Eugen Spiro

von Wolfgang E. (Wolf) Elston

A painting of a 7-year old boy, signed Eugen Spiro 35, hangs on my wall as I write. Lips parted by the child’s pensive smile reveal a mouth without teeth.

I am that boy. My name then was Wolfgang Edelstein, living with my parents Friedrich (Fritz, Dr. jur.) and Anny (nee Halpert, Dr. med., among the first women to study medicine in Germany) and older brother Gerhard (Gerd) in a comfortable Grunewald apartment at Ilmenauer Straße 10. Eugen Spiro had been commissioned to paint Gerd, our cousin Peter, and me; all three portraits still exist within the family.

Oh, how I hated those sittings! Riding to the Spiro studio on the Straßenbahn, I felt all eyes fixed on the ridiculous clothes that grownups had foisted on me: light blue outfit with a wide white collar loosely tied with string, the little wooden toy train, provided by Herr Spiro as a prop, was far below the dignity of a second-grader at Volksschule 15 (now Grunewald Grundschule). Holding still in odd positions heaped discomfort on humiliation!

By the final sitting, I had lost two front baby teeth. I would have to return; painting from life required a model with a full set of teeth. New teeth indeed replaced the old but the mystery of the unfinished portrait was only solved in the aktuell issue of June 2012 (page 20): as a Jew holding leading positions in movements vilified by the Nazis as degenerate art (entartete Kunst), Eugen Spiro and family hastily abandoned Berlin for Paris on September 2nd, 1935. They eventually reached New York, where Eugen became Eugene and lived to age 98.

Thank you, aktuell , for steering me into internet research on this distinguished artist. I was amazed and happy to learn of his long career as a painter and activist for artistic and human freedom, now gaining the recognition he deserves in the country of his birth. And thank you for reviving memories of a former life.


Wolfgang E. (Wolf) Elston
Chiffre 122202