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Exhibition logo

Design: Peter Wentzler, Hinz & Kunst, Braunschweig

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"Ich" (Me)

Self-portrait by Franz Ehrlich (1934)

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"Ohne Titel" (Untitled)

Drawing executed in custody in Zwickau or Waldheim Prison between 1934 and 1937. Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

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Photo: Peter Hansen

"Jedem das Seine" (To Each His Own)

Letters designed by Franz Ehrlich for the inscription in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp gate (1938)

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Photo: Peter Hansen

Opening

Visitors at the exhibition in the Neues Museum in Weimar during the opening on 2 August 2009

Franz Ehrlich. A “Bauhäusler” in the Resistance and the Concentration Camp

A special exhibition of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation in cooperation with the Klassik Stiftung Weimar and the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau within the framework of the Bauhaus Year 2009, presented from 2 August to 11 October 2009 at the Neues Museum in Weimar

Franz Ehrlich (1907–1984), master pupil at Bauhaus Dessau, designer and architect, was one of the "Bauhäusler" whose œuvre has only recently been rediscovered. The exhibition takes an informative look at an important aspect of that œuvre. It focusses on Ehrlich’s time as a member of the antifascist resistance, in prison, and at Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where he was in custody until 1939. The show is divided into the following sections:

"Pictures from Prison"

When the National Socialists seized power in 1933, Franz Ehrlich was working for the Otto Beyer publishing company and the magazine die neue linie in Leipzig. Despite the risk of being arrested like thousands of other members of his party, he joined a Communist resistance group. His brief professional career was brought to an end when he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1934. His girlfriend was permitted to bring him painting utensils to his place of detention pending trial. As a means of psychological survival, he carried out numerous works on paper, more than fifty of which he managed to hold on to throughout his years of imprisonment. 

"Jedem das Seine", 1938

Even in the concentration camp, Franz Ehrlich continued to display loyalty to his beliefs. In 1938, the head of the SS construction office ordered him to design the letters for the motto "Jedem das Seine" ("To Each His Own"). Installed in the camp gate so as to be readable from the inside, it was intended to demonstrate the right claimed by the SS to practise brutal selection and murder. For his design of the letters, Ehrlich took inspiration from masters of the Bauhaus and his teacher Joost Schmidt. His design was thus a subtle intervention against the spirit of the inscription. 

Homage to an Anachronist

-273,15 °C = 0 Kelvin is a media installation by Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani on the broadcasting company headquarters in Nalepastrasse in Berlin, Franz Ehrlich’s masterwork. In the exhibition, this media installation served to pay homage to the artist.

Biography

1907–1926
Franz Joseph Ehrlich is born on 28 December 1907 in Leipzig-Reudnitz as the second child of a mechanic and a housewife. He has six brothers and sisters and attends primary school. Apprenticeship as a mechanical engineering fitter, Sunday and evening vocational training school of the Polytechnische Gesellschaft in Leipzig.

1927–1930
Student and employee of the Dessau Bauhaus. Basic studies with Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy. Advanced studies with Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Joost Schmidt, Oskar Schlemmer, Wilhelm Ostwald and Fritz Köhn. Student representative in the masters’ council. 1930 "Bauhaus Diplom" from the sculpture workshop. 1930 member of the German Communist Party.

1931/32
Employment in the studios of Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Hans Pölzig. 1932 with Heinz Loew and Fritz Winter in the design workshop "Studio Z", Berlin.

1933
Graphic designer for advertising at Otto Beyer publishing company, Leipzig. Activity in the resistance: co-editorship of the illegal magazine Junge Garde.

1934–1937
Arrest. 1935 sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for "preparations for high treason". Imprisonment in the penitentiaries in Waldheim and Zwickau.

1937–1939
In Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Construction office inmates’ detachment. Designs and construction drawings for the SS. Active in the camp resistance organization.

1939–1943
1939 release from Buchenwald. Classified as "unworthy of military service" and excluded from service in the Wehrmacht. Conscripted to employment in the SS construction office in Buchenwald and the Central SS Office of Budget and Building, Berlin.

1943–1945
From April 1943 in Greece and the Balkans with Wehrmacht penal division IV/999. Taken prisoner of war by the Yugoslavs.

1946–1948
Head of the department of reconstruction in the Dresden city council. Design for initial reconstruction measures. Construction plan for the Heller district. Reconstruction of the municipal theatre. Member of the SED (Socialist Unity Party).

1948–1952
Free-lance architect with a designer group in Dresden. From 1950 technical director of the VVB Industrie-Entwurf Berlin (projection and construction management of industrial facilities for the GDR’s first five-year plan). Resignation in context of "formalism debate".

1953–1961
Construction management and designs for school and university buildings, broadcasting and television studios, hospitals, concert halls and museums. From 1957 furniture design for the VEB Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau (modular furniture series 602).

1962–1974
Exhibition designs for international fairs in Yugoslavia, Ceylon, Indonesia and Finland. Commissioned architect for the GDR ministry of foreign trade (design and construction of trade missions in Moscow, Prague, Budapest, Brussels, Paris and New Delhi).

1975–1984
From 1979 professional activities in Berlin restricted for health reasons. Late 1980 first exhibition “Franz Ehrlich – The Early Years” at the Galerie am Sachsenplatz, Leipzig. Franz Ehrlich dies on 28 November 1984 in Bernburg/Saale.