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[Page 500]

My Road as an Artist

by Harry Wajnglik

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I was born in 1902 in Zawiercie. My father was Alter Shamash [synagogue caretaker] and, understandably, my parents were very pious. I studied in the Zawiercie yeshiva [religious secondary school], studied with Reb Sh. A. Pardes (well-known publisher of haPardes [a monthly religious journal]). Barely 14 years old, I began drawing an “Eastern Wall picture” with watercolors, which took more than a year. The “Eastern Wall picture” was erected in one of the most beloved streets in the city. I was considered a talent and I was convinced that I should not remain in the yeshiva. My friend, the mining engineer, Leon Ajngster – Lazar Ajngster's son – taught me the most elementary principals of painting. In 1919, I was accepted by the Krakow Art Academy and I studied with Professor [Teodor] Axentowicz.

I returned to Zawiercie for a time. I actually sensed the taste of a revived Poland. At the end of 1919, on a Friday

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night, a pogrom took place by the Hallerczykes [General Józef Haller's soldiers], who, without reason, shot in the direction of a fully packed synagogue. Windows were broken. Many were severely wounded. Everyone ran home. The pogrom was in full swing. The only one who was missing was my father. We did not know if he was alive or if he had been killed.

We barricaded the entrance to our house. After a few hours of wild shooting and pillaging, we heard someone running to our house. Suddenly, the door was pushed open with great momentum; my father was there. He was saved.

After this horrible event, I decided not to remain in Poland anymore. I traveled to my friend, F. Bershl, who had a brother, a writer, in Copenhagen. He led me to the Art Academy, where I studied for a few years with Professors Poul [Holsøe], Sigurd [Wandel]. Later, with the help of the Herman Shaon family, then by the well-known Jewish illustrators, Y. M. Lilien and H. Struk, I was brought to the famous painter, president of the Prussian Art Academy, Max Liebermann. Liebermann asked me if I was an artist. I answered him: Not yet. But I will become an artist. The answer pleased him. He showed me many pictures from his collection of German and Dutch art. A picture by Jozef Israëls made the greatest impression on me.

Then I waited a long time until a letter of recommendation arrived for me to study for two years at the famous Berlin Art Academy, with a stipend from the Mathilde Priester Foundation for exceptional talent. I will remember the day on which I received the recommendation forever.

I studied in the Berlin Art Academy, first with Professor Wolfsfeld, and then with Max Liebermann himself. The Berlin Museum bought two of my pictures. The Nazis took them out of there and confiscated them. Now they are in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Several of my pictures were exhibited in large Berlin exhibitions, such as the “Black-White” exhibition of the Berlin Academy, as well as at the Bellevue Berlin Artist's House and the large Berlin art exhibition. Later, I worked with [Peter Jessen] Oestergaard's Monat's Heftn [Monthly notebooks].

In June 1933, after Hitler took power, I left

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for Paris and was a member of the well-known Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon) society. From 1933 on, I would exhibit in Georg Wildenstein's Galerie Beaux Art (Gallery of Beautiful Art). I became a member of the Jewish artists group in France.

When the French-German war broke out, I reported voluntarily to the French Army. Paris fell immediately. The Nazis and the Nazi collaborators rampaged through France. They deported Jewish men, women, and children with force.

July 1942 – 3a.m. – they began to knock forcefully on my door. I did not move. The house supervisor said I was an artist and that I was not at home. This was my good fortune. They would break into other residences.

Despite my escape at that time, I spent time from 1942 to 1945 in nine concentration camps in France. I was the only Jewish portrait painter and illustrator in the barracks and struggles in the French concentration camps. I also was a translator.

After the war, I returned to Paris. However, I did not find even a pin in my atelier. Germans and French collaborators dragged away 375 of my paintings, drawings and etchings. Along with my collection of ketubahs [Jewish marriage contracts] and Shir haMaalot [artistic, illustrated texts of Psalms].

Six months after my return to Paris, I finally permitted myself to buy an iron bed.

The suffering in the camps and the loss of my works [of art] on which I had worked for dozens of years led me to a deep depression. However, I finally gathered all of my energy to again lead my life as an artist and to fulfill my artistic mission.

The suffering led me closer to my Jewish people, to whom I had always felt connected. My Orthodox upbringing and my Jewish sources of inspiration were clear in many of my pictures. I paint many general motifs. However, I had a particular inclination to Jewish motifs. One of my unfulfilled aspirations is: to publish complete biographies of Jewish painters, draftsmen, sculptors, in short, all Jewish visual artists.

[Page 509]

The Kultura Society

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Kultura [culture] Society, which played such a large role in Zawiercier Jewish cultural life over the course of a few years, was founded by a group of young people at the Sztajnkeler's house. Among the founders were: Altshe Kromalowski, Leibush Staszewski, Yitzhak Goldman, Itshe Kozlowski, Itshe Meir Bornsztajn, Eshtshe Lajbowicz, Chaya Erlich (now Mrs. Goldsztajn in Israel), Manya Landau, Perl Borszikowski, Ester Zakes (secretary, led the library). Among the first members, there also was a group that belonged to Hashomer Hatsair [the Youth Guard - Socialist Zionists]. The group soon left the organization.

