Category Archives: History

Innocent pastimes

Crosswords are widespread but have a surprisingly short history. They only began to appear regularly in newspapers after 1913. When the word game got its definitive chequerboard appearance in the Twenties, it grew wildly popular. Crosswords became a rage in America and Europe. These most relaxing (and enervating!) puzzles even decorated sheet music covers. Here is a delicious example of the innocent pastime of Maurice Chevalier: ‘On faisait des mots croisés’ (we were solving crosswords), ahem.

foxtrot written and published by Charles Borel-Clerc (1925). Illustration attributed to Jean Le Seyeux.
‘On faisait des mots croisés’, foxtrot written and published by Charles Borel-Clerc (1925). Illustration attributed to Jean Le Seyeux.

Other sheet music covers playfully confirm the crossword mania that existed in many countries…




On faisait des mots croisés
(Paroles: Albert Willemetz, Saint-Granier et Le Seyeux)

Suzy et son p’tit cousin
Un tout jeune collégien,
S’étaient dans la sall’ de bain
Enfermés l’autr’ matin
Très intrigués leurs parents,
Apperçur’nt en accourant,
Par le carreau transparent
Un spectacle effarant
La mèr’ s’écrie: “Quell’ conduite
Que faites-vous? Répondez vite”
Mais la p’tite, Mais la p’tite,
Lui dit en la rassurant:

On faisait des mots croisés
C’était pour s’amuser
C’est un truc très épatant,
Un charmant passe-temps.
On cherche la solution
En famille…
Ça passionne les garçons
Et les filles….
Nous avons fait l’éléphant
Mais c’est un jeu d’enfant.
Le chat, c’est plus épineux;
Il faut se mettre à deux…
Il avait trouvé frisé,
Moi, anguille…
On faisait des mots croisés,
C’était pour s’amuser.


Rika Baruch

In memory of Rika Baruch (1886-1941) it seems appropriate to show one of the first covers illustrated by her husband Wolfgang Ortmann. The sheet music is from 1909, a year in which we’d like to imagine 23-year old Rika posing as the springtime-model for her young artist Wolfgang.

Kiss of Spring, illustrated by Wolfgang Ortmann in 1909.
Kiss of Spring (Frühlingsküsse), sheet music illustrated by Wolfgang Ortmann in 1909.

Rika Baruch was the first wife of Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1967) a German illustrator of sheet music, posters and books.  Hereunder are notes on the life of Rika Baruch and daughter Muschi, long after their separation from Ortmann. It is Peter Crane, grandson of Wolfgang and Eva Ortmann, who in 2014 wrote the following lines:

Rika Baruch Ortmann was a dentist with a public health practice.  She was also an active Communist, probably involved with the GRU (Soviet military intelligence).  She provided lodging for six months to Felix Wolf (also known as Werner Rakow or Rakov), one of Lenin’s emissaries to the German Communist Party in the early 1920’s.  Later on, she was expelled from the KPD as a ‘right-wing deviationist,’ that is, a follower of Heinrich Brandler, who lost out in an intra-party power struggle, but was apparently reinstated later on. In 1932, she was working closely with Edgar André, a leader of Communist paramilitaries in Hamburg, in the weeks leading up to the ‘Altonaer Blutsonntag,’ when 17 people were shot down in the streets.  In 1933, she and her daughter Ruth (Muschi) went to Moscow, where she obtained a job as a dentist in the Uskoje Sanatorium.

Rika Baruch
Rika Baruch

Muschi went to work for the distinguished scientist Lina Stern (or Shtern).  (After World War II, Stern was the only one of a group of Jewish intellectuals and scientists not to be executed; she got 20 years.)  But Muschi’s boyfriend Fritz Daniel was missing her, and was able to pay her way to England.

Muschi and Fritz Daniel, 1934
Muschi and Fritz Daniel, 1934

Here the story becomes tragic.  In the summer of 1936, Muschi and Fritz Daniel (they were married by now) were about to leave London for America.  First they traveled to Stockholm for a rendezvous with Rika, who told them that she was worried by developments in the Soviet Union, and did not wish to return. (The first arrests of the Great Purge were taking place, and many more would follow soon.)  Muschi and Fritz were sure that nothing bad could happen to her, and thought it more convenient if she went back to Moscow and waited for word from them before following them to America. Reluctantly, she agreed. But she had a problem: her German passport was expiring, and she saw no chance of having it renewed by the Germans. The Russians would have given her a Soviet passport, but that would mean losing the opportunity to travel abroad. To gain the benefit of a Western passport, and be able to leave the Soviet Union when word came from Muschi and Fritz, she married her young cousin Leo Gavatin in a sham marriage, thus obtaining a Swedish passport. In October 1936, after trying unsuccessfully to telephone Muschi in the U.S., she boarded a train for Leningrad, headed for Stockholm and the West. An hour out of Moscow, two NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) men arrested her and brought her back to Moscow for interrogation.  She was never able to send or receive a single letter. The Swedish consular officials tried to make contact with her, but the NKVD replied that her Swedish citizenship was fraudulent, and refused their request. If she had been acknowledged as a German citizen, she might have been returned to Germany in 1940, like many other anti-Nazi Germans, including, most famously, Margarete Buber-Neumann. As it was, she was in effect a citizen of no country, and completely out of luck.

