Interrogation is the second of the two works in the Ben Uri collection referencing the murder of Grosz's friend, the writer and anarchist Erich Mühsam, the artist depicts the scene with characteristic savagery underlined by the casually brutal attitude of the torturers and the free-flowing blood. An inscription beneath this image in Berlin dialect reads: 'un kannste uns ma wat komisches vortanzen Jenosse, det haste doch so scheen in Moskau jelernt' ('And, can't you dance something entertaining for us comrade, you learned this so beautifully in Moscow, indeed'), referring satirically to Mühsam's communism.
The drawing also relates thematically and compositionally to a number of Grosz's works from the 1930s, including 'After the Questioning' (also known as 'They Couldn't Get Anything More Out of Him', a watercolour in which a prisoner is shown being dragged from a room). It may also reference the experience of another friend, Dr. Hans Borchardt, who had been imprisoned in Dachau and Sachsenhausen before escaping.
The German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt later observed that Grosz's cartoons 'seemed to us not satires but realistic reportage: we knew those types, they were all around us'. The composition and iconography also invoke comparison with Piero della Francesca's 'Flagellation of Christ', underlining Mühsam's martyrdom. Yet although his face is recognizable in a number of these works, Mühsam's name never appears: as Juergin M Judin has observed, 'For him, the fate of Erich Mühsam represented the fate of all victims of the Nazi regime'. Both these works are part of a larger disturbing series commemorating the writer, five of which (including a version of 'Interrogation') were included in Grosz's final political portfolio, 'Interregnum', published in America in 1936. In 1937 Grosz's work was included, in his absence, in the infamous 1937 'Degenerate Art' exhibition that opened in Munich before touring throughout Germany and Austria.
This work, together with its companion piece, was unveiled at a special ceremony at Ben Uri on 30 January 2013 marking the 80th anniversary of Hitler's accession to the Chancellorship of Germany and the donation to the museum of 'The Lecture' by Sally, Richard and Andrew Kalman in memory of their late father, Andras Kalman (1919-2007), a Hungarian emigre who came to the UK to study in 1939, later founding the Crane Calman Gallery, and whose own immediate family perished in the Holocaust.