Page 153 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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Winter in Lithuania,
1915, etching.
This drawing — Steinhardt’s first illustration for a modern Jew­
ish writer and one of his rare non-commissioned illustrations —
raises a basic question. Although Steinhardt had studied Hebrew
in the cheder, he never had a complete mastery of the language.
Why then did he turn to Bialik for inspiration for a subject on
which he had already worked? To understand his motivation,
one must take into account his experiences in Lithuania, espe­
cially as he recounted them in his war diaries and autobiograph­
ical sketches of 1936-37 and 1947.
Steinhardt regarded this period, in which he consciously re­
turned to his Jewish roots, as a turning point in his life. He not
only concentrated on portraying the Jewish life around him — a
subject he had previously used sporadically — but fully identified
with it to the point o f stating: “It was my firm intention to stay
here in this Jewish village. I was so involved in this small town life
that at the time there was simply nothing else for me.”14 Em­
ployed by the army as a photographer of war graves, he had
plenty o f time to integrate into the lives o f the Jewish shtetls in
which he was stationed. He not only enjoyed sitting in the Beth
Midrash, but in Darbenai in late 1915-early 1916, he befriended
a Zionist named Kahn with whom he began studying Hebrew,
14 Minni Steinhardt, p. 44, quoting from Steinhardt’s war diary.