Gideon Klein Scholar Emili Kaufman Studies Work of German-Jewish Surrealist Painter Felix Nussbaum

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Emili KaufmanIn 1997, the late distinguished professor of chemistry Bill Giessen – who grew up in Nazi Germany and devoted himself wholeheartedly to Holocaust remembrance – established the Gideon Klein Award to honor the memory of Gideon Klein, a brilliant Czech pianist and composer who died in a Nazi death camp in January 1945.
Given annually since 1998, the award has enabled a very gifted group of students at Northeastern, Hebrew College, and New England Conservatory to study the work of artists persecuted by the Nazis.

Emili Kaufman, the 2011-2012 Gideon Klein Scholar, is no exception. Under the guidance of Mira Cantor, Professor of Art & Design at Northeastern, Kaufman — a communication studies major and Jewish Studies minor — has been immersed in a study of German-Jewish surrealist painter Felix Nussbaum, who died in Auschwitz in 1944.

Here, Kaufman reflects on her journey as Gideon Klein Scholar:

As the daughter of two artists, art has influenced my outlook on life and the way I perceive the world. Jewishness has also been a passion of mine and strongly contributes to my identity. The Gideon Klein Award harmonizes art and Jewish studies through remembering the talent the world lost in the Holocaust. In researching the German artist Felix Nussbaum I have discovered that, miraculously, his work still lives on and encompasses so much emotion. Felix Nussbaum’s artwork serves as a visual testimony to the horrors of the Holocaust, representing those who did not survive.

Felix Nussbaum Triumph of Death (The Skeletons Play for the Dance), 1944.

Felix Nussbaum Triumph of Death (The Skeletons Play for the Dance), 1944.

Exploring the life of Felix Nussbaum has been a journey filled with unexpected surprises and has provided me with opportunities beyond my imagination. I felt it necessary to travel to the primary locations in which Nussbaum thrived to truly understand him as a person, rather than a victim. I visited his hometown of Osnabruck where architecture Daniel Libeskind has designed a museum dedicated to Nussbaum’s memory and artwork. There, I met with the director, Inge Jaehner, who graciously shared with me her expertise concerning Nussbaum’s works. It was there that I fell in love with “Death Triumphant,” Nussbaum’s final piece before being deported to Auschwitz.

In addition, I was fortunate to visit the apartment in Brussels where Felix Nussbaum discreetly painted in hiding. I quickly came to comprehend his affection for the city of Brussels and the strong support system of friends that allowed him to exercise his passion for art. Visiting the Brussels State Archives was extremely beneficial in learning more about Nussbaum as an individual. The archivist generously provided me with a file of approximately one hundred twenty documents on Nussbaum, including his arrest papers and passport. Holding these documents is an experience I will cherish forever and further confirmed that, like so many others, this was a life massacred for a ludicrous cause.


On April 3, Kaufman will share her research at Northeastern’s annual Holocaust Awareness Breakfast; she will focus on four of Nussbaum’s most moving paintings, including “Triumph of Death,” in addition to presenting an original artwork utilizing photographs taken during her travels. Members of the community are cordially invited to attend the breakfast program, 7:30 a.m. on April 3rd in Raytheon Auditorium of Egan Hall.  To RSVP for the breakfast, please contact Candice Springer at

Bill Giessen established the Gideon Klein Award in memory of his mother, Gustel Cormann Giessen. Without additional funding, the Jewish Studies program will be able to select only two more Gideon Klein Scholars. Please help us honor Bill’s own legacy by donating to this fund. To make a gift, please contact Olaperi Onipede at or 617-373-5420.