Arnold Daghani (1909-1985) came from a German-speaking Jewish family in Suczawa, in the Bukowina, then on the eastern borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Suceava in Romania.
In June 1942 Daghani and his wife Anisoara (whom he called Nanino) were deported to the labor camp of Mikhailowka (south west Ukraine), from where they managed to escape in July 1943 only a few months before the camp was liquidated. Daghani’s narrative of events at Mikhailowka was published in Romanian (1947), German (1960) and in English as The Grave is in the Cherry Orchard (1961). In 1958 the Daghanis left Romania, emigrating to Israel (1958-59), France (1960-70), Switzerland (1970-77) and finally England (1977-85), settling in Hove, near Brighton.
In 1987 the Arnold Daghani Trust donated a substantial collection of around 6,000 works to the University of Sussex. In 1997 the collection entered the archives of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies where it is now in the process of being catalogued, thanks to a generous donation from The Ian Karten Trust. The collection contains many of the complex and elaborate albums of drawings, paintings and writings documenting Daghani’s experiences in Mikhailowka and the ghetto at Bershad, such as What a Nice World and 1942 1943 And Thereafter (Sporadic records till 1977). These albums include original watercolours Daghani made secretly at this time.
The collection has many drawings and writings from the period 1944 to 1959 when Daghani and Anisoara were living in Bucharest and Israel. These are particularly indicative of Daghani’s interest in religion, with many works representing Christian and Jewish subjects, often depicted in ink line drawings. Works from this period also deal with Daghani’s artistic reception, both in Romania in relation to Socialist Realism, and in the ‘Free World’ of Israel. Short stories give accounts of living conditions at the time, and images record everyday life. Daghani’s experiences and difficulties of emigration are recorded in both images and writings.
There are also numerous drawings, paintings, collages, sketchbooks and writings from the 1960s and 1970s when the Daghanis were living in Vence, in the south of France and Jona, near Zürich in Switzerland. These works relate to broader Modernist themes including music, literature, the circus, religion and politics. They provide a fascinating account of contemporary life, reflecting upon current fashions and changing morals. Daghani also made numerous self-portraits, and his visual and textual works are indicative of extensive self-examination concerning the difficulties of being an artist.
Daghani’s later years in Hove are also represented, particularly by many spiral-bound sketchbooks filled with ink drawings. Additionally the collection contains the typed manuscripts of Daghani’s extended diaries that he worked on during these years, in which he combined his original narrative and subsequent memories of the period in Mikhailowka with transcripts of legal testimonies from Lübeck in the 1960s.
These testimonies were prompted by the German translation of Daghani’s original diary in 1960, Lasst mich Leben, and were collected together with other material to investigate the executions of inmates that took place in Mikhailowka and other slave labour camps in the area. Daghani gave a formal testimony to the Public Prosecutor in Lübeck, followed by testimonies of employees of the August Dohrmann engineering company for whom the inmates of Mikhailowka had worked, as well as Nazi officers and guards. However, after nearly ten years the investigations were annulled as inconclusive for lack of evidence and no court proceedings were held.
The transcripts of these testimonies are held in the collection. In October 2002 a revised version of Daghani’s diary was published in German as Lasst Mich Leben! Stationen im Leben des Künstlers Arnold Daghani. Felix Rieper and Mollie Brandl-Bowen (eds.), Lüneburg, in which Daghani combined his earlier diary with extracts from the investigations.