Jesekiel David Kirszenbaum (1900-1954) – Student of the Bauhaus

Self-portrait, ca. 1925. Oil on canvas, 55 x 37.5 cm
Self-portrait, ca. 1925. Oil on canvas, 55 x 37.5 cm

“What other children were allowed to do, was off limits for me”, writes Kirszenbaum in his memoirs about his childhood and youth in Staszów.[1] As the youngest child of the rabbi Natan Majer Kirszenbaum and his wife Alta, née Ledermann, his calling was to be a rabbi, so it was not becoming for him to take part in the other children’s games. In the Cheder, the religious primary school, his interest was awakened by the fantastically embellished stories of the Chumasch, the five printed books of the Tora, and the folk legends in the Sefer ha-Jaschar, the mediaeval Book of Jashar, whilst the Talmud and its commentaries bored him. He lived in a dream world and longed for stories full of imagination and creativity. After he lost both his older brothers to illness at the age of 10 and 13, his parents started to embrace fanatical religious beliefs whilst he lay in the meadow, daydreaming and thinking about things that only existed in his sub-conscious, instead of immersing himself in the Talmud in the Beth Midrasch, the study room.

What made him happy was the way of life of the simple Jewish people, the wandering musicians with their parrots who played at the Jewish festivals, and the load carriers and water carriers with their colourful robes. He felt the urge to draw, especially portraits, which was forbidden because of the Jewish prohibition on representing living forms in images, and for which he was hit by his father. In Staszów during the First World War he experienced at first hand the Cossacks passing through his village and the Jewish pogrom. He also saw Austrian and German troops, plundering and murdering Tsarists, who took Jews away with them. When he was sixteen or seventeen, he began to read classic Yiddish authors like Jizchok Leib Perez (I.L. Peretz) and Spinoza and became an Epikoros, a critic of the Jewish religion. He hung around with his friends and with girls, became a member of the socialist-zionist Hashomer-Hatzair youth movement, was hit by his parents again and fled to relatives in the neighbouring village.

Having returned to his parents, he started reading books and drawing again. His portraits of Jewish ideologists Theodor Herzl, Karl Marx and Wladimir Medem hung in the clubs in Staszów and the surrounding towns, and his portraits of Yiddish authors Mendele Moicher Sforim, Scholem Alejchem and Perez hung in the local library (Fig. 1).[2] He made a second attempt to escape with the intention of studying art in Krakow, but failed because of his lack of money and education. When he returned home again, his relationship with his parents improved. In 1920, when he was due to be drafted into the Polish army during the Polish-Soviet war, he sold everything he owned to finance his journey to Będzin[3] on the border with Upper Silesia in Prussia and then his escape to Germany.

It is not known how exactly Kirszenbaum finally arrived in the Ruhr region. Like more than half a million Ruhr Poles who had emigrated there since the foundation of the German Reich, he earnt his money as a mine worker and from 1920 lived as a tenant in Duisburg, as evidenced by a postcard to his family[4]. He gave Hebrew lessons on the side, but must also have been working as an artist. The art historian August Hoff (1892-1971), who later became the director of the Duisburg Museum of Art/Duisburg Kunstmuseum, became aware of Kirszenbaum, urged him to study art and apparently found him a place at the State Bauhaus/Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar. Kirszenbaum began his studies there in 1923 in the preliminary course given by Johannes Itten and, during the following three semesters, also attended courses given by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. He later wrote that Kandinsky and his clarity of thought had had the greatest influence on him. In particular, Kandinsky moved him from a formalistic style of painting to figurative painting, in contrast to his own artistic interests.[5] He is said to have maintained a collegial connection to Klee. Klee influenced him with his “inner world” and the diversity and endlessness of his dream images.[6] When political pressure meant that the Bauhaus was closed down at the turn of 1924/25 and moved to Dessau, Kandinsky is said to have earmarked him for a lecturing post at the new site, which ultimately failed to transpire following opposition from the Director, Walter Gropius.[7]

 

[1] Jechezkiel Kirszenbaum: Childhood and Youth in Staszów, in: J.D. Kirszenbaum 2013 (see Literature), page 129

[2] ibid., page 155

[3] ibid., page 167 f.

