Habima Scandal

In a workshop on December 6, 2017, Winfried Muthesius taught ten young artists the technique of pittura oscura. They were students of Prof. Uli Braun, Faculty of Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg. Muthesius showed them how - in relation to specific places in Würzburg - a reference can be created to the challenges of today and tomorrow. The so-called Habima scandal was chosen as the historical point of reference.

View of the city's history and the Habima scandal of 1930

The artist Winfried Muthesius and the University students first familiarized themselves with the vicissitudes of the fate of the people of Würzburg by looking at the mural, painted by Wolfgang Lenz. It  illustrates the more than 1300-year history of the City in pictures in the council hall. Würzburg was nearly totally destroyed at the end of World War II.

Introduction to the technique pittura oscura

Afterwards Winfried Muthesius explained the technique pittura oscura developed by him, presented the artistic procedure, backgrounds, creation process and examples and worked out the possibilities of this technique with the students.

More about Habima, see below: What had happened back then? and Why the Habima Scandal at all things?

Walk to the Theater
Then things started to happen.

We walked. The way that Jewish citizens from Würzburg had walked before, not knowing what to expect...

He and the 10 young creatives took the 2 by 2 meter skull painting by Muthesius, which would later be exhibited in the State Museum for Franconia, and carried the 40 kg load from Domstraße to the Theater. In doing so, they inevitably thought of the burden that Jewish people had to carry in the Third  Reich and what had happened to them even years before in the so-called Habima scandal right here on this path.

What had happened
back then

Around the theater in November 1930, many people, including many students, who were ready to use violence, gathered to prevent the Jewish theater troupe Habima from Russia from performing their play. Otto Helmuth, democratically elected member of the state parliament of the NSDAP from Würzburg, had called them to do so. More than a thousand radical demonstrators frightened the mainly Jewish theater-goers, who did not leave the theater any time soon. There were numerous brutal attacks, injuries, persecutions. Fear was stoked.

"The police had lost control of the situation. Several Jewish theater-goers were severely maltreated by the mob.(...) ...the Würzburg judges [proved] blind to the right-wing threat." as Dr. Christine Kolbet wrote (in German) in


Today, the Mainfrankentheater is located on this site.
The students placed the skull image, whose origin was the real skull of a person who had fallen victim to a pogrom in the Middle Ages, in the middle of the Theater's entrance door.

No way led around it. Neither in, nor out.

The workshop participants now photographed the scene from various perspectives. Detail shots with a narrow view and wide-angle perspectives, close-ups and long shots - everything was tried out. The goal was to finally select one shot that - after further processing - was best able to depict the perspective that made sense to the artists for describing their future perspective.

Working on
the developed photo

In the afternoon, in the art room of the "Deutschhaus" in Würzburg, the selected developed photo was further processed by each of the young artists. Using pictorial techniques, colorful or black and white, scratched and creased, torn and reassembled - there was no limit to creativity.

At the end of the day, with the same starting conditions and identical detail steps until almost the end, each had a unique piece in his/her hands.

Task now: Creating an own pittura oscura for the pics4peace Exhibition in the State Museum

For the practical phase that was to lead to the art exhibition, the students had every freedom. They chose their own theme, something that moves them. They had 3 months to accomplish. For possible questions and help, Winfried Muthesius was available (via Video chat).

The result was - this much can be revealed now - incredibly impressive and touching! And it was an urgent appeal to politics and society.

Video of the Artist Workshop

This is how it all started: Dec. 2017

The painter, photographer and installation artist Winfried Muthesius and 10 students of the Faculty of Design of the FHWS and their pics4peace action against anti-Semitism:

  • Skull image is carried through Würzburg to the Theater
  • Remembrance of Habima scandal of 1930
  • Workshop on "pittura oscura" to open new perspectives

"pittura oscura" is what Muthesius calls a practice that has been specially developed since 1992, the work-immanent layering, which, starting from his drawings, in reflection of an occurrence, combined with an art action in public space, allows different forms of representation, such as photography and painting, to flow into one another.

Exhibition from March 09 to April 15, 2018, at the State Museum for Franconia, Würzburg and pics4peace online, online exhibition with creative posts of young adults for a life in freedom, democracy and peace.

pics4peace project partners: Dr. Pia Beckmann, City of Würzburg, Museum für Franken, Leonhard Frank Society, PEN Center Germany.

Music, Edits & Design:

Just one more question: Why the Habima scandal of all things?

The Habima Scandal was the most violent anti-Semitic outrage before 1933, three years before such action was state-approved and later even state-initiated.

Today, too, there are attacks against minorities. Today, too, people are again being openly excluded and defamed. Radical groups are gaining in popularity. Populist parties are entering parliaments. Young people do not feel understood by politics. According to a study (2021) by the Economist, democracies are clearly in retreat. The number of authoritarian states, on the other hand, has risen steadily in recent years.

The Habima scandal shows that the step from democracy to dictatorship can be short.
That's why we must all do everything we can to fight the beginnings, even if it takes courage.