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An Exploration of “Madness”

Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Szyk’

An Exploration of “Madness”

By: Michael Fishbach

I began interning at Jewish Museum Milwaukee a month ago, and last week, I took my first guided tour with a group of students from Rufus King Middle School.  We first toured the visiting exhibit, which consisted of beautiful drawings by the late Arthur Szyk, where Ellie Gettinger guided the group.

Ellie gravitated toward a set of drawings, one original drawing created by Szyk and a reproduction of the same piece from the January 17, 1942 issue of Collier’s Magazine.  The students examined the pictures for differences and immediately noticed there were two figures missing in the lower right-hand corner of the cover.  Ellie had no definitive answer to why these men were removed and presented two possible answers: (1) the Collier’s staff was averse to keeping the two unnamed figures on the cover, and (2) Collier’s needed a section for copy.

•1942. New York. Collier's January 17, 1942, Madness [Nazi Propaganda] original work. Reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame, CA

• 1942. New York. Collier’s January 17, 1942, Madness [Nazi Propaganda] original work. Reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame, CA

Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138x9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2 Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138x9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2

Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138×9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2
Historicana-329, 6/18/08, 11:18 AM, 8C, 7138×9028 (581+933), 138%, Custom, 1/20 s, R16.2, G17.6, B44.2

The second answer could be the reason, but that age old question of “why?” popped into my head.  I decided to study and inspect the source material and the Collier’s Magazine cover.

Upon closer inspection of the two figures, I concluded that the figures must be Philippe Pétain, the Head of State of France’s puppet government in Vichy during World War Two.  The two aspects of this figure that allowed us to discern Pétain were the bushy mustache as well as the French Kepi, a military head cover that Pétain commonly wore.

The other figure next to Pétain appeared to be Benito Mussolini, also known as “Il Duce” (The Duke) who was the dictator of Fascist Italy from 1922-1943 and ally of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan through the Tripartite Pact.  What led me to believe this figure represented Mussolini was that the figure donned a black military uniform.  Persons within the Italian Fascist movement wore black military uniforms that lent them the nickname “black shirts” which was later coöpted by the Nazi Sturmabteilung, or “SA”, with their adoption of brown uniforms which lent the nickname the “brown shirts.”

Another element of the figure that led to the conclusion of Benito Mussolini was the helmet/hat donned by the figure that depicted a perched eagle clutching a Fasces, the symbol for Italian Fascism.  If one were to look at other examples of Arthur Szyk’s drawings depicting Benito Mussolini, one recognized the same helmet/hat emblazoned with the same symbol.

Despite these conclusions deduced with the pictorial and historical evidence, the question remained, “Why were these figures eliminated for the Collier’s cover?” We know that Szyk completed the drawing in September 1941, which was prior to the United States entering the war.  At this time, the Italian military suffered embarrassing defeats in East Africa and North Africa against the British forces, and they failed to conquer Greece in Spring 1941.  Because of these failures, Hitler sent German soldiers to North Africa and Greece to defeat and re-conquer the territory the Italians failed to gain and hold.  In my subjective view, these defeats lowered the prestige of Benito Mussolini to that of marionette to Hitler as puppet master, which was of a similar status of Pétain at this time.  One could argue that other nominal figures of conquered European nations at this time could also have been depicted, including Vidkun Quisling of Norway, however, his name along with other puppet leaders possibly did fulfill Arthur Szyk’s artistic vision with the more well-known Mussolini and Pétain.

On the other hand, did the Collier’s staff eliminate these figures to leave space for their headline “DON’T BELIEVE A WORD OF IT”?  With the inclusion of this and the elimination of those two figures, the Collier’s cover solely depicted the bedrock Nazi leaders Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler.  The addition of the figures offered a less fixed message against “Dictators” as seen in Arthur Szyks drawing.  It may have been easier for subscribers of Collier’s to fix on a single regime as the “enemy” of United States as opposed to the possibility of having multiple enemies.

The final item that I researched was the diplomatic relationship between the United States government and Vichy France.  I learned the United States government recognized and practiced diplomatic communications with Vichy France from 1940-1942.  Because of the tenuous situation in Europe and the United States’ declaration of war on the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) when this Collier’s issue was released, I believe the Collier’s staff decided to eliminate Pétain as a means to not criticize Vichy France while the United States maintained diplomatic with them.  With the elimination of Pétain, the Benito Mussolini figure had to be removed as well or else face questions of why the Benito Mussolini figure was contorted in an unusual position in relation to the rest of the drawing.

