The Polish-Jewish Writer Who Made a Mural for a Nazi’s Children

Often compared to Franz Kafka, the Polish writer and artist Bruno Schulz shared much in common with his older contemporary: both were natives of the Habsburg empire; both were somewhat ambivalent Jews writing in non-Jewish languages; both enjoyed drawing as well as writing; both had work that was the subject of posthumous controversy; and both wrote stories where the main character is transformed into a cockroach. Boris Dralyuk reviews two new books that bring Schulz’s life and work to an English-speaking audience:

Schulz was in life and remains in death the archetype of the peripheral artist. Born into a Jewish family on the outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1892, he matured on the outskirts of interwar Poland—all without abandoning Drohobych, which is situated in the far west of today’s Ukraine. A man of geographical margins, he was also a somewhat marginal character on the Polish literary scene. He published two collections of short stories . . . which garnered much interest and earned him, in 1938, the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature—but kept his day job as a teacher of arts and crafts at the local secondary school. He claimed to have detested the work, but quitting was out of the question, for reasons both economic and, one gathers, psychological.

During the Nazi occupation he was granted the status of “necessary Jew” for his artistic skills and lived under the tenuous protection of Drohobych’s sadistic SS overseer, Felix Landau. Landau ordered Schulz to paint fairy-tale scenes—perhaps inspired . . . by the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)—on the walls of his young son’s nursery in his “villa.” Covered up for decades, the murals were rediscovered by a German filmmaker in 2001, in what was by then a private flat. Only months later a team of Israeli agents removed large portions and spirited them away to Jerusalem, where they are now on display at Yad Vashem.

Produced under duress, these images of “kings, knights, squires,” one of Schulz’s students, Emil Górski, recalled in 1980, “had the completely ‘un-Aryan’ features” of the faces of people among whom Schulz lived at the time. “It was on the walls of a Nazi’s nursery,” Górski continues, that “these tormented people . . . found for themselves in paintings brilliant richness and pride.”

Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Holocaust, Jewish literature, Polish Jewry

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount