The photographer Julius Frank fled from the Nazi regime and had to sell his studio. The Focke Museum in Bremen is now dedicating an exhibition to him.
You won’t find his name in photographers’ encyclopedias: Julius Frank, who was forced to emigrate in 1936 because of his Jewish origins and was able to flee to the USA, has since been completely forgotten.
Its rediscovery took place in several steps and is mainly due to attentive, meticulous local research. It all started with a suitcase that the home club from Lilienthal, Julius Frank’s birthplace near Bremen, received in 2004.
It also contained the diaries of the writer Karl Lilienthal, who had worked as an elementary school teacher in a neighboring community for many years and was a friend of Julius Frank. He described in detail the exclusion and misery of the photographer that forced him to leave his homeland.
The research of two Lilienthal local historians led to contact with members of the Frank family living in the USA and to the first publication of their persecution story in 2005.
Stumbling blocks at the studio building
In 2006, stumbling blocks were laid in front of the former residential and studio building in Lilienthal to commemorate the family’s expulsion; In the same year, the 91-year-old widow Hilde Frank and her children visited the place that her husband, who had died young, had to leave.
“Julius Frank. A Jewish family of photographers between Germany and America”. Focke MuseumBremen State Museum for Art and Cultural History, November 9 to February 26, 2023.
The richly illustrated accompanying catalog was published by Dölling and Galitz Verlag, Munich/Hamburg and costs 32 euros
As early as 1985, the Focke Museum had received the studio camera, laboratory equipment, pieces of furniture and props from Fritz Hahn, Julius Frank’s business successor. As part of intensified provenance research, the museum also sought contact with the relatives in the USA.
In one of his letters, Julius Frank named the reasons for his emigration: “On April 1, 1933, it was the boycott of all Jewish shops that had a very strong impact on sales in the weeks and months that followed.” He noted elsewhere : “I am very attached to my homeland … I would certainly not sell my business, which my grandfather founded over 60 years ago and which I have grown very fond of, if unfortunately circumstances did not force me to do so.”
The sale of his studio and the handing over of the business to the photo reporter Fritz Hahn from Bremen took place on the worst possible terms. Frank’s friend Lilienthal commented on this forced sale in his diary with decided clarity: “He gets the entire inventory without paying a penny. The Aryan rooster exploits the misery of the Jews, and the Jew is the scoundrel.”
An “Aryan company”
Frank’s successor also received the entire “stock of negatives from 1904, completely about 300 stocks of landscape negatives…, 3500 collotype cards, 300 silver bromide cards, unframed and framed landscape pictures”. After the business was handed over, the new owner advertised his “Aryan company” in block letters.
When he said goodbye to his friend, Karl Lilienthal wrote: “In Osterholz, they took the last marks from him for sales tax on things that were going to be auctioned on Friday. So he had to borrow money. The secret state police made trouble for him to the end. Julius was white as a sheet when we said goodbye.”
In June 1936, Julius Frank escaped further harassment; he fled by ship to New York via Hamburg. The exclusion and disenfranchisement of the Frank family continued after 1945; their requests for so-called compensation fell on deaf ears, remained unprocessed for years and were finally “rejected as belated” in 1968.
In view of this biographical background, it can be regarded as a particularly stroke of luck that the Frank family, in the course of the museum’s research on the studio inventory, decided to also give the house the photographic estate still in the family’s possession, original prints in various formats, negatives, photo albums, certificates, to leave correspondence.
The bundle also includes a white gymnastics shirt from the Lilienthal gymnastics club, which was kept for decades. At first glance, this is an inconsequential memento that symbolized the sports-loving Julius Frank’s exclusion from his beloved sports club because of his Jewish origins.
After a two-year review and inventory all these superbly preserved photographic treasures can now be viewed in a most remarkable exhibition. Thanks to the tangible sensitivity of the curator Karin Walter, a view of the life story of the Jewish photographer family Frank, spanning three generations, opens up.
Any sniffing at the supposed photographic province is out of the question, because the countless framed, passepartoured photographs are not only important for technical and photo-aesthetic reasons. Behind them lies the touching story of expulsion, a loss of home, but also a strong bond with home, which, thanks to the generosity of the family, is unmistakable in this exhibition.
Exhibition with original photographs
Visitors are greeted by an enlarged image of the studio, framed by the Franks’ massive studio camera, which is more than 100 years old, and a small bench that was used to photograph children. The show then presents 110 original photographs, fascinating for every photo enthusiast, sometimes also their backs, which refer to their use in publications and exhibitions with stamps and inscriptions.
The geographic proximity to the Teufelsmoor and the enthusiasm of the urban population for the “internal exoticism” of this specific region was reflected in the motifs of the Frank family, whether they are called “Am Schiffgraben”, “Birken im Sturm” or “Torfschiffe auf der Hamme”. .
In terms of composition and perspective, they are reminiscent of motifs from the Worpswede artist colony, drawings and paintings by Hans am Ende, Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn and Fritz Overbeck. How lucky the curator is to be able to choose from different formats, from prints on cardboard or bromine oil prints on handmade paper.
And everything is flanked by private photo albums, albums for postcards, certificates and medals, an almost unbelievable fund that also shows the context of the photographs and their places of publication in books, illustrated books and specialist journals.
The enlarged business paper from “Julius Frank, Lilienthal” alone underlines the diversity of the family of photographers; the subline referred not only to the “studio for artistic photography and enlargements”, but also to the “photo dealership” and the “home photo publishing house”. All that was over when the accession to power National Socialists systematic exclusion and disenfranchisement used.
Via New York to California
Julius Frank ended up in Detroit via New York, where he managed to start anew, first as head of the photo department at the Multicolor company, later as a portrait photographer in his hometown of Kalamazoo on Lake Michigan. After serving in the military in Europe in 1944/45, he lived with his family in California, where he worked for the renowned architectural photographer Julius Shulmann.
Julius Frank, who also took part in photographic competitions in the USA and was awarded prizes, and was appointed Master of Photography a month before his death, died on August 22, 1959.
Thanks to the generous gesture of the family and a sensitive curator, he can now be rediscovered in an inspiring exhibition. The trip to Bremen’s Focke Museum is worth it.