Obituary: Roger Loewig
Wednesday 26 November 1997
More than anything else Roger Loewig's work was about man's inhumanity to man. As a German he was deeply troubled by what the Germans had done to others and to each other after 1933.
In many respects, this concern grew naturally out of his background and his Heimat. He was the son of a German officer from a traditional military family. He grew up in Striegau, Silesia, then German, an area fought over by Slav and German for centuries. At the age of 14 in 1945, he became part of the German trek to the West as the Poles expelled the German population.
He worked as a forest labourer and agricultural worker in the Soviet Zone until 1951. He was then forgiven his class background by the Communist authorities and allowed to enrol on a Russian teacher's course in Berlin. Russian studies faced a massive expansion, but were unpopular with students.
In 1953, Loewig was appointed teacher of Russian, German and history in an East Berlin secondary school. This coincided with a period of "thaw" in the Communist regime following the death of Stalin and the workers' rising of 17 June 1953. This soon changed and it was as well that he was not ambitious as a teacher, preferring to cultivate his friends and sketch and paint for himself and for them. In his interest in art, Loewig followed his father, who would rather have been an artist than a soldier.
In August 1963, Loewig was arrested at Riebnitz on the Baltic by officials of the Stasi, the State Security Service. He was accused of anti-state activity by mounting a private exhibition of his works for his friends. From the regime's point of view, many of his works were the wrong subject matter, tendered in an unacceptable style, and without a licence to exhibit. Of his work, he wrote it "took its direction from German Expressionism. I respected and admired, belonged to, `Degenerate Art' ".
All his life, Loewig was haunted by the crimes of the Nazis. His sense of guilt as a German had found early expression in his work. The Berlin Wall, the division of Germany and all that went with them followed after 1961. His ghostly, accusing, landscapes were unacceptable to the Communists. Loewig was held by the Stasi for a year before being released without trial. West Germany had paid for his release. Described as "particularly dangerous" to the state, his paintings, essays and poems were confiscated and he was dismissed from the teaching profession.
His release coincided with another "thaw" in the Soviet bloc and Loewig joined the official artists' union (VBKD) and had exhibitions in Erfurt (1965) and East Berlin (1967). His first foreign exhibition was in Warsaw in 1966. His lithographs of this period dealt with the Nazi Holocaust, a theme never far from his mind. In the late 1960s other exhibitions took place in Rochester, Minnesota, Zurich and Eisenach (East Germany) and Solingen (West Germany).
His works in the series The Chinese Wall were hardly likely to endear him to the cultural commissars of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Loewig resolved to leave the GDR for West Germany. The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was the final turning-point, convincing him that nothing could be achieved under the Communist dictatorship. He resigned from the VBKD in 1971 and persisted in his efforts to leave the GDR. A traffic accident, which led to a long period of hospitalisation, and the GDR's desire for Western diplomatic recognition, no doubt, came to his aid. The regime did not want bad publicity and he was allowed to leave in January 1972.
Loewig settled in West Berlin, living with his partner Creszentia Troike- Loewig at the top of a tower block. A fellow teacher from East Berlin, she petitioned and fought for his recognition. Although never completely fit again, Loewig continued with his work in water-colours, gouaches and oil paintings. Up to German re-unification in 1990, he had exhibitions in West Germany almost every year. His foreign exhibitions included Oslo (1976), Mexico City (1983), and Nottingham (1985). He was the first German artist to be exhibited in the former concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland, and he was depressed by the lack of recognition this event received in the German media. Meanwhile the Stasi continued its interest in him.
In the 1990s the exhibitions continued but Loewig's health was failing. Much time and energy was spent on attempting to discover the fate of paintings and other works confiscated by the Stasi. His achievements were recognised by the German state when he was awarded the Federal Order of Merit in September 1997. The reception in his honour planned for 8 November was turned into a memorial meeting. Roger Loewig died of cancer four days earlier.
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