Arthur Szyk Used His Art to Defend the Jews, Attack Nazism, and Much Else

Jan. 24 2018

The exhibition Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art has just concluded at the New-York Historical Society; its title refers to the Polish-Jewish artist’s dedication to using his talents for political purposes. In these works, Szyk (1894-1951) protested fascism and Nazism, proclaimed his support for Zionism, and commemorated Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Diane Cole writes in her review:

Arthur Szyk may well be the only great Jewish artist whose work countless people recognize simply because they have attended a Passover seder. First published in 1940 and still a Passover favorite, Szyk’s The Haggadah, with its striking mix of modern and ancient imagery, has imprinted itself on our communal holiday memory of the retelling of the exodus from Egypt.

Less well known are the explicit connections between the Egyptian pharaoh and Hitler that Szyk had embedded in his original version of the Haggadah he created in the 1930s. It also featured swastika-bearing Egyptian taskmasters and a sinuous serpent with a row of swastikas on his back. Szyk painted them over to ensure publication, but there’s no mistaking the anti-Nazi message that remained in his sarcastic depiction of the “wicked” son as an assimilated German Jew proudly sporting Bavarian-style riding gear and a Hitler-like mustache.

Nor was his Haggadah Szyk’s only political salvo before, during, or after World War II. As a self-described “soldier in art,” he wielded brush and palette as a weapon throughout the 1930s and 1940s to attack fascism, plead for the rescue of European Jewry, and argue the case for an independent Jewish state. His illustrations and drawings were animated and passionate, seen in biting political cartoons in newspapers around the country, on the covers for such mass-market magazines as Time and Collier’s, and on numerous posters, programs, and other printed materials.

Szyk’s activist art represents only one aspect of his highly successful career—his vibrant illustrations of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and other literary classics embody another—but it is the most dramatic.

 

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arthur Szyk, Arts & Culture, Haggadah, Holocaust, Jewish art, World War II

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times