Five drawings showing Warsaw Ghetto. Identity of the mysterious artist finally confirmed
For decades after the WWII he was known only through his works - the five grim drawings documenting the misery of children in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Ringelblum Archive only mentions the author's surname and his name's initial. Dr Agnieszka Żółkiewska of the Jewish Historical Institute managed to find accounts of people who had known the mysterious artists. Who was B. Rozenfeld?
Five deeply moving drawings were found after the Second World War as part of Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, (also known as the Ringelblum Archive). The author used ink, crayon and charcoal. The pictures, drawn in late 1941, document everyday life struggles of people isolated inside the ghetto.
According to the archive, on March 7, 1942, the author delivered the five drawings, marked with extensive comments, to the Oneg Shabbat group's treasurer for which he received a gratification of 100 zlotys.
Members of the Oneg Shabbat group, established by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, were running the archive in conspiracy. Their activity was kept secret even from fellow ghetto residents. The documents lacked details that would allow to identify the artist as it would have been too dangerous at the time.
His identity remained unknown for over 70 years, despite the fact that in the early 1950s Józef Sandel established his identity on the basis of Dora Zajczyk’s eyewitness account.
Everyday life in the ghetto
With the exception of the drawing entitled Hospital "on the Other Side" the sketches show people, places and scenes from the life of the Warsaw ghetto. For nearly all residents of the Jewish closed district, hunger, disease, death and violence were commonplace.
As we read in the article by dr Agnieszka Żółkiewska at the Jewish Historical Institute website: "The drawings were probably part of the two series planned by the artist, as indicated by the comment headings he left behind: From the "Little Smugglers" series and From the "Hospitals" series".
The first cycle is represented by two drawings: Staging point and Chaimek Sztarkman, the second one by one drawing: Hospital "on the other side".
According to the researcher, "Funeral Fund and Funeral for the Hawker’s Wife, may have been created with the idea of a third cycle".
Dr Agnieszka Żółkiewska is a member of a team preparing an online Warsaw Ghetto Encyclopaedia. At the end of 2020, she managed to trace the life story of B. Rozenfeld.
"Beniamin (Benek) Rozenfeld was born in 1909 (according to another source: 1912) in Lviv to Mina and Natan. He studied at the Faculty of Architecture of the Lviv Polytechnic, from which he graduated with the title of engineer in 1936. He practiced painting and sculpture. Rozenfeld spent the first years of the occupation in Lviv. After the city was occupied by the Germans, he managed to get to Warsaw and stayed in the Warsaw ghetto" - we read in the article at jhi.pl, written by dr Żołkiewska.
"During the Nazi occupation, Rozenfeld stayed in the Warsaw ghetto. He contributed to the underground group "Oneg Shabbat". On the group’s request, he created a series of drawings about life in the ghetto and outside its walls. On March 7, 1942, he delivered five drawings, with extensive comments, to the group's treasurer, Menachem Kohn, for which he received a gratification of 100 zlotys" - we read.
"According to Ruta Sakowska (Polish historian studying the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Ringelblum Archive), Rozenfeld might have collaborated with Centos or another institution supervised by Centos, as shown by the similarity of the artist's drawing, entitled Funeral for the Hawker’s Wife, to an illustration made by an anonymous teenage author in the newspaper issued at the boarding school at 6-8 Gęsia street, "Głos Domu Chłopców" (Voice of the Boys’ Home) of February 10, 1941" - the article reads.
According to another, unconfirmed hypothesis, "he may have been the director and lecturer of vocational courses at the Jewish Council. According to reports from "Gazeta Żydowska" (Jewish Gazette), they were run by engineer called B. Rozenfeld".
However, many indications suggest that "Rozenfeld is the same as the artist who received the first prize (300 zlotys) in the competition for a propaganda poster of the Pomoc Zimowa (Winter Help) campaign, announced at the turn of 1941 and 1942".
Jan Różyński from Ogrodowa street
"Probably in the summer of 1942, during the mass deportations to Treblinka, Rozenfeld moved to the "Aryan" side in Warsaw. He was hiding in an apartment at 29 Ogrodowa Street under the assumed name of Jan Różyński, created from his Jewish name. He dealt with smuggling food on its premises, incl. for the family of his friend, an art historian, Szymon Zajczyk. According to the post-war account of Zajczyk's wife, Dora (Natalia) Zajczyk, Rozenfeld built a network of bunkers in the ghetto that could accommodate about 100 people, equipped with electricity, running water and ventilation" - Dr Żółkiewska wrote.
"In the fall of 1943 Rozenfeld joined the People's Guard (later People's Army). Acting in its ranks, he assumed the pseudonym "Janek". He performed conspiratorial work consisting in preparing radio messages from a radio set hidden in the furnace of a room he rented. Ready messages were delivered to the liaison officer Krystyna Wójcicka. Apart from his underground activity, he was also involved in artistic work. He painted miniatures and created projects, incl. designed the office of the post-war Polish prime minister in the Gdańsk style. He also made the propaganda posters of the People's Army calling for an armed uprising against the occupant in Warsaw" - reads the article.
"In August 1944, Rozenfeld took part in the Warsaw Uprising as a second lieutenant in the People's Army Czwartacy 3rd Battalion. He fought in the Old Town, and after its capitulation he went through the sewers to Żoliborz district. He was killed on September 10, 1944 (or, according to B. Meirtchak, in August 1944) and was buried in a mass grave with 21 other soldiers of the uprising at the Powązki Military Cemetery. His grave is in the B6 quarters" - we read at jhi.pl.
Źródło: TVN24 News in English, tvnwarszawa.pl, jhi.pl
Źródło zdjęcia głównego: Ringelblum Archive, JHI collection