(No. 10/2004 - March 2004)
Editor: Fran Bock

We thank Vitaly Charny for another in his series of articles about noteworthy Jews of Belarus and for his permission to publish the article here.

Abram Brazer (1892-1942) was a member of the Vitebsk Art School, founded by Yehuda Pen, and an acquaintance of Marc Chagall, probably the best-known of Pen's students. Brazer's life and career was cut short by the invasion of the Nazis, whose aggression he resisted by providing information to the partisans in the forests near Minsk.

Vitaly informs us that this year Belarus will issue a set of two stamps to celebrate the 150th birthday of Yehuda (Yury Mikhailovich) Pen.

This article is copyrighted by Vitaly Charny.

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Abram Brazer, 1892-1942

by Vitaly Charny

The Republic of Belarus released on July 2, 1999 a set of 4 stamps and one souvenir sheet representing the Vitebsk Art School. One of them shows a work of Abram M. Brazer, a Jewish artist who worked most of his life in Belarus.

Born in Kishinev to a Jewish family, Abram Brazer graduated in 1910 from the Kishinev School of Art. While living in Paris from 1912-1916, Brazer studied at the National School of Fine Art and became acquainted with Marc Chagall. After returning to Russia, Brazer lived in St. Petersburg and participated in exhibitions of the early 20th century Russian movement "Mir Iskustva" (World of Art). In 1918, after the revolution and during the Civil War, Brazer moved to Vitebsk. At the same time, Marc Chagall returned there to his hometown before leaving Russia forever. A Public Higher School of Art (or the Vitebsk Academy of Arts, as Chagall himself called it) was opened in Vitebsk. Brazer taught in the School along with major avant-garde artists, such as El Lissitzky, V.Yermolayeva, I.Puni and K.Boguslavskaya. A big exhibition of the leading masters of modernistic trends was held, and a collection for Russia's pioneering Museum of Modern Arts was started. In late 1919, Kazimir Malevich came to Vitebsk, where his radical reforms had an enthusiastic and numerous following. Then Brazer moved to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. His first personal exhibition opened in 1941 few days before Nazi Germany invaded the USSR. Brazer, with his family, perished in the Minsk ghetto and the Nazis destroyed most of his work. In a collection of Minsk ghetto documents, I found a report of Nazi security police dated March 4, 1942, personally referring to Abram Brazer. It said that this "famous painter and sculptor was arrested as a spy" . He gathered sensitive military information having access to most German facility while making portraits request by garrison's officers. Minsk was a major crossroad of German military supply lines to eastern front. The same time the city had a well-organized and strong underground resistance to Nazi occupation. During the three years that Belarus was overrun by the Nazis, they destroyed hundreds of villages and towns and the country lost a quarter of its population - more than any other country in WWII. The woods of Belarus housed hundreds of thousands of partisans that fought the invaders. They needed information about German forces and their movements. Patriots of the underground resistance in Minsk and other towns provided such information. In this struggle against enemies, among thousands of fallen fighters was Jewish artist Abram Brazer.

Abram Brazer's portrait of Yehuda Pen

The stamp depicts Yehuda Pen, another great but not well-known Jewish artist from Belarus, who founded the Vitebsk Art School and taught many celebrated disciples, such as Ossip Zadkine, Oscar Meshchaninov, Abel Pann (Pfeffennan), Solomon Yudovin, and, primarily, Marc Chagall. In his school along with him worked Lazar Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich. The main topic of Pen's own work was the life of Jews in their shtetles.

Copyright 2004 Belarus SIG and Vitaly Charny

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