Frescoes rediscovered

He was clutching a piece of black bread he smuggled home and had a passport in the pocket to flee the country. He had a number of powerful and precise words behind him, as well as some stories that make him one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, and before him a manuscript which should have been his masterpiece and which has never been found. At this precise point, at the corner between past and future, in front of the Maryla shop between the Czacki and Mickiewicz streets, time has stopped him forever. *

The corner at the Maryla shop in the 1920s and in 2004. From the books by Р. Пастух:
Вулицями старого Дрогобича
(On the streets of the old Drohobycz), Львів:
Каменяр 1991, and Omer Bartov: Erased: vanishing traces of Jewish
Galicia in present- day Ukraine,
Princeton University Press 2007.

Bruno Schulz, a writer in Polish language, was born in a Jewish family in Eastern Galitsia, now in the Ukraine. He is best known for his Cinnamon Shop and Sanatorium under the sign of the Hourglass, but he was also a provocative and unorthodox designer. The engravings of his The Idolatrous Booke, published in 1922, provoked a certain scandal.

During the Nazi occupation of his native Drohobycz – a then tripartite city, according to a well-known definition: 50% Polish, 50% Ukrainian and 50% Jewish – Schulz was confined to the ghetto together with other Jewish families (of the 15,000 Jews in the city before the war, only 400 were saved from the mass executions and the extermination camp of Belżec), obtaining a temporary protection by the SS officer Felix Landau, who ordered him to paint some frescoes for the children’s room in the house he had put in requisition. Those paintings are the ultimate witness of the genius of Bruno Schulz.

On 19 November 1942, during an operation in the city that killed 264 Jews, another SS officer, Karl Günther killed Schulz on the street with a blow on the head, so that he could later boast to Landau who had offended Günther by killing “his” Jew, the dentist Löw. The writer’s body was buried in the Jewish cemetery in a mass grave. During the Soviet period, the cemetery was obliterated by a quarter of gray barracks. So there was left nothing of Schulz in Drohobycz, not even the frescoes covered with various layers of paint and time and then forgotten.

On 9 February 2001 Benjamin Geissler, a German documentary filmmaker, after a long search managed to identify the house occupied by Landau during the war. A team of experts started to remove the outer layers of paint from the walls, and found traces of frescoes painted by Schulz, representing scenes inspired by the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

While in the Ukraine the restoration of the paintings was being planned, on 21 May the five fragments hitherto brought to light suddenly disappeared. They were removed from the walls together with the plaster.

Later the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem announced that they entered into their possession. It was then revealed that some people had carried out a flash operation on the commission of the museum and perhaps with the help of the Mossad in order to remove the frescoes and to transport them to Israel, which claimed the moral right to their possession as an evidence of the Shoah.

An international quarrel broke out: to whom do these paintings belong, to Drohobycz and the Ukraine, to the Polish culture, or to the Jewish heritage and the memory of the Holocaust? Bruno Schulz, long forgotten and regarded with some suspicion in the Ukraine because of the Polish language of his works and by the Poles because of his Jewish origin, became a subject of contention and dispute between states, intellectuals and historians.

Finally in 2008 an agreement was born. Israel acknowledged that the paintings belonged to the Ukrainian cultural heritage, while the Museum of Drohobycz which preserves the other fragments of the fresco recovered subsequently, agreed to grant the paintings removed as a long-term loan in favor of Yad Vashem which in February 2009 exposed them to the public for the first time.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visiting the exhibition

But this story still has something to say. The author’s powerful and precise words planted roots and gave more fruits. Bruno Schulz in the frescoes realized for the sadistic Nazi murderer of Jews Landau, portrayed himself and some other Jewish inhabitants of the city on the frescoes. The woods painted on the fairy tale scenes are reminiscent of that of Bronnitzky at the gates of Drohobycz, where in those days an authentic witch hunt took place (and the witch portrayed here had the face of Landau’s lover), resulting in the assassination and burial of thousands of Jews.

And the coachman driving two white horses has the same irregular face of the author, loking at us with a look of defiance, able to pass through almost 70 years of neglect to tell us and bear witness to those tragic days.

The discovery of the portrait of Schulz from the film realized by Beniamin Geissler

4 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

I really appreciate your extraordinary site as well as the article about Bruno Schulz you have just published. Unfortunately there are some little mistakes in the text. The shop you are writing about was called "Maryla" (a form of name Mary in Polish) not "Marvla". The exact place of Schulz's execution was just a few meters further in the right direction from the place you have described. It was just beside a bakery shop in which Schulz had bought bread a few minutes before his death. The bakery was exactly the next building the "Maryla" shop. Nowadays there is also a bakery called "U tioti Frosi" in that house. Best regards from Krakow from your avid reader. Pawel

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you very much, Pawel. I have corrected the name, but a correction of the place of his death would have required such a deep modification of the text that I preferred to add your amendment in a popup note right after the paragraph. I have also done it in the Italian and Hungarian versions.

Since you know so well the place, let me ask for your help. In this August we intend to do a tour in Eastern Galicia, including also Drohobycz and Lwów, and then down to Odessa. Do you have any special recommendations as to where to go, what to see, where to sleep, or anything else? You can also reply to the e-mail in the margin.

Effe dijo...

thank you Pawel (and Studiolum for editing)
I know that they put a memorial plaque on the place of the murder (enlarge the pics)
There are some doubts about the place where Schulz is buried, also.
This is HENRYK GRYNBERG, author of "Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories: True Tales from the Holocaust and Life After":

"Many visit Drohobycz wanting to know where Schulz is buried. Conflicting accounts confuse the answer:

The Jewish cemetery in Drohobycz had been overcrowded and closed before the Second World War, and a new one was opened several kilometers outside the town. The Germans, who arrived in the summer of 1941, destroyed the old cemetery, but used the new one for burying the victims of their sporadic killings, using inmates of a labor camp at nearby Hyrawka (one kilometer from the new cemetery) as grave diggers. One of them was Leopold Lustig, a tall and strong young man then eighteen or nineteen years old, a former student of Schulz’s, who is the narrator of the lead story in my collection Drohobycz, Drohobycz.

Lustig says that after the November 1942 massacre, he and another digger were ordered to bury two men who had been brought to the new cemetery and lay there on the ground near the entrance, just to the right of the gate. They were Schulz and a craftsman-cabinetmaker, Hauptman, who both had been shot in the head. Lustig says that he and the other man buried them in one grave right there where they had found them.

Lustig ended his odyssey of concentration camps in Germany, emigrated to America, and never returned to the old country. In the meantime, his landsman from Drohobycz, Izydor (Izio) Friedman, who was liberated in Poland, claimed that he was the one who buried Schulz. Friedman claims that at night he picked up Schulz’s body from the spot where he had been killed (near the Judenrat building), carried it to the cemetery (presumably the old one), and buried Schulz there all by himself. Friedman was murdered, soon after his liberation, in Lublin in 1944, and his version—although accepted by Schulz’s biographer, Jerzy Ficowski—could not be verified.

I consider the Friedman version doubtful: an undernourished ghetto inhabitant carries a dead body at curfew hours when he can be shot on the spot and digs a grave, which also takes quite some time, all by himself? Whereas I see no reason to doubt the version of my narrator, Lustig. Which, by the way, can—and should—be verified by digging near the entrance to the then-new cemetery, to the right of the gate. Schulz deserves a grave."

Studiolum dijo...

Benjamin Geissler has just informed us that he had completed his mobile installation The Picture Chamber of Bruno Schulz – The final work of a genius, which in the following months will go on a European tour. We hope very much to be able to report on it here in the blog and eventually on other forums as well.