[4] J.D. Kirszenbaum 2013 (see Literature), page 49

[5] ibid., page 48

[6] ibid., page 49

[7] Linsler 2013 (see Literature), page 293. Linsler refers to an essay by Ernst Collin: J.D. Kirschenbaum, in: Exhibition Catalogue from Galerie Fritz Weber, Berlin 1931 [Bauhaus Archive, Inv. No. 2239], to an essay by Frédéric Hagen: J.D. Kirszenbaum = Exhibition Catalogue from Galerie Karl Flinker, Paris 1961, and to the article by Hanna Bartnicka-Górska: Jecheskiel Dawid Kirszenbaum, in: Słownik Artystów Polskich i obcych w polsce działających. Malarze rzeżbiarze graficy, 3, Polska Akademia Nauk, Instytut Sztuki, Warsaw 1979, page 412. Ernst Collin (1886-1942 murdered in Auschwitz) was a bookbinder, author, art editor and antiquarian from Berlin, see https://www.stolpersteine-berlin.de/de/biografie/6661. See below for more on Frédéric (Friedrich) Hagen.

Mediathek
  • Fig. 1: J.D. Kirszenbaum, 1920

    Fig. 1: J.D. Kirszenbaum, 1920

    J.D. Kirszenbaum drawing a portrait, 1920. Photograph owned by the family
  • Fig. 2: Study of Maïmonide, 1925

    Fig. 2: Study of Maïmonide, 1925

    Studying the Maïmonide, 1925. Ink on paper, 50 x 32 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 3: Musicians and their disciples, 1925

    Fig. 3: Musicians and their disciples, 1925

    Musicians and their disciples, 1925. Ink on paper, 50 x 32 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 4: Sorrow, ca. 1925

    Fig. 4: Sorrow, ca. 1925

    Sorrow, ca. 1925. Watercolour, 35.5 x 25 cm, Jewish Historical Institute/Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma, Warsaw
  • Fig. 5: Fiddler in the Shtetl, ca. 1925

    Fig. 5: Fiddler in the Shtetl, ca. 1925

    Fiddler in the Shtetl, ca. 1925 Oil on canvas, 90 x 71 cm, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
  • Fig. 6: The wedding, 1925

    Fig. 6: The wedding, 1925

    The wedding, 1925. Ink on paper, 28 x 22 cm, Jewish Historical Institute/Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma, Warsaw
  • Fig. 7: In the Beth Hamedrasch, ca. 1925

    Fig. 7: In the Beth Hamedrasch, ca. 1925

    In the Beth Hamedrasch, ca. 1925. Etching, 15 x 12 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 8: Midnight prayer, ca. 1925

    Fig. 8: Midnight prayer, ca. 1925

    Midnight prayer, ca. 1925. Etching, 15 x 12 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 9: Yom Kippur, ca. 1925

    Fig. 9: Yom Kippur, ca. 1925

    Yom Kippur prayer, ca. 1925. Etching, 10 x 14 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 10: Hassidim, 1925

    Fig. 10: Hassidim, 1925

    Dance of the Hassidim, 1925. Drypoint etching, 25 x 17.5 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 11: Cossack pogrom, ca. 1930

    Fig. 11: Cossack pogrom, ca. 1930

    Pogrom by the Cossacks, ca. 1930. Etching, 25 x 27 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 12: Water carrier, 1925/26

    Fig. 12: Water carrier, 1925/26

    Water carrier, 1925/26. Illustration to accompany: Adam Olearius, Die erste russische Revoulution (1656), in: Der Querschnitt, Volume 7, Berlin 1927, Issue 3, page 195
  • Fig. 13: Harmonica player, 1925/26

    Fig. 13: Harmonica player, 1925/26

    Harmonica player, 1925/26. Illustration to accompany: S. Dimitrijewski, Stalin – Aufstieg eines Mannes, in: Der Querschnitt, Volume 11, Berlin 1931, Issue 6, page 367
  • Fig. 14: Fiddler, 1926

    Fig. 14: Fiddler, 1926

    Fiddler, 1926. Illustration to accompany: Ramon Gomez de la Serna: Maria Wassiljewna. Russische Novelle, in: Der Querschnitt, Volume 9, Berlin 1929, Issue 2, page 95
  • Fig. 15: Satirical illustrations, 1926

    Fig. 15: Satirical illustrations, 1926

    Three satirical illustrations. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 55th Edition, No. 21, 12 March 1926, page 82
  • Fig. 16: Three cartoons, 1926

