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Samson Schames

Artist 5 of 12

Schames, Samson, 1898–1967: “The Tear,” 1941, Leo Baeck Institute Art and Objects Collection, 2016.06.

Samson Schames (1898–1967)


While interned as an enemy alien in England, Schames continued creating art. Because there were no brushes or paint available, Schames used broken objects in collages and mosaics to express the broken world around him. He utilized unusual materials for his art, including shards of glass, nails and stones—sometimes scavenged from the wreckage of the Blitz. Often referring to Jewish religion and tradition, Schames’ art depicted the tragedy of Jewish persecution and the horror of WWII through symbolism. The mosaic displayed here is typical of Schames’ raw and forceful style. Scratches and broken pieces of material outline a mournful human face. The large, teardrop-shaped hole, from which the artwork derives its ambiguous name, is both a powerful expression of grief and an actual rift in the surface of the work.

Schames Map.png
Philo-Atlas: Handbuch für die jüdische Auswanderung (Philo-Atlas: Manual for Jewish Emigration), Berlin: Philo GmbH, 1938.


Samson Schames grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Frankfurt. He had a promising, multi-faceted career as a painter, set designer, and textile designer. As a Jew, he was no longer allowed to display his work in 1934 and joined the newly formed Kulturbund Deutscher Juden (Jewish Cultural Association). Schames escaped to London via Holland in 1939. Although a refugee in England, the British government perceived him and other Jews from Germany as potential threats to national security. Schames was interned at Huyton Alien Internment Camp, near Liverpool, in 1940. With a lack of materials to use during wartime, Schames became known for creating art out of detritus. In 1948, he immigrated to New York. While he continued to work as an artist, it took him several decades to gain recognition, and larger retrospectives in Germany only happened posthumously.