Saturday, August 17, 2019

Charlotte Lederer illustrations within 1928's "The Story of the Gypsies"

I have a falling-apart copy of the 1928 hardcover The Story of the Gypsies, which was written by Konrad Bercovici (1882–1961). Bercovici was born in Romania and was raised in a multicultural environment, learning to speak Greek, Romanian, French and German. His family also had close ties with local Roma people. He later became a journalist (among many other life adventures) and was well-known for literary fiction exploring Romani/gypsy themes. He traveled widely to research enthnographies and other books, and hobnobbed with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Charlie Chaplin, the latter who had to pay him $95,000 to settle a lawsuit over the authorship of the script for The Great Dictator.

There's not much about the original The Story of the Gypsies (which was republished in 1983 as Gypsies: Their Life, Lore, and Legends) available online. But J. Cox wrote an eloquent piece as an Amazon review in 2016. Here are some excerpts:
"This is a strange and beautiful book. More of a mix of journalism, folklore, and the oral tradition than straight history, Mr. Bercovici was obviously in love with the people whose lives he described. ...

"This book was written and in 1928. The author ... is fearful for the future of the people who's lives he describes. Though Germany was solidly democratic at the time, Bercovici particularly cites the German addiction to strict law and order and the demand for cultural and ethnic homogeneity as the great threat to Gypsy survival and the Bolshevik ambition to transform society as a threat to Gypsy freedom. Given what what was coming in ten years time, the Porraimos, the Devouring, the systematic extermination of the European Gypsy communities by Nazi Germany, and its sad coda, the forcible assimilation of the remaining Gypsy communities in the post-war Communist regimes, this book ultimately strikes a note both heartbreaking and prophetic."
And then we come to the book's illustrator, Charlotte Lederer. We don't know much about her, specifically. She was likely born in Hungary in the late 19th century, and her maiden name was Charlotte Bacskai. We know this because her daughter, Anna Marie Rosenberg (1902-1983), achieved a more lasting fame. Anna and her family came to the United States as immigrants in 1912, and Anna's impressive resume included working as a student nurse, a seller of Liberty Bonds, a regional director for the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, a regional director for the War Manpower Commission, and, ultimately, she was confirmed as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Personnel, despite strenuous opposition from U.S. Sen. Joseph "Red Scare" McCarthy. She remained, I believe, the only woman to hold that post until Stephanie Barna had the job from 2014 to 2016 in President Barack Obama's administration.

But back to Charlotte Lederer. We know that some other books she illustrated include Tales from the Crescent Moon, Malou: A Little Swiss Girl, The Children of the Rising Sun, The Magic Cock, The Golden Flock, Ginevra, Made in Hungary, and Tinka, Minka and Linka.

Here are her four beautiful color illustrations from 1928's The Story of the Gypsies:

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