    Fig. 16: Three cartoons, 1926

    Three cartoons. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 55th Edition, No. 21, 28 May 1926, page 158
  • Fig. 17: Carte blanche for the “truth”!, 1926

    Fig. 17: Carte blanche for the “truth”!, 1926

    Carte blanche for the “truth”! In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 55th Edition, No. 26, 2 July 1926, page 195
  • Fig. 18: Mistaken, 1926

    Fig. 18: Mistaken, 1926

    Mistaken. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 55th Edition, No. 35, 3 September 1926, page 267
  • Fig. 19: Three cartoons, 1926

    Fig. 19: Three cartoons, 1926

    Three cartoons. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 55th Edition, No. 36, 10 September 1926, page 274
  • Fig. 20: Buds of the Nation, 1926

    Fig. 20: Buds of the Nation, 1926

    Buds of the Nation. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 55th Edition, No. 47, 26 November 1926, page 367
  • Fig. 21: Film stars, 1927

    Fig. 21: Film stars, 1927

    Film stars. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 5, 4 February 1927, page 38
  • Fig. 22: The sporty friend of the family, 1927

    Fig. 22: The sporty friend of the family, 1927

    The sporty friend of the family In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 6, 11 February 1927, page 43
  • Fig. 23: Beauty treatment, 1927

    Fig. 23: Beauty treatment, 1927

    Beauty treatment. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 11, 18 March 1927, page 83
  • Fig. 24: Tedious times, 1927

    Fig. 24: Tedious times, 1927

    Tedious times. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 14, 8 April 1927, page 107
  • Fig. 25: Dawn, 1927

    Fig. 25: Dawn, 1927

    Dawn. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 17, 29 April 1927, page 126
  • Fig. 26: Patriotism, 1927

    Fig. 26: Patriotism, 1927

    Patriotism. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 18, 6 May 1927, page 134
  • Fig. 27: Summer fashion, 1927

    Fig. 27: Summer fashion, 1927

    Summer fashion. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 25, 24 June 1927, page 187
  • Fig. 28: Difficult case, 1927

    Fig. 28: Difficult case, 1927

    Difficult case. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 30, 29 July 1927, page 230
  • Fig. 29: Remedy for obesity, 1927

    Fig. 29: Remedy for obesity, 1927

    Remedy for obesity. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 41, 14 October 1927, page 319
  • Fig. 30: Two cartoons, 1927

    Fig. 30: Two cartoons, 1927

    Two cartoons. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 56th Edition, No. 45, 11 November 1927, page 351
  • Fig. 31: The Expressionists´ Ball, 1928

    Fig. 31: The Expressionists´ Ball, 1928

    The Expressionists´ Ball. In: Ulk. Weekly Publication of the Berliner Tageblatt, 57th Edition, No. 44, 2 November 1928, page 354
  • Fig. 32: The art enthusiast, 1929

    Fig. 32: The art enthusiast, 1929

    The art enthusiast. In: Jugend, 34th Edition, Munich 1929, No. 28, page 450
  • Fig. 33: Everyone once in prison, 1929

    Fig. 33: Everyone once in prison, 1929

    Everyone once in prison. In: Jugend, 34th Edition, Munich 1929, No. 37, page 597
  • Fig. 34: Snippets of conversation, 1931

    Fig. 34: Snippets of conversation, 1931

    Snippets of conversation. In: Jugend, 36th Edition, Munich 1931, No. 29, page 457
  • Fig. 35: The table of regulars, 1931

    Fig. 35: The table of regulars, 1931

    The table of regulars. Illustration to accompany: Jules Sauerwein, Verständnis für Deutschland, in: Der Querschnitt, Volume 11, Berlin 1931, Issue 5, page 291
  • Fig. 36: Matadors of the Reichstag, 1931

    Fig. 36: Matadors of the Reichstag, 1931

    Matadors of the Reichstag. Illustration to accompany: O.B. Server, Matadore des Reichstags VII, in: Der Querschnitt, Volume 11, Berlin 1931, Issue 8, page 555
  • Fig. 37: Man with cigarette, 1935

    Fig. 37: Man with cigarette, 1935

    Man with cigarette, 1935. Watercolour, 47 x 35 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 38: The Jewish villagers, 1937

    Fig. 38: The Jewish villagers, 1937

    The Jewish villagers greeting the Messiah, 1937. Oil on artist’s board, 59 x 69 cm, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
  • Fig. 39: The arrival of the Messiah, 1939

