אין הפקר

In November of 1940, Roman Kramsztyk (pictured above) found himself behind the ghetto walls. The Germans had invaded and Kramsztyk, a Polish-speaking Jew who spoke no Yiddish and read no Hebrew, suddenly found himself surrounded by the battered Jews of which he knew practically nothing. The son of two of Poland’s most wealthy Jewish families, Kramsztyk’s forced move into the ghetto symbolized, in dark tones, the estrangement of Jews living, by chance of their birth only, on the gilded periphery of Jewish and Polish life.

Up until that point, Kramsztyk, who had been baptized at birth, had become known as one of Poland’s most compelling painters and he considered himself a Pole. He was committed to melding the demands of modernist aesthetics with traditional masters. A member of the Polish Rytmists (Rhythmists), Kramsztyk’s paintings drew on Cezanne, orientalism and the Baroque. Jewish themes emerged in his work only around the time of his internment in the ghetto, when he became known for compiling artwork that would testify for victims there.

Here is an early portrait of Kramsztyk himself, sitting beside his painting in his Warsaw studio. The photograph’s symmetries, and the asymmetries for that matter, are striking.

Roman Kramsztyk was shot and killed in the Warsaw ghetto on August 6th, 1942 at the age of 57.

12 Responses to “אין הפקר”

  1. Have always loved the term, ‘found himself behind the ghetto walls’ as if the Nazis had created some sort of transporter technology that caused people to find themselves in one moment ouside the ghetto walls and the next moment inside.

    Of course like virtually all the people ‘behind the ghetto walls’, Kramsztyk would have been at least a partial participant in his own movements. Fight or flight? How about none of the above.

    I suppose someone will say his paintbrush was his weapon. Which fully explains the last sentence in the article.

    Dave Boxthorn · March 16th, 2011 at 8:11 pm
  2. how snarky! Boxthorn, what is your point? That he should have been “smarter” and fled his country? You sound like you are blaming the victims.

    judith · March 16th, 2011 at 10:44 pm
  3. Wow, you really missed the point, brother Boxthorn! Props for the party foul!

    lamarcus · March 16th, 2011 at 10:51 pm
  4. Some people might take away from this the lesson that all Jews, where legal, and even where it’s not, should own and learn to shoot firearms. Because as Gaddafi is proving (as if our people need any more lessons) when you can’t defend yourself, everyone will care, but no one will raise a finger.

    Victor · March 17th, 2011 at 12:53 am
  5. In 1938 Rafael Trujillo offered space for up to 100,000 Jews in his country. Less than 800 came.

    Apparently people like Kramsztyk preferred warm and sunny Poland (and Germany and Austria) to the cold and frosty Dominican Republic.

    And since he liked painting Black women (see above) he could have continued his career. (Trujillo himself was one quarter Haitian in spite of his own deep, let’s call it hostility, to Haitians)

    Dave Boxthorn · March 17th, 2011 at 9:30 am
  6. wow these are depressing comments.

    lamarcus · March 17th, 2011 at 11:13 am
  7. And since he liked painting Black women (see above) he could have continued his career.

    Dave, why do you say such oddball things?

    Victor · March 17th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
  8. @lamarcus

    If you write about the Shoah, yup depressing comments will follow.


    The only thing I know about this person from the picture is that he painted Black women. And if he had wound up in the D.R. (i.e. alive) he could have painted lots of black women. Smoking tobacco (‘tabac’) or anything else.

    Dave Boxthorn · March 18th, 2011 at 1:04 am
  9. I actually looked up Kramsztyk’s work – much of it is of nude women, all white from what I saw.

    Should I read anything into your capitalization of the B in “Black”? It just seems like a weird comment to me. I’m not saying it’s racist, but it’s just weird. Don’t you think? Sometimes I write things that I look back on and say, wow, that was a weird thing to say.

    Victor · March 21st, 2011 at 5:45 pm
  10. @boxthorn – ‘El Jefe’ was an unapologetic racist and murderer who made his offer a bit late. By 1938, racist Nazi laws were already well in place. Few Jews in Europe would have known about his generous offer in their scramble to flee advancing German forces across Europe.

    The 800 who did arrive only managed to do so after 1940 when Poland was already occupied. Most left for the US shortly thereafter. Others may well have been deterred by the fact that in 1937 Trujillo murdered 20,000 of his own citizens.

    adam · March 21st, 2011 at 8:09 pm
  11. @Victor

    Why not capitalize the B in Black, and why would that be considered racist?

    If one person wrote ‘Americans’ and another wrote, ‘americans’, who would be more likely to be disrespectful?


    Trujillo made his offer at the well-publicised Evian conference that was organised by FDR. Jews worldwide were paying close attention to the conference.

    Not too many ‘advancing German forces’ in Poland in 1938 to prevent Jews from hearing about the offer.

    Every major newpaper covered the conference including Nazi German ones.


    The Jews who did arrive were German and Austrian Jews, so it shouldn’t have been that hard for Jews from countries who Hitler occupied later to come, including Poland.

    Yes Trujillo murdered 20000 of his own. Much better, of course to stay in the Europe of Hitler and Stalin?

    Oh and one other thing. In addition to the less than 800 who came, another more than 4000 Jews had valid Dominican visas, courtesy of Trujillo-when they perished.

    But leave sophisticated Europe?

    Dave Boxthorn · March 22nd, 2011 at 8:19 pm
  12. Except that “Black” is not an ethnicity or a national grouping. It’s a skin pigmentation. I didn’t say you were racist. I said it was a weird thing to do, to capitalize the “b” in black. Do you capitalize the W in “white people”? It’s just weird.

    Victor · March 23rd, 2011 at 12:58 am

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