The painter Felix Nussbaum was born in Osnabrück in 1904. He was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1944.
More than 160 of Nussbaum’s paintings are now on display at the Felix Nussbaum House in Osnabrück, including his most famous one, his “Self-portrait with a Jewish pass”, which he painted around 1943 while he was hiding from the Nazis in Belgium.
The museum also includes documents about Nussbaum’s life and work. It is the home of the Felix Nussbaum Society, which issues publications about the painter and organizes expositions of his work all over the world.
The Felix Nussbaum House in Osnabrück was designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind and was completed in 1998.
With its sharp angles and long corridors, the Felix Nussbaum House looks and feels like a smaller version of another Libeskind building, the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Adjacent to the Felix Nussbaum House there are two more museum buildings, Villa Schlikker and the House of History.
Villa Schlikker was built in the year 1900 as the residence of Edo Floris Schlikker, the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer. In 1930/31 the house was taken over by the Nazi party, the NSDASP. During the Nazi dictatorship, from 1933 to 1945, the house was the administrative headquarters of the local Nazi party and was known locally as “the brown house” because of the brown shirts that the Nazis wore.
As the Second World War was coming to a close, Osnabrück was occupied by British troops on April 4, 1945. The British took control of the Villa Schlikker and used it as the headquarters of their city commander.
It wasn’t until 1959 that the house was given to the city of Osnabrück for use as a museum. For many years Villa Schlikker was used as a Natural History Museum. Since 2004 it has been the site of a museum called The House of Memories, showing the culture of daily life in the 20th century.
When the last traditional corner shop closed in Osnabrück in 1980, its furniture and contents were preserved and are now on display at the museum. This kind of shop is often referred to in German as an Aunt Emma Shop (Tante-Emma-Laden).
An old pharmacy has also been rebuilt as it was in the first half of the twentieth century, complete with its original scales and hand-cranked cash register.
They have also recovered a few items from the Nazi period, like this painting showing the Nazi conception of a German family: a healthy mother with four healthy children, whose absent father is presumably off on some distant front Defending the Fatherland.
Finally they have preserved some of the original furnishings of Villa Schlikker, like this bathroom from the year 1900, complete with brass railings around the sunken bathtub.
This piano and wind-up phonograph were also used by the Schlikker family when they lived in Villa Schlikker in the early years of the 20th century.
In the basement of Villa Schlikker there is now an exhibit on life in Osnabrück in the months and years immediately following the Second World War.
Osnabrück was one of the German cities that suffered the most damage and casualties through aerial bombardments from 1940 to 1945. One reason for this was that allied bombers starting from England flew directly over Osnabrück on their way to and from Berlin and other cities in eastern Germany. Returning bombers tended to drop any leftover bombs on Osnabrück, which was the last German city on their way back to their bases in Britain.
Since Villa Schlikker was the local Nazi party headquarters, the basement served as an air raid shelter for Nazi officials during the war. Now the basement is part of the museum. The exhibits include several CARE packages that were sent from America starting in 1946.
CARE was founded in 1945 as the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe. This organization got permission from the American government to send U.S. Army surplus “10-in-1” food parcels to Europe. These were boxes of rations that had been prepared in great numbers to feed American soldiers (ten soldiers for one day or one soldier for ten days) during the planned invasion of Japan, which then never happened because Japan surrendered after the dropping of the atomic bombs.
At the end of the war, these rations were stored in a warehouse in the Philippines. CARE arranged for them to be returned to the United States for repackaging and shipment to Europe, where people were in dire need of food after the war. For ten dollars, people living in America could arrange to have one of these parcels shipped to their relatives or friends in Europe, where it was “guaranteed” to arrive within four months.
My father was one of those who immediately started sending CARE packages (from Illinois) as soon as this was possible. Whenever he could spare ten dollars, which was a lot of money in those days, he ordered a CARE package to be sent off to relatives in Hungary, Czechoslovakia or later Germany. Packages to Germany were not allowed for the first half year, because of an American government policy of aiding other countries first.
When I went through my father’s papers after his death, I found numerous letters thanking him profusely for these packages, which evidently filled a real need in the first few years after the war.
This is the oldest of the three museum buildings. It was built in 1890 and has been used as a museum ever since. It is described as the House of History of simply as the “Main Building” of the museum complex.
The basement and ground floor are devoted to “The development of Osnabrück from its beginnings to the present time”. On the upper floor there is a collection of artworks and a department of “Craftwork and design”.
As of 2017, a combined admission ticket is available for all three buildings, The House of History, Villa Schlikker and the Felix Nussbaum House. It costs 5 Euros for adults or 3 Euros for those entitled to a reduction. Admission is free for children and young people up to age 18.
This “Heger Gate”, originally known as the Waterloo Gate, is just across the street from the three museum buildings. This gate does not fit in very well with Osnabrück’s current image as The Peace City, because it was built to glorify the courage of local soldiers at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.
The gate was erected in 1817, two years after the Battle of Waterloo, as a tribute to “the warriors from Osnabrück who gave proof of German courage at Waterloo on June 18, 1815”.
There is no mention of how awful the battle of Waterloo was — though in reality it was a dreadful slaughter. At least that is the impression I have from reading Victor Hugo’s seventy-page description of that battle in the first volume of his novel Les Misérables. He said that the huge number of casualties came about because the fronts were so short, with thousands of men, horses and cannons crowded into a very small area.
The German (or rather Prussian) army in the Battle of Waterloo arrived rather late in the day, just in time to deliver the final blow against Napoléon and decide the outcome of the battle in favor of their allies at the time, the English.
Behind the Osnabrück Cathedral there is a narrow passageway called the Hexengang (Witches’ Passage), which according to local tradition is where women convicted of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries were led on their way to be “delivered to the cleansing power of the fire”, in other words burned alive at the stake.
Local historians say this passageway received its name much later, during the period of Romanticism in the 19th century, and that it actually had nothing to do with witches in earlier centuries.
They also say, however, that witch hunts were a serious problem in Osnabrück in the period before and during the Thirty Years’ War. Between 1550 and 1650, in Osnabrück alone, 276 women and two men were convicted of witchcraft. They were accused of eating little children, poisoning crops and cattle, mixing magic potions and calling down fires and hailstorms and living in a pact with the devil.
Like the Jews, women who had been denounced as “witches” were held responsible for catastrophic events that people could otherwise not explain, like epidemics and wars.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2017.
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