M. Califano: The Ignominy of the Twentieth Century, 1934
This is a postcard of an anti-Nazi drawing called “The Ignominy of the Twentieth Century” by the Italian-American artist Michael Califano.
In the drawing, Albert Einstein is seen standing opposite Adolf Hitler and an SA soldier both wearing brown uniforms (“Brownshirts”), who are gesturing for him to leave in a threatening manner. Einstein is depicted with his hands thrown to the side, perhaps suggesting innocence – “what have I done?” He is surrounded by a bright light, possibly to indicate his illuminating contributions to the scientific world. On the far right, there is a sword dripping with blood.
On the reverse of the postcard is an inscription: “Neither hatred nor persecution can stay the progress of science and civilization” with the name of the artist, the title of the drawing, and its date of publication, 1934.
The original life-size painting was created as a protest against Nazi Germany’s shameful attitude toward its Jewish citizens and, among them, the science genius Albert Einstein. 1934 marked an escalation in Nazi Germany’s cruelty toward its Jewish residents, and the complete removal of their basic civil rights instigated a wave of protests. This drawing is an example of one of the protests.
The artist, Michael Califano, was not satisfied to simply convey his protest via a drawing; he also decided to take a stand. He created a coloured postcard of this drawing and distributed it throughout the United States. Five million copies were printed, and Califano decided to donate the proceeds of the sales to the German-Jewish refugees who were arriving in America at the time.
Michael Califano was born in Naples, Italy, where he studied fine arts. He immigrated to America in 1922 and established an art studio in New York City and later in Washington, DC. He stated that he created this artwork to show support for Jews who had supported his artwork. The painting became very popular, and Einstein even wrote to Califano to thank him.
On May 16, 1935 Califano was beaten unconscious and his artwork vandalized, most likely by Nazi sympathisers. After this attack, which was dismissed by police investigators, Califano suffered great emotional damage, stopped painting, and lived as a recluse until his death in 1979.
Albert Einstein was born in 1879 in Germany. From a young age, he excelled at mathematics and physics. In 1905, after completing his PhD in physics, he published four critical academic papers with groundbreaking ideas that brought him into the academic arena. His most famous discovery was the theory of relativity, E=mc². He lectured all over the world and immigrated to the United States after the Nazi party rose to power in Germany. Although born a Jew, Einstein grew up with little connection to Judaism and was a self-confessed agnostic. In his later years, however, he was more involved with the Jewish people and even became a supporter of the Zionist cause.
What can you see in the drawing?
Can you identify some of the people in the drawing?
What are they wearing? How are they gesturing?
What objects appear in the drawing?
Reading Between the Lines
This drawing was created in 1934. What was happening in Germany at the time?
Both Hitler and the soldier are dressed in brown shirts.
Who typically wore this pseudo-military clothing in Germany at the time?
What did they do?
Explain the significance of the sword dripping with blood.
The drawing depicts Hitler telling Einstein to leave Germany.
Did this happen? When?
The artist chose Einstein as the representative of the Jewish people.
Why do you think he was specifically chosen?
What does the light around Einstein represent?
On the reverse of the postcard is the inscription: “Neither hatred nor persecution can stay the progress of science and civilization.”
The original drawing was destroyed but not before it had been printed on postcards. What do you think Califano was hoping to achieve by reprinting the drawing on postcards? Read more about it here
Einstein was not the only German-Jewish academic who was forced to leave Nazi Germany.
Learn about some of the other famous scientists who had to do this.
Read more about the artist Michael Califano.
Why was he so interested in the Jewish plight?
How did you feel when you looked at the picture?
Did any member of your family have to flee their country of birth like Einstein?
What were the circumstances?
Where did they flee to?
How was their life in the new country?
Many countries around the world provided a safe haven for academic Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
Look at this organisation, Cara, that attempts to do the same for refugees today. Do you think the work of this organisation is important?
Why should academics have a special support system? How can you support this organisation?
If you were to redesign this postcard, which personalities would you use in place of Einstein?
Create a postcard titled: “The Ignominy of the Twenty-First Century.”
What do you think is the most shameful event of this century so far?
Artists can use their talents to create an impact in the world.
Choose a topic that you are passionate about and create an artwork based on it.