The Kultura Society had its start thanks to the important accomplishment of Yitzhak Goldman, who was a Myszków-Żarki Hebrew teacher. There was a large library in Myszków that the well-known literary patron, A. Y. Sztibl (founder of the Sztibl publishing house), supported in the memory of his wife.[a] The number of Yiddish books was especially large. Zawiercie, at that time, did not have a good library. Yitzhak Goldman would bring books to Zawiercie from the Żarki Sztibl Library for a small circle of friends. Thus, was created an interesting circle for good books and there was a discussion about the necessity of creating a Jewish cultural society in Zawiercie. In 1925, this group called a general meeting at the Hakoakh [The Strength] sports club in Goldminc's house at Kopalnia Street. It was decided to [seek] legalization for the cultural union. An organizing committee was chosen for this purpose. After the legalization as the Kultura Society, the new dynamic cultural center developed widespread activity. Lectures, recitations, scenic presentations, literary evenings, theatrical performances were organized and very colorful informational work was carried out among the varied Jewish strata. For example: giving lectures and reading from their works were:

[Page 510]

The managing committee of the Kultura Society in 1925


I.Zerubbabel, Dr. Kruk, Elkanon and Ahron Tseytlin [Zeitlin], as well as M. Rawicz, Yehoshua (Stanislaw) Wigodski and so on. Ida Kaminska, [Zugmunt] Turkow, Dodik, alone or with their theaters, gave recitations, scenic appearances. There also [appeared] Shmai Rozenblum and Elihu Goldenberg as reciters of poems.

We would also arrange performances on our own. Every Shabbos [Sabbath] afternoon or Friday night we arranged literary-communal conversations. Discipline reigned over the entire work and, particularly, with regard to the literary-communal conversations. Goldman would lock the door to those who came late to the literary-communal conversations.

Yitzhak Goldman was the living spirit of the Kultura cultural society. He was its chairman and as such, he devoted a great deal of his health and strength so that Kultura would bloom.

The young from the synagogue, working intelligentsia and workers also joined the Kultura Society. The society organized a beautiful, progressive library with a few thousand books. It collected and bought books for this purpose, as well as sold books for income. Parallel to the Kultura library was the general Jewish library (librarian – Monja Landau).

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The Kultura Society numbered 200-300 members. In addition to a vast program of cultural activity, Kultura would invite the intelligentsia who would come on a visit to Zawiercie to give lectures, take part in discussions and so on.

There was a buffet at the library. The society also arranged dance evenings. In time, Kultura became a leftist organization. It worked with the communist aid organization MOPR (Międzynarodowa Organizacja Pomocy Robotniczej [International Workers' Aid Organization]). This was expressed in the character of the cultural activity: the society began to arrange various progressive-leftist literary and communal events. The celebrations of [Y.L.] Peretz, in which Peretz as a socialist was stressed, were particularly successful. The Pilsudski regime began to persecute the society. Two secret agents from the political police – “the large one” and “the small one” from the Defensywa [Defense – Polish security authority] – constantly harassed the activity of the society. In the end, after three to four years of activity, the Defensywa imprisoned the main activists before the 1st of May and held them under arrest until the 3rd of May. They closed the society and took the books from the library. We had earlier [removed] some of the books because we expected harassment.

Thus was the Kultura Society suppressed in the very midst of its blossoming.

* * *

One of the effects of Kultura was that it shook up the Hasidic houses. That time in Poland had a revolutionary effect, particularly among the young Jews. A number of them searched for a way to root themselves in the Polish reality and it was believed that this would be possible only if the reality in which they lived were radically changed. This was not absent in the Hasidic houses, perhaps, because, more than others, the atmosphere that reigned in the Hasidic houses was driven by the impulse to pull themselves out, to alter their own lives and life in general. Thus, Kultura had a great influence on the children of Hasidic parents, particularly on the daughters.

I remember that we once organized an evening of entertainment at the premises

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of Kultura, with a buffet in honor of the Society. Several members remained at the premises for the entire night in order to create a fund. Suddenly, there was knocking on the door. We heard that Reb Itshe Erlich was standing in front of the door; we hid (I think in a closet) his daughter who was with us. We told him that she was not here. In addition, we argued with him that we were not doing anything bad; we were only trying to raise the culture of the community through a library and lectures. He left. We thought that we had convinced him and that his daughter would have no problems

Reb Itshe Erlich was a good Jew, but we were nice, earnest children.

Original footnote:

  1. Sztibl, born in Zawiercie, nephew of Berl Sztibl and a cousin of Avrahamtshe and Volf Sztibl, was a bookkeeper for a time in Zawiercie for Itshe Kurland. During his young years, Volf (Zev) Sztibl, the owner of the large mill in Haifa, was an employee of A.Y. Sztibl in his large leather business in Warsaw. Return

The Cultural Society Kultura

Nakhum Drezner

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund




In approximately 1928-1929, when Goldman resigned from his office as chairman of the cultural society, a large number of those who had organized the society left it: a number got married, some left for other cities or for abroad. Drawn into Kultura were people from the professional movement. The Polish police began particularly to frown upon the organization. They began to harass and to persecute the society and its members so much so that the [books at the] library were subject to being confiscated.

An Esperanto group, led by Klara Borzikowska and Ester Zaks, was created at Kultura.

In May 1929 or 1930, the police arrested a large number of members of Kultura and held them under arrest between the 1st and 3rd of May.

The library continued to exist for a time after the arrests. The leaders of Kultura and of the library, despite

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their different opinions, decided to give the library, which was threatened, to the general Jewish municipal library that was created especially for this purpose. The premises were in Shmuel Sauka's house. Manya Landau was the librarian of the Jewish municipal library.

It should be recorded that every political or politically-oriented organization or movement such as the professional unions had a small library for its members. Only the library of the cultural union was noticed in the street.

The library that was created in 1916 almost did not exist. In any case, it was not noticed.

Kultura, the cultural society, had a great societal effect on the city – it particularly influenced the young.


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