Page 82 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 5 (1946-1947)

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SZYK — ILLUSTRATOR OF JEWISH BOOKS
By
M o r t i m e r
J.
C o h e n
A
RTHUR SZYK, a short, heavy-set, stoutish man, was born
l in Lodz, in what was then Russian-Poland, fifty-two years
ago. Descended from a long line of Jewish scholars that runs
back as far as the
Tosfot Yom Tov,
his name is made up of the
first letters
(Roshe Tabot)
of one of the ancestors of the Szyks —
Sh
imon ben
Y
ehudah
K
atzenelson.
Szyk received the usual Jewish education of the Jewish boy of
his times, and he is steeped in Jewish lore. When, as a youth, he
showed signs of artistic ability, he was sent to study in the art
schools of France. He has traveled in both Palestine and Turkey,
where he familiarized himself with Jewish and Mohammedan art.
Szyk has won many prizes and awards for his work such as the
decoration by the French Ministry of Art, and the Golden Cross
of Merit by the Polish Government. He was invited by the League
of Nations to make an illuminated copy of the League Covenant,
but that work, like the League itself, remains symbolically un-
finished. He painted a series of thirty-eight miniatures dealing
with the American Revolution which he called “Washington and
His Times.” President Moscicki of Poland bought the series and
presented it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and it now hangs
in the White House.
During World War I, Szyk became interested in the field of
cartoon art, and when World War II broke out in 1939, he re-
turned to this interest. He determined to dedicate his talents for
the duration of World War II to the battle against Fascism, which
he regards as the crucial struggle of our times. Szyk and his wife
lost most of the members of their families to the murderous Nazis.
His war on the German Fascists, therefore, was not only a matter
of ideology, but of ideology tinged with personal tragedy. His
cartoons, edged with bitter satire and sharpened with deadly wit,
lampooned the Nazis, and were dispersed all over the world.
For Szyk, W7orld W7ar II. was basically a struggle between the
Jewish values of life and barbarism. What was at stake in the
titanic struggle was the validity of the Jewish spiritual and moral
heritage. That heritage, to be sure, wears the garb of Christianity,
and Szyk believes that Christianity itself is on trial, and in these
post-war years is facing the greatest crisis in its history.
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