyse in das Blickfeld des Betrachters.”  Kujer, “Zur Ausstellung,” in »Die Synagoge« von Max Beckmann: Wirklichkeit und Sinnbild, ed. Klaus Gallwitz (Frankfurt: Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, 1988), 9.
179.  Ibid., 7.
180.  “Einer Katze…als rätselhaftes Idol, einer Sphinx ähnelnd – wissend und ungerührt.”  Ibid., 42.
181.  “Eine Interpretation wird durch Beckmanns charakteristische Darstellungsweise und Symbolsprache, mit Hilfe der ikonographischen Methode erreicht.”  Ibid., 12.
182.  “Die Darstellung des Bildmotives entspricht nicht unseren Sehgewohnheiten.”  Ibid., 12.
183.  “Die Unterrichtsinhalte sollten im Erfahrungshorizont der Schüler liegen…”  Ibid., 11.
184.  “…die Erweiterung und Differenzierung von Wahrnehmung und Erkenntnis…” and “…die Entwicklung kritischer Urteilsfähigkeit gegenüber der Umwelt und den Erscheinungen der optischen Kultur einschließlich der Kunst selbst….”  Ibid.
185.  “Wenn’s die Menschen nicht von sich aus aus eigener innerer Mitproductivität verstehen können, hat es gar keinen Zweck die Sache zu zeigen.  (…)  Es kann nur zu Menschen sprechen, die bewußt oder unbewußt ungefähr den gleichen metaphysischen Code in sich tragen.”  Quoted in Beckmann to Curt Valentin, Amsterdam (?), February 11, 1938.  Beckmann, Briefe, III: 29.  English translation in Haxthausen, “Interpreting Beckmann.”
186.  “…stellt sich allen Fragen, vertritt konträre Positionen, macht Unbekanntes verständlich und regt zum Gespräch an.”  Studentenfutter, Städel Museum, 2009, accessed February 19, 2009,
187.  She spoke of the importance of these historical dimenions, particularly given the relative lack of awareness among younger students unfamiliar with the history of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), much less World War I and II.  Interview with Chantal Eschenfelder, June 22, 2009.
188.  Ibid.
189.  “…und das finde ich sehr gut auch in der Pädagogik.  Das ist ein sehr verstärkeres Aktivieren der eigenen Wahrnemung des Besuchers. (…)  Im Moment wurde aber erstmal Anfang die Besuchern beschreiben, sodass was sie sehen…nämlich schräge Straßen, verzerrte Perspektive, bedrohliche Stimmung, auch von den Farben her.”  Ibid.
190.  Ibid.
191.  Mitchell, What do Pictures Want?, xv.
192.  “Aus der Betrachtung ergibt sich, daß der besondere Sinn des Bildes nicht vor der Formung dagewesen sein konnte, sondern in der Formung überhaupt erst enstand.  Das zeigt sich schon darin, daß selbst durch die beigebrachten historischen und kunsthistorischen Bezüge die Dinge im Bilde nicht verbalisierbar geworden sind, und so spiegelt denn das Gemälde auch keine privaten, politischen oder religiösen Verhältnisse wider.  Diese Verhältnisse sind nicht bildhaft und können deshalb gar nicht widerspiegelt werden.  Das Gemälde ist auch nicht einfach durch sie bedingt, vielmehr hat Max Beckmann aus seinen Erfahrungen und mit seiner Phantasie etwas geschaffen, das eine neue Setzung bedeutet.”  Lenz, “Max Beckmanns »Synagoge«,” 317, emphasis added.
193.  “Eine Synagoge konnte jeder malen, und jedes Bild dieser Synagoge in Frankfurt am Main hätte Interesse finden müssen, denn alles ist “historisch interessant”, um diese Formel der Unverbindlichkeit zu benutzen.  Solches Interesse wäre freilich hauptsächlich bei Baugeschichtlern, Historikern und Juden vorhanden gewesen, weil es ganz unabhängig von der Art der Darstellung diese Gruppen jeweils besonders anginge.”  Ibid.
194.  Benjamin, “The Work of Art,” (second version), 105.
195.  “Kunstwerke sind Zeugnisse der Auseinandersetzung des Künstlers mit der Welt.”  Lenz, “Max Beckmanns »Synagoge«,” 318-319.
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