Snapshot of History

Clementine Max 1919

This photograph was taken in Munich in 1919. One year after the close of WW1, Munich was the centre of a political maelstrom: bombed in 1916 by the French, capital of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, site of street battles between the communists and the Freikorps. And yet, none of this is in the photograph. The photo is giving us a glimpse into the private, domestic lives of those who experienced these troubles. By reaching out through photographs into the past we can bring forward stories to the present. We can tell the narratives of those who have been lost. But at the same time, in old photographs like these which are so far removed from the candid camera shots on phones, we must remember that we’re telling stories not unearthing a hidden absolute truth.

So what kind of story can we tell from this photograph? The man is wealthy Jewish banker Max Kramer and the woman is his wife, Clementine. The house in Munich sadly no longer exists but we can see from their clothes, Max’s occupation, and the visible furniture that they were a wealthy couple. At least, they were in 1919. In just ten years from this photo, they lost the vast majority of their fortune and housewife Clementine took a job in a department store.

The posture of the couple is striking in all its strangeness. She seems to be leaning in affectionately but at the same time she looks like she might be about to pop off somewhere. By 1919, she was a published writer with her short stories featuring in weekend supplements, Jewish magazines, etc. By the time of her death in 1942, she had written over 75 short stories and many poems. Her first full length novel may have been on her mind although it wasn’t published until 1927. The focus of her creative output was always pacifism, the role of women, and fighting anti-Semitism. During the First World War she published work about longing for peace and wrote privately about the sufferings of mothers who had lost their sons. She was also an activist in the women’s movement. Before this photo, she had been involved in the German suffrage campaign, providing aid to war widows and displaced women, and campaigning for the rights and welfare of Jewish women.

All that is left of Clementine is her collection of creative writing, articles she wrote on women’s topics, and the meagre timeline of her life provided by her nephew. We know that she was deported to Theresienstadt in the spring of 1942 and in November she died. What we don’t know is everything before that. By investigating the woman she was through this photograph and not pitying her for the victim she became we can celebrate her life and her contribution to her community.

Corinne Painter

Image: 1919; Clementine Kraemer Collection; AR 2402; box number 1; folder number 8; Leo Baeck Institute