The photos of Menachem Kipnis

The High Synagogue of Cracow was built in the late 16th century, according to some authors between 1556 and 1563, and it most certainly existed in 1597. Its name comes from the fact that the prayer hall was not built on the ground floor but one level higher, like in the 16th-century High Synagogue of Prague, and thus this is the highest synagogue among the dozen existing ones in Cracow. The building next to it was established as a Talmud school in 1810.

The furniture of the synagogue was destroyed during the war, but in the 1960s when it was converted into a restoration workshop several Renaissance frescoes with Hebrew inscriptions and a carved Torah ark were discovered and restored on the eastern wall. Today it houses Jewish exhibitions. When we were there, we saw the photos of Menachem Kipnis presenting the life of Jews in pre-war Poland, one of the very few authentic sights in that kitsch theme park into which the ghetto of Cracow has been transformed for the sake of American and Israeli tourists.

Menachem Kipnis (1878-1942) was one of the most popular figures of pre-war Jewish intellectual circles in Poland. He was born in the Volhynian – today Ukrainian – Ushomir, in a respected family of Hassidic rabbis and cantors. He was one of the first great researchers, collectors and popularizers of Yiddish folk music. He wrote essays and books on it, he published a number of volumes with original melodies and with his own arrangements, and he propagated it together with his wife, the singer Zimra Zeligfeld on several concert and lecture tours in Poland, Germany and France. During his field trips in Poland he also took lots of photos. The ones dedicated for publication were provided with captions by him.

Exploiting the talents of Josele Rozenblat. Josele Rozenblat’s singing is flowing from the beggar’s gramophone. People throw money for the music to the beggar from the windows. By “carrying” Josele in a push-chair from one courtyard to another, the Jew manages to earn a living in Warsaw.

Warsaw’s tradesmen who sell old clothes are usually on the move from one courtyard to another. They are currently taking a rest on one of the doorsteps. The man speaking in the middle is holding a speech on politics to his two colleagues. The two elder men only give him half their attention, as they have their own problems. They have not been able to earn enough money for their Sabbath yet.

In a room of Warsaw’s Jewish Artists’ Association. In the Jewish Artists’ Association of America they usually play “finagel” which, however, is considered particularly silly and boring here nowadays, so they play “damka” instead…

In Warsaw’s Jewish Artists’ Association. A group of artists and beautiful artist women are studying new American plays published in Forwerts magazine as well as the illustrations published in the art section of the paper.

A group of young “Bund” members in Warsaw.

Girls in Warsaw. Having nothing to do, they are sitting on a bench in the Saski Park, painting each other with lipstick.

Little rabbi. The heir of the rabbi of Aleksandrow (little town in Poland) walking in Ciechocinek in the company of three Hassids.

A grandfather with his grandson on their way to visit spas near Otwock (Poland). Photograph taken specially for “Forwerts”.

Jewish tradesmen with baskets full of vegetables and fruit on the market in Kazimierz (Poland).

Boys from the cheder school playing on the street in Falenica (near Warsaw).

Jewish idyll in a new Ukrainian village. A Jewish house in Orszyce (Żytomierz district). The peasants earn their living by carrying the Jews around the village. In this old peasant house grew up the famous cantor Mordechaj Hirszman, now popular all over America. His aunt is looking from the window.

A man and a woman from Równe (Volhynia) are indulging themselves in the spring air on the balcony of their house in a little street of the village.

Scenes from Równe (Volhynia). Three women are sitting and gossiping on the doorstep. Photograph taken for “Forwerts”.

Szymon Josef, a cabby driver from Rożyszcze (a village in Volhynia, now Poland) with his cab and horses. He took half of the inhabitants of the village to the railway station – all of them went to America. Now he has nobody to carry…

Jewish middle class persons in the Polish spa Krznica in the 30s. Having had their bath, the men are now discussing politics.

The challenger of Brajtbard. Cabby driver Mojsze Hoc from Ciechanów is the strongest Jew in Poland. He is leaving for Warsaw to break iron and chains and to try the feats performed by Zisze Brajtbard.

Jokel Manufakturist has put his stall on a little trolley and stalks around with it in Ciechocinek (a spa in Poland) trying to sell sheets and quilts.

