The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

OBITUARY: Devotion to the art of forgiveness - Death of art therapist Elisabeth Tomalin

     'A devotion to the art of forgiveness' - Death of artist Elisabeth Tomalin -

    Pictured: Elisabeth Tomalin, the artist, who fled Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s

    Published: 12 April 2012

    THE power of art to heal wounds and as a catalyst for conciliation was a theme that was writ large across the life of Elisabeth Tomalin.

    Ms Tomalin, who has died aged 99, fled Nazi Germany in fear of her life and watched as the vicious regime murdered family and friends: yet she found it within herself to return to the country after the war and help use her skill as an artist and teacher to help Germans come to terms with the horrors committed by an earlier generation.

    Ms Tomalin was born in Dresden in 1912.

    Her father owned a furniture factory, but they were not immune to the economic disasters that hit Germany.

    The First World War meant food was scarce, and then the spiralling inflation of the Weimar Republic years wiped out the savings of the more affluent – she recalled, for example, that as child she was taken into the countryside to see if they could buy eggs.

    In her late teens, Ms Tomalin moved to Vienna and became inspired by the city’s well-known bohemian art scene.

    She decided she wanted to study art and headed back to Berlin to enrol in the Riemann School.

    Ms Tomalin escaped the Nazi regime in the mid-1930s and settled in London, via Paris, where she worked for a brief time as a textile designer.

    She recalled seeing the headlines regarding Kristallnacht while in London and worked to get the rest of her close family out of danger.

    With her help they managed, eventually, to get to Argentina.

    In 1939, Ms Tomalin met the Spanish Civil War veteran Miles Tomalin.

    They married in 1940, settled in Primrose Hill, and Elisabeth worked for architect Erno Goldfinger.

    As war broke out, she worked for the Ministry of Information, where, working alongside graphic designer Abram Games, she helped design the iconic posters that urged Britons to Dig For Victory.

    Miles and Elisabeth moved to Regents Park Road soon after the end of the war and it was in the late 1940s that she got a job that would touch millions of people – without them ever knowing it was down to Elisabeth.

    In an era of austerity following the war, London lacked colour and – a fact that Ms Tomalin helped change.

    She was invited by Marks and Spencer to become the head of their textile print department, and she set about creating patterns that would be seen on clothing on every high street across the nation.

    She instinctively knew the power of a print and how colourful patterns could make people feel good again – and set about transforming people’s wardrobes.

    She had always had an interest in psychotherapy, and as she reached her sixth decade, she set out in a new direction that saw her combine two loves: the pre-war philosophies of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and her belief in the restorative and redemptive power of art.

    She trained in New York and set up a system where she would encourage people to paint and use that as a way of expressing their feelings.

    This lead to her travelling to a psychiatric hospital in Bonn, Germany, in the 1970s – and kick-started a new period of her life.

    She lost many family members in the Holocaust, and returning to the country of her birth was obviously a painful experience – but also a productive one.

    In the early 1970s, she was invited back to Germany, Austria and Switzerland to take classes.

    In an interview with the New Journal in 2007, she said: “It took a great effort inwardly to say yes. It was a challenge.

    In Germany, there were children of Nazis who were burdened with guilt.

    It meant a lot to them that I came.

    I wanted to help make a resolution of conflicts.

    I had to overcome incredible feelings.

    They had killed virtually everyone in my family – all my aunts and uncles.”

    It became her calling, and she continued to teach art therapy until the final years of her life.


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