However, we will perhaps never know the true reason for the elimination of Pétain and Mussolini for the Collier’s cover, but it offered the opportunity for this viewer to ask “why?”

Purim Szyk*

By Molly Dubin, CuratorBook of Esther Cover

Purim, one of the most popular Jewish holidays, will begin at sunset on March 23rd.The holiday brings gifts of food, dressing up in costume, and fun-filled carnivals, this is an opportunity to party like rock stars!

But while cutting loose and getting a bit crazy are hallmarks of the holiday, the main attraction is the reading of the Megillah, or the scroll of Esther, which recounts the story of Purim.  All the elements of a good story are present:  a Persian king finding an unlikely new queen in a Jewish commoner named Esther who hides her Jewish identity, a power hungry villain named Haman with a murderous plot to destroy the Jews of Persia, and an act of courage that ultimately wins out to save the day.

Families participate in synagogue readings by shaking noise makers, or groggers, and booing at the mention of Haman’s name and cheering enthusiastically for Esther’s.  Countering these playful parts of the holiday is the knowledge of an alternatively grave outcome if not for a steadfast belief in freedom of religious practice and the need to stand by one’s convictions.

Haman Hanging from Gallows

Arthur Szyk, New Canaan, 1950. Book of Esther. The Holy Scriptures, The Jewish Publication Society of America. © 1974, all rights reserved.

Artist-activist Arthur Szyk dedicated his career to standing up against injustice and defending universal freedom, so it is fitting that he chose to illustrate the ‘Book of Esther’.  In a provocative piece showing Haman hanging from the gallows meant for the Jews, Szyk inserts himself into the Purim story.  He documents the victory of the Jewish people while looking to Haman with a ‘justice has been served’ glare.  In a bold move, Szyk draws multiple swastikas on Haman’s clothing equating the villain and his evil plot with the Nazi persecution of European Jews throughout World War II.

The ‘Book of Esther’ is an extraordinary example of how Arthur Szyk bravely used his art to preserve Jewish heritage and fight persecution and prejudice, so while you or your child may be enjoying your Hamantaschen pastries (you can find Szyk enjoying this treat in this picture) dressed as Elsa or Batman, take a moment to give a shout out to the super hero that was Arthur Szyk! When #SzykHappens, Justice Prevails.

* Many communities and synagogues perform plays or satires that are known as Purim Shpiels or Shtick.

Black History and Arthur Szyk

By: Ellie Gettinger, Education Director
As we near the end of Black History Month, I wanted to take a moment to explore our current exhibit, Arthur Szyk: The Art of Illumination, within the context of civil rights. Szyk was born in Poland in 1894 and he moved to the United States in 1940 to try and get the United States to join the war against the Nazis. He loved the US and in particular felt passionately about American civil liberties, our freedoms of religion and speech were the best possible ways for Jewish people to be treated well. In 1948, he became a citizen, but he never saw his adoration of American values as a rubber stamp for everything going on here. He was especially sensitive to the plight of African Americans in this country and used his art as a way of exploring the black experience. In 1942, when asked what he planned on doing after World War II ended, Szyk responded, “Only time will tell what my new mission will be, it may be complete Negro enfranchisement and social equality. Who knows? That is a subject dear to my heart.”

We highlight several of his cartoons that explore Civil Rights in the 1940’s, including a piece in which a

decorated soldier is bound by two Ku Klux Klan members. The heading says, “Oh Lord do not forgive them, for they know what they do” and the piece is captioned by saying that every lynching is a detriment to American democracy. He also embedded African Americans into his American pieces to highlight their centrality in US history.

Courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society

Szyk died in 1951, before the central battles of the Civil Rights Movement started. I would have loved to see how he took on the forces at play in Montgomery, Little Rock, and Birmingham in the 1950’s. He was ahead of his time and perhaps his status as an outsider made it easier for him to see the racial divide. We feel privileged to celebrate this pioneer and can only hope that one day his vision of African American, White and Jewish is fully realized.

Courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society

Courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society

Courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society

Courtesy of the Arthur Szyk Society