Former Rabbi of Odessa Icchak Heler, author of the books “Chemdat Icchak” and “Torat Icchak”. He fled from Russia to Poland and settled down in Ciechocinek (a Polish spa). He is wearing traditional Hassidic clothes. He is sitting on a bench holding an umbrella, while breathing the fresh air.

In the Madem sanatorium in Międzeszyn (near Warsaw). This year, as usually, it hosts 200 sick children from poor families. The children are provided food, clothes and are looked after by doctors. The children on this picture are playing under sunshine in the courtyard while making much noise.

Cracow boys from Hassidic families.

Young Warsaw Hassids from wealthy families strolling in Nalewki. Photograph taken for “Forwerts”.

Warsaw’s sights. A scene from “Wołówka” – a place in Warsaw where you can buy and sell old clothes.

Once he used to play with his harp by the window of his beloved. Now he only begs for a few coins with the harp in Warsaw’s courtyards.

The most recent news. Old Jews in Warsaw are so much lost in reading the newspapers that they have not even noticed the photographer taking a picture of them. The photo was taken in Warsaw’s Krasińskich Park for “Forwerts”.

The Warsaw cantor Gerszon Sirota.

The Warsaw cantor Gerszon Sirota with his wife. Photo taken in M. Kipnis’s home.

Menachem Kipnis had the luck of deceasing in 1942 in the ghetto of Warsaw by a stroke, so he did not live to see the deportation of his wife and friends. His complete collection of folk music, his oeuvre and his photos were all destroyed. Only those images survived which he had sent for publication to the American Yiddish newspaper Forwerts. Those pictures feature at this exhibition, bearing witness to a lost world.
After the publication of this post Két Sheng has added this touching and indispensable
commentary on the cantors photographed or mentioned by Kipnis that includes
precious original archive recordings and videos.

6 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

Quasi non si riesce a guardarle, queste fotografie, talmente riempiono occhi e anima.
Sono quasi intollerabili.
Troppo è lo spazio rimasto vuoto tra quelle vite e il mondo così come è oggi.
Grazie infinite, Studiolum, sei davvero i nostri occhi.

Julia dijo...

Muy conmovedor (ya Effe lo dijo con mejores palabras, sólo puedo adherir).
Pero quería mostrarles una escena de una película argentina El abrazo partido donde la abuela polaca canta una canción al nieto que no sabía hasta entonces que ella había sido una gran cantante en Polonia. Tenía mucho que ver con esto, creo. Pero no está esa parte de la película en la red. La recomiendo, de todas formas.

Julia dijo...

Perdón, aquí la primera escena de la película, para los que entiendan español porteño y tengan ganas.

Stuart Clayton dijo...

La sinagoga mas grande de Colonia tiene también su sala de oración en el segundo piso. Eso fue mi impresión, por lo menos - estuve allí solamente una vez, en el restaurante kosher. Comparad esta foto del interior de la sala con la de la fachada. Veréis que la ventana redonda no está mucho elevada por encima del suelo de la sala, mientras que vista de afuera está situada unos diez metros sobre el terreno.

Studiolum dijo...

Grazie, Effe. E' un onore di essere i vostri occhi.

Nelle librerie del ghetto ho sfogliato alcuni album di foto dell'anteguerra. Le faccie fotografate chiaramente dimostravano che quello era un mondo più ricco e più completo, e che con la guerra Europa si è impoverita di tal manera che tuttora non siamo riusciti di ricuperare quella pienezza.

Julia: Parece una película interesante, con esta introducción etno-sociológica un poco en la línea de Mi gran boda griega. La buscaré, estoy curioso qué canción polaca canta el abuela.

Stuart: Sí, en la segunda mitad del siglo 19 las salas de oración fueron construidas a menudo en el segundo piso de las sinagogas de grandes ciudades, mientras que la planta baja se dejó para tiendas y restaurantes kosher. Parece que este es el caso también de la sinagoga de Roonstraße.

Julia dijo...

Es una lástima que no aparezca la escena de la canción por ningún lado. Tengo que volver a ver la película. Sí encontré que la actriz que hace de la abuela es Rosita Londner, que resulta ser un personaje destacado de la canción Idish aquí.
Este artículo, "El tango en Idish y su contexto histórico", puede ser también algo que te interese.