Orel Prison where Rika Baruch was
Orel Prison where Rika Baruch was imprisoned from 1936 until 1941, when she was executed.

In early September, 1941, Beria sent Stalin a list of 160 political prisoners in the Orel (or Oryol) isolator prison, with a request for instructions. “Shoot them all,” Stalin wrote on it. A few days later, the Soviet military judge Ulrikh sentenced them all to death. A special NKVD squad was brought in. Gags were put in the prisoners’ mouths to keep them from crying out. They were informed that they had been resentenced to death and shot, their bodies buried in the Medvedev Forest. Trees were planted over the site to disguise it.

Photo by the NKVD of the arrested Rika Ortmann-Baruch, 1936
NKVD-photo of the arrested Rika Ortmann-Baruch (1936)


We are thrilled with this post. For years we couldn’t find any information on the illustrator Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1969). But here it is: the first sketch of his life and work.

Illustration by Wolfgang Ortmann for 'Mort d'Amour',
Illustration by Wolfgang Ortmann for ‘Mort d’Amour’, Valse Boston by Robert Stolz (Berlin, 1922)

The covers by the German illustrator Wolfgang Ortmann carry his trademark: a wavy signature above a single small star. His drawings are bold, with a dynamic composition and imaginative colours.


Ortmann doesn’t hesitate to use black and dark shadows to add a touch of drama. His images reflect the Roaring Twenties in Germany: ladies with bobbed haircuts (Bubikopf), heavy mascara, hairbands, cocktail dresses or fur, and elegant (older) men in evening dress. We are witnesses of nightlife scenes in cabarets, intimate bars, parties with jazz and champagne, theatre loggias, dark alcoves and shadowy staircases.

sheet music covers illustrated by Wolfgang Ortmann
A selection of sheet music covers illustrated by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)

Many of his covers illustrate popular exotic themes and oriental cliché fantasies.

Exotic and Orient-inspired cover illustrations by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)

Finally, the essence of Ortmann’s covers is every so often sexual. His illustrations for many foxtrots and lieder breathe seduction, temptation, passion, flirtation, swooning and sensual ecstasy.

Sensual covers of sheet music, illustrated by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)
Sensual covers of sheet music, illustrated by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)

Ortmann is the most prolific of all German sheet music illustrators, closely followed by Willy Herzig and Paul Telemann. In our collection, all of  Ortmann’s music covers were designed during the five years following the First World War (WWI). The information about Ortmann’s life and the photos come from his grandson Peter Crane of Seattle. He told us that before WWI the young Ortmann created advertisements and posters for the gas company. At the Sammlungen Online of the Wiener Albertina one can see proof of his graphic talent at the age of twenty-five. The quality of his posters rivals with the Plakatstil creations of illustrious designers Lucian Bernhard, Ludwig Hohlwein, Julius Klinger and Hans Rudi Erdt.

Poster designed by Wolfgang Ortmann: “Koche und backe mit Gas!” (ca 1910)
Poster designed by W. Ortmann: "Bade mit Gas" (ca 1910)
Poster designed by W. Ortmann: “Bade mit Gas” (ca 1910)
Ortmann married four times with a Jewish wife although he himself was a protestant. With his first wife Rika Baruch, he had a daughter Ruth (called ‘Muschi’) and a son Erik Jürgen. We see little Muschi in a photograph, probably around 1914, sitting on her father’s lap. It seems probable that she stood model for some of his posters.

Ortmann in military uniform with his daughter Muschi
Wolfgang Ortmann in military uniform with his daughter Muschi (ca. 1914)

Before or at the outbreak of WWI their marriage broke up. Years later, when Hitler came to power, Ortmann’s ex-wife Rika had every reason to flee Germany because not only was she Jewish, but also a communist. In 1933 she moved to Russia with her daughter Muschi.

