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

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict