Artists of the Warsaw Ghetto
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When Germans created the closed off area in November 1940, many artists found themselves among the people enclosed in the ghetto. The vast majority of them died
Rozenfeld, "Punkt etapowy" (Etap point) - one of the very few surviving drawings from the Warsaw Ghetto, photo courtesy of the Jewish Historic Institute
Few managed to survive, among them Władysław Szpilman, Wiera Gran and Rachela Auerbach. The majority, however, were taken to death camps either throughout the period of the ghetto’s existence or during the Grossaktion which took place between the 22nd of July and 21st of September, 1942. Very few lived to see the end of the ghetto and take part in the Uprising which errupted on the 19th of April, 1943 and lasted until the 16th of May. The latter date marks the day on which Nazi soliders set off a bomb, exploding the Great Synagogue at Tłomackie, which came to represent a symbolic end of the Warsaw Ghetto.
See the artists of the getto here also...
Numerous cafes and restaurants which operated in the ghetto hosted their own musical and artistic programmes. The most famous venue was the Kawiarnia Sztuka (Art Café) by Leszno street nr 2. Władysław Szpilman and Wiera Gran perfomed in Sztuka alongside Pola Braun, Diana Blumenfeld, and Marysia Ajzensztadt, known as the nightingale of the ghetto. Szpilman also performed there in a duo with Artur Goldfeder. A distinct event that was regularly performed at the Sztuka was called Żywy dziennik, (Living Journal) a cabaret chronicle of the ghetto, which drew on the daily press for its form as well as the depicted content.
The Jewish Symphonic Orchestra also operated in the ghetto, and one of its most renowned conductors was Szymon Pullman. The Orchestra was comprised of many former members of the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Polish Radio Orchestra, and it was suspended in April 1942. German authorities stated that the reason for this suspension was the fact that the orchestra performed music by Aryan composers.
According to the accounts, the streets of the ghetto resonated with music, and numerous beggars sang and played, often composing their own songs about current events. Their song was an instrument of their profession, a way of begging for mercy. The world-famous cantor, Gerson Sirota and violinist Artur Gold also resided in the ghetto.
Five theatres operated in the Warsaw Ghetto: Eldorado on Dzielna 1 street, Teatr na Pięterku by Nowolipki 29 street, Teatr Nowy Azazel (New Azazel) by Nowolipie 72 street, Teatr Femina on Leszno 35 street), Nowy Teatr Kameralny on. Nowolipki 52 street and the Melody Palace by Rymarskiej 12. Three of the venues staged performances in Yiddish, and two hosted showings in Polish. Most of the performing actors were amateurs. Over the course of 20 months of their functioning in the ghetto, the theatres produced 68 premieres. The repertoire was mostly light and humorous.
In their book Getto warszawskie. Przewodnik po nieistniejącycm mieście (The Warsaw Ghetto. A Guide to a Non-Existent City), Leociak and Engelking underscore the significance that cherishing cultural habits had for the dwellers of the ghetto. What was normal before the war became a sign of disapproval and resistance to the nazi world order.
Painters and illustrators
Journalists, writers, and also visual artists suffered a very difficult fate in the ghetto. Deprived of any possibilities of earning a living, with no studios and lacking materials to work with, they barely managed to survive. There were painters who found employment in the former sculpting atelier of Abraham Ostrzega and Władysław Weintraub by Mylna 9a street, which was transformed into a factory of knife-sharpening stone. The employees of the factory included Henryk Rabinowicz, Symcha Trachter, Roman Rozental, Samuel Finkelstein, Hersz Cyna, Tadeusz Trębacz, Maksymilian Eljowicz, Izrael Tykociński, and Józef (Jasza) Śliwniak.
A so-called artistic farm was founded by Orla 6 street, where painters, sculptors, journalists and writers were not only offered a modest meal, but also had the chance to meet with colleagues, talk, and listen to concerts and poetry readings. A small room was also set up in the space, allowing some of the artists to paint in peace.
The majority of paintings created in the ghetto were completely destroyed. Only the works by Gela Seksztajn, a young painter and teacher of drawing in Jewish schools are a case apart. She hid more than 300 works in secret Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, the so-called Ringelblum Archive. There are also the sketch portraits of starving children created by Lewinson, who was most likely a school teacher in drawing before the war. It is also probable that the painting of life in a bunker by Maurycy Rynecki (currently at the Yad Vashem World Centre for Holocaust Research) was created at the time or after the Grossaktion. The drawings of a famous painter, Roman Kramsztyk which were secretly transported out of the ghetto also survived, along with 5 drawings by an unknown Rozenfeld, which were exhibited in 2012 at the Kordegarda gallery in Warsaw.
artists in the warsaw ghetto
According to Jonasz Turkow’s estimates, 87 literaries who wrote in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish found themselves locked away in the Warsaw Ghetto. The most famous Yiddish writer was Itzhak Katzenelson (the author of a poem entitled "Song of the Murdered Jewish People"). Other Yiddish authors of the ghetto were: Izrael Sztern, Jechiel Lerer, Hersz Danielewicz, Jehoszua Perle, Hilel Cajtlin, Lejb Goldin, Abraham Lewin, and Rachela Auerbach. Polish-language writers included Władysław Szlengel, Henryka Łazowertówna and Gustawa Jarecka. Few survived, and their work was almost entirely lost. Jacek Leociak explains:
Only a small part of texts written in the ghetto survived, either those which were hidden in the Ringenblum Archive or those that were passed to the so-called Aryan side (like the works by Korczak), and some pieces that were published in the underground press.
The Jews of Warsaw wanted to give testimony to what they saw and what they lived through. The incredible experiences and the horror of the situation pushed many who would most likely never take up writing in ordinary circumstances to record their fate on paper. Among them are the accountant Chaim Hasenfus, the clerk Leon Guz, the dentistry assistant, Karol Rotgeber and the lathe-operator Dawid Fogelman. In the book The Warsaw Ghetto. A Guide to a Non-Existent City, Jacek Leociak states:
The authors hoped that the readers – also us, the neighbours from the other side the wall – are able to, or would at least persist in trying to, understand their experiences, so different from our own.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, translated by Paulina Schlosser, 30.04.2013
Sources: Barbara Engelking, Jacek Leociak "Getto warszawskie. Przewodnik po nieistniejącycm mieście" (The Warsaw Ghetto. A Guide to a Non-Existent City), Renata Piątkowska "Byli w koronie naszej największym klejnotem - artyści w getcie warszawskim" (They Were The Brightest Jewel in Our Crown – Artists in the Warsaw Ghetto),