    Fig. 39: The arrival of the Messiah, 1939

    The arrival of the Messiah in the village, 1939. Oil on canvas, 60 x 75 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 40: Family on the move, 1939

    Fig. 40: Family on the move, 1939

    Family with wagon on the move, 1939. From the series: Exodus, etching, 10 x 12 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 41: Fleeing, 1939

    Fig. 41: Fleeing, 1939

    Fleeing, 1939. From the series: Exodus, etching, 9 x 12 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 42: Water carrier, 1942

    Fig. 42: Water carrier, 1942

    Water carrier from Staszów, 1942. Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 43: The Messiah, 1942

    Fig. 43: The Messiah, 1942

    The Messiah and angels arriving in the village, 1942. Oil on canvas, 40 x 45 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 44: On the run, 1945

    Fig. 44: On the run, 1945

    A mother and two children on the run, 1945. Oil on paintersá card, 37 x 37 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 45: Man from Staszów, ca. 1946

    Fig. 45: Man from Staszów, ca. 1946

    Man from Staszów, ca. 1946. Oil on canvas, 50 x 45 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 46: Jew with pipe

    Fig. 46: Jew with pipe

    Portrait of Jew with pipe, undated. Oil on canvas, 61 x 45.4 cm, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
  • Fig. 47: The Messiah in the shtetl, 1946

    Fig. 47: The Messiah in the shtetl, 1946

    The arrival of the Messiah in the shtetl, 1946. Oil on canvas, 40 x 45 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 48: Rabbi, 1947

    Fig. 48: Rabbi, 1947

    Rabbi, 1947. Oil on canvas, 75 x 60 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 49: No room for Jews

    Fig. 49: No room for Jews

    There is no room for Jews in our world, undated. Oil on canvas, 33 x 40 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 50: Self-portrait, 1946

    Fig. 50: Self-portrait, 1946

    Self-portrait, 1946. Oil on canvas, 78 x 60 cm, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
  • Fig. 51: Portrait of Robert Giraud, 1946

    Fig. 51: Portrait of Robert Giraud, 1946

    Portrait of Robert Giraud, 1946. Oil on canvas, 46 x 37 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 52: The butcher, 1947/48

    Fig. 52: The butcher, 1947/48

    The butcher (Le Boucher), 1947/48. Watercolour, 54 x 41 cm, Centre national des arts plastiques, Paris
  • Fig. 53: Brazilian boy, 1947

    Fig. 53: Brazilian boy, 1947

    Brazilian boy with kite, 1947. Oil on canvas, 46 x 25 cm, Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod
  • Fig. 54: Festa de São João, 1952

    Fig. 54: Festa de São João, 1952

    Festa de São João in São Paulo, 1952. Oil on canvas, 117 x 80 cm, Centre national des arts plastiques, Paris
  • Fig. 55: In his Parisian studio, ca. 1952

    Fig. 55: In his Parisian studio, ca. 1952

    J.D. Kirszenbaum in his studio in Paris, ca. 1952. Photograph owned by the family
  • Fig. 56: Fish with abstract background

    Fig. 56: Fish with abstract background

    Fish with abstract background, undated. Watercolour, 30 x 48 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 57: Abstract

    Fig. 57: Abstract

    Abstract, undated. Gouache, 17 x 22,5 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 58: Fish, 1954

    Fig. 58: Fish, 1954

    Fish on flat background, 1954. Oil on canvas, 35 x 28 cm, owned by the family
  • Fig. 59: The Prophet Elijah, ca. 1954

    Fig. 59: The Prophet Elijah, ca. 1954

    The Prophet Elijah, ca. 1954. Watercolour, 75 x 95 cm, owned by the family
  • PDF 1: Der Sturm catalogue, 1927

    J.D. Kirschenbaum exhibition. Paintings, watercolours, drawings, Der Sturm catalogue, Berlin, April 1927
  • PDF 2: Die Rote Fahne, 1931

    Alfred Durus: Ein Künstler des ostjüdischen Proletariats. J.D. Kirschenbaum, in: Die Rote Fahne dated 5 November 1931
  • PDF 3: Ten watercolours by Kirszenbaum, 1953

    Ten watercolours by Kirszenbaum. Inspired by the Hassidic legends of I. L. Peretz. Preface by Waldemar George, Paris: Au pont des arts, 1953