Rika Ortmann-Baruch and daughter Muschi
Rika Ortmann-Baruch (left) and daughter Muschi

A couple of years later Muschi left Moscow for London, married and immigrated with her husband Fritz Daniel to America in 1936. In that year her mother Rika fell victim to Stalin’s Great Purge and was isolated from her family, unable to receive nor to send letters. She was sentenced to eight years imprisonement. But before the end of that term, in 1941, she was shot by the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) in the mass murder of 157 political prisoners and buried in the Medvedev Forest.
(read more on Rika Baruch here)

Already in 1915 Ortmann met his second wife Eva Löwenfeld (1895-1988) and married her a year later. At the end of WWI, Eva and Wolfgang got a daughter and named her Sibylle. One or two documents from archives seem to suggest that during the war Ortmann served in the army as a reporter artist, illustrating battles and drawing maps.

Eva Ortmann, née Löwenfeld (1920).
Eva Ortmann, née Löwenfeld, in 1920. She stood model for the illustration of ‘Das Detektivmädel’ (1921), composed by Leon Jessel.

But also the marriage with his second wife Eva, a professional singer, ended soon. Eva was offended and probably disgusted by Ortmann’s attraction to young girls, as she had discovered him with one of them. This episode is described in the memoirs of Eric Godal (Kein Talent sum Tellerwäscher) who at that time, ca 1920, was an assistant in Ortmann’s atelier. So, at 26, Eva left her husband to go live alone with her daughter Sibylle in Charlottenburg in poor circumstances.

Wolfgang Ortmann in 1918 with his baby daughter Sibylle; right 14-year old Sibylle in Berlin.
Wolfgang Ortmann in 1918 with his baby daughter Sibylle; right 14-year old Sibylle in Berlin.

She later remarried the singer Fritz Lechner. In 1936 Eva and Fritz fled the Nazi’s and immigrated to New York. A year later Sibylle joined her mother. The correspondence between Sibylle and her mother over the years 1932-1946 form the core of a book that Peter Crane published about the German-Jewish emigration background of his mother and grandmother: Wir leben nun mal auf einem Vulkan (Weidle Verlag, Bonn – 2005).

Refugee card of Sybille Ortmann (1934)
16-year old Sibylle as refugee in Britain, early 1934 (click to enlarge)

In 1919 Ortmann illustrated the book Das Brevier des Junggesellen with numerous erotic drawings.

Illustrations by W. Ortmann for 'Das Brevier des Junggesellen' (1919)
Illustrations by W. Ortmann for ‘Das Brevier des Junggesellen’ (1919).

His work didn’t pass unnoticed. Max Brod, a close friend of Kafka, admires the artistic skills of Ortmann in his poster for the 1920 operette Wenn Liebe Erwacht. In his novel ‘Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt‘ Brod spends a page and a half to praise the image, which he thinks captures the essence of Berlin at that time.

'Wenn Liebe erwacht',
A detail of the sheet music cover for the operette ‘Wenn Liebe erwacht’ (ill. W. Ortmann, 1920)

A totally different work is Ortmann’s 1920 poster design for the Deutsche Volkspartei depicting a mother holding high her child. Rudolf Hess liked this poster so much that he sent a copy to his parents as a keepsake. And then there is this 1933 or later poster ‘Dein Einsatz‘ for the Volksbund fur das Deutschtum Im Auslanda cultural public relation association of the National Socialists.

Two propaganda posters by Ortmann, 1920 (left) and +/- 1933 (right)
Two propaganda posters by Ortmann, 1920 (left) and +/- 1933 (right)

Ortmann married a third time (we don’t know with whom nor for how long) and spent the end of his life with his fourth wife Grete. We see them together in a picture taken in Berlin in 1966 when Peter Crane visited his grandfather after having looked him up in the telephone book. Ortmann is then already over 80 years old. He died a few years later. Until now we haven’t found any post-WW2 art work by Wolfgang Ortmann.

Wolfgang Ortmann in Berlin with his fourth wife. Right: with his grandson Peter Crane in 1966.
Wolfgang Ortmann in Berlin with his fourth wife. Right: with his grandson Peter Crane in 1966.

Peter Crane wrote to us: “When Hitler came to power, Ortmann made busts of Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels and displayed them in a department store window in Berlin. (…)  But because of his Jewish wife, he could not be admitted to the Reichskulturkammer, and I think his work for the Nazis dried up.” The Nazi pressure on Aryans to leave their Jewish wife was immense. But Ortmann stayed with his wife and did not desert her. Grete had to do forced labor in a munition factory but she survived the war (unlike her sister who was murdered in Auschwitz). She also endured the ‘liberation’ of Berlin, as Peter Crane chillingly accounts: Grete Ortmann said to me, speaking of 1945, “And when the Russians came, they took ALL the women.”  She looked deeply into my eyes as she said that, so that I would understand that she was referring to herself…