Benjamin BalintMay 10, 2023
An Artist, a Murder, and the Hijacking of History
W. W. Norton 2023
The twentieth-century artist Bruno Schulz was born an Austrian, lived as a Pole, and died a Jew. First a citizen of the Habsburg monarchy, he would, without moving, become the subject of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic, the Second Polish Republic, the USSR, and, finally, the Third Reich.
Yet to use his own metaphor, Schulz remained
throughout a citizen of the Republic of Dreams. He was a master of
twentieth-century imaginative fiction who mapped the anxious perplexities of
his time; Isaac Bashevis Singer called him “one of the most remarkable writers
who ever lived.” Schulz was also a talented illustrator and graphic artist
whose masochistic drawings would catch the eye of a sadistic Nazi officer.
Schulz’s art became the currency in which he bought life.
In Bruno Schulz: An Artist, a Murder, and the Hijacking of History (Norton, 2023), Benjamin Balint chases the inventive murals Schulz painted on the walls of an SS villa―the last traces of his vanished world―into multiple dimensions of the artist’s life and afterlife. Sixty years after Schulz was murdered, those murals were miraculously rediscovered, only to be secretly smuggled by Israeli agents to Jerusalem. The ensuing international furor summoned broader perplexities, not just about who has the right to curate orphaned artworks and to construe their meanings, but about who can claim to stand guard over the legacy of Jews killed in the Nazi slaughter.
By re-creating the artist’s milieu at a crossroads not just of Jewish and Polish culture but of art, sex, and violence, Bruno Schulz itself stands as an act of belated restitution, offering a kaleidoscopic portrait of a life with all its paradoxes and curtailed possibilities.
Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, Middle East television commentator and host of The New Books Network’s Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She's on Twitter @embracingwisdom. She blogs here.