VHM Artifact Highlight: The Work of Hermann Hirsch

February 20th, 2017–
Hermann Hirsch was born on July 4, 1861 in Mönchengladbach, Germany; he was the youngest of eight children born to Moritz and Rosetta Hirsch. Moritz worked in the cloth industry, and when Herman was three, the family moved to Köln. When Hermann was twelve, his father passed away, leaving his older siblings to step in and support the family.

At fifteen, Hermann started an apprenticeship with Richard Brend’amour in Düsseldorf, working at the Xylographisches Kunstanstalt Brend'amour & Cie creating woodcut illustrations for books and newspapers. During his apprenticeship, Hirsch’s work appeared in Illustrierte Zeitung, Über Land und Meer, and Die Gartenlaube.

By 1881, Hirsch had left the illustration business to enroll in the Königliche Akademie der Künste (Royal Academy of the Arts) in Berlin. While attending the Academy, he studied under Otto Brausewetter, Paul Thumann, and Otto Knille. In 1886 he attended classes with Julius Roeting and Eduard v. Gebhardt at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Academy of the Arts Düsseldorf) and joined the Berliner Künstlerverein (Artists Club of Berlin).

In Berlin, Hermann lived with his older brother Josef who owned a gas store in Charlottenburg. He entered the Erste Michael Beershce Stiftung competition in 1890, submitting three drawings and two compositions. During this time, Hirsch also made several long trips to Italy, where he likely travel to visit his older sister Julie who was living in Rome as a governess to a family from Frankfurt. In turn, in 1901 he joined the Deutsher Künstler Verein Rom (German Artists Club of Rome).

Hermann returned to Berlin around 1914 to display again in the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung. Over the next four years, his niece Rosetta wrote to him about the scenery around Bremke. Inspired by her letters, Hirsch visited the area, and decided to buy a house there in December 1917.

In Bremke, Hirsch befriended Moritz Meyer-Stein, the chair of the local synagogue community, as well as the leader of the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (the Black, Red, Gold Banner of the Reich), which was organized as a defense against the rising current of right-wing extremists in pre-Nazi Germany. Hirsch and his friends saw an increase of antisemitism throughout the latter half of the 1920s. Despite this rise in antisemitism, Hirsch continued to show his artwork. During this period, he did a number of shows in Göttingen, including a 1927 show where Dr. Wilhelm Lange described Hirsch’s work as “beautiful proof of a pure and motivated talent.”

By 1933, the situation turned increasingly dire for Hirsch. He was one of 26 Jews in a town of only 670 people. His friends stopped associating with him and hostility towards Jews became commonplace. His niece Sabine related, “Young Nazi bullies surrounded [his] white painted house, threw stones at it, and insulted my uncle with Jewish slurs.” Hirsch’s sisters, nieces, and nephews—who used to frequent his house in the summers—emigrated to South Africa, Italy, and Britain, leaving him feeling further isolated.

In the following months, he left his house in Bremke and moved in with a Jewish family in Göttingen. He lived there only a brief time before the oppressiveness of his situation overtook him. He committed suicide and died on March 1, 1934. Dr. Wilhelm Lange wrote in the Göttinger Zeitung “A nice, honest, and pure human spirit passed with him – he broke due to the harshness on his dignity.”

These drawings are a couple of the nearly two dozen pieces of Hermann Hirsch’s original artwork in the Virginia Holocaust Museum collection. One of the featured drawings depicts his niece Susanne Hirt with her doll, from the previous artifact highlight.

This drawing and other objects in our collection are available to view online! Click here to view.