Jecheskiel David Kirszenbaum
(1900 – 1954)

The French-Polish artist with Jewish roots lived in Germany from 1920 to 1933. He used his caricatures to offer commentary on political and social developments in the Weimar Republic and the destruction of Weimar ideals.

Jecheskiel David Kirszenbaum (1900 – 1954)​

The French-Polish artist with Jewish roots lived in Germany from 1920 to 1933. He used his caricatures to offer commentary on political and social developments in the Weimar Republic and the destruction of Weimar ideals.

1900 Kirszenbaum was born in Staszów, a small town approximately 100 km northeast of Krakow. He was the youngest child of Rabbi Nathan Majer Kirszenbaum and Alta Ledermann. After his older brother passed away, his parents wanted Kirszenbaum to become a Rabbi like his father; however, Kirszenbaum was critical of Judaism and joined the socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair youth instead. Despite this decision, the Jewish religion remained very important to Kirszenbaum throughout his life: life in the Jewish Schtetl (Yiddish שטעטל) remained a central theme in his art. Kirszenbaum’s dream of studying art in Krakow fell through due to his lack of education and financial reasons.

J. D. Kirszenbaum around 1920
Family owned

1920 After Poland gained independence in 1918, Kirszenbaum feared being drafted into the Polish Army when the Polish-Soviet War began. His parents sold their property to finance his escape to Germany, where he started working in mining in the Ruhr region.

1923 In Duisburg, the art historian August Hoff (1892–1971) learned of the young painter and encouraged him to study art at the State Bauhaus in Weimar. Here, Kirszenbaum took courses with Johannes Itten (1888–1967), Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), and Paul Klee (1879–1940). He also met his lifelong friend Paul Citroen (1896–1983) during this time.

Paul Citroen (1896–1983): Portrait of his friend J. D. Kirszenbaum, whom Citroen met in Weimar, Paris 1934
Paris 1934, ink on paper, 17,8 x 19,9 cm, collection Paul Citroen © Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin
Lyonel Feininger: “Kathedrale” (Cathedral), 1919
Woodcut, 1919 © Landesarchiv Thüringen – Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar

Title page of the “Bauhaus
Manifesto” written by Walter Gropius from 1919

Memorial to Those Killed in March
Paul Wolff: Weimar. Rudolstadt 1923

This memorial was unveiled on May 1, 1922 to commemorate the lives lost in the 1920 Kapp Putsch. It was based on
a design commissioned by the Trade Union Cartel from Walter Gropius at the Historical Cemetery in Weimar.

J. D. Kirszenbaum: “Trauer” (Grief), around 1925
Watercolour, around 1925, 35,5 x 25 cm © Jüdisches Historisches Institut Warschau

1925 When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau due to drastic funding cuts by the new right-wing bourgeois government of Thuringia, Kandinsky suggested Kirszenbaum take up a teaching position; however, it was allegedly rejected by Walter Gropius (1883–1969) due to Kirszenbaum’s artistic view of Expressionism. Kirszenbaum then took a leave of absence from the Bauhaus and went to Berlin.

Register book of the Bauhaus
© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau
Under number 61, there is an entry on Kirszenbaum: “admitted tentatively April [19]24 / definitively March [19]25 / on leave of absence from Oct. [19]25/ removed from student list [April 22, 1927].”
A well-considered stylistic expression
Berliner Volks-Zeitung, 30.4.1927

Review of an exhibition by Kirszenbaum in the Berlin gallery “Der Sturm” of the avant-garde artist Herwarth Walden (1878–1941).

1926 – 1933 In Berlin, Kirszenbaum work as a freelance artist and participated in numerous exhibits. In 1926, he began drawing satirical cartoons for various magazines including ULK, Jugend, Querschnitt and later for the communist Roter
Pfeffer. He used the pseudonym Duwdiwani (= Hebrew for “cherry tree”). His caricatures, which ranged in topic from harmless social criticism, mockeries of right-wing conservatives and the NSDAP to criticism of Germany’s secret rearmament, reflect many of the sociopolitical issues discussed in the Weimar Republic.

Kirszenbaum joined the Association of Revolutionary Visual Artists of Germany (ARBKD), or ASSO for short, which also included George Grosz (1893–1959), John Heartfield (1891–1968) and Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). The group renamed itself the Bund revolutionärer bildender Künstler (BRBKD) in 1932. It is uncertain if Kirszenbaum joined the Communist Part of Germany (KPD). In 1930 Kirszenbaum married Helma Helene Joachim (1904–1944), who worked as a secretary at the Genossenschaft Deutscher Bühnen-Angehöriger (GDBA).

J. D. Kirszenbaum: “Maimonides studierend” (Studying Maimonides), 1925
Family owned

1933 – 1939 In early 1933, Kirszenbaum attempted to get a visa for Amsterdam, but when this failed, he immigrated to Paris. Him and his wife left behind their house and a number of Kirszenbaum’s paintings.
In Paris, Kirszenbaum became a member the École de Paris, a loose association of artists committed to contemporary art. He also participated in both solo and collective exhibitions.

J. D. Kirszenbaum: Portrait of his wife Helma Helene, in 1945
Gouache, 60 x 50 cm, family owned

1940 – 1945 When the Second World War began, the Nazis destroyed all of Kirszenbaum’s work and interned him at the concentration camps near Meslay-du-Maine, east of Rennes and later in the labor camp in the village of Saint-Sauveur. In 1942, Kirszenbaum was able to escape, and he remained in hiding until the end of the war. Between 1944 and 1945 he lived in Limoges, Dorat and Darnac.

His wife Helma Helene was first interned in the Camp de Gurs; however, returned to Paris upon being released. In 1943, she was re-arrested and deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where she was murdered.

Querschnitt, vol 7 / 1927, b. 3, p. 195
The Water Bearer

As early as 1927, Kirszenbaum’s youthful memories of a water carrier in the Schtetl Staszów appeared as a drawing. After his escape from the labor camp in 1942, he took up this theme again for a painting.

Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm. © estate Kirszenbaum, Tel Aviv
brasilian impressions
Family owned

J.D. Kirszenbaum in his studio in Paris in front of the painting “Festa de São João in São Paulo”, 1952. Oil on canvas, 117 x 80 cm, displayed today in Le Centre national des arts plastiques soutient l’art contemporain depuis 1791, Paris.

1945 When the war ended, Kirszenbaum moved back to Paris, where he learned of his wife’s fate. There, he was able to begin painting again due to the support of Baroness Alix der Rothschild (1911–1982).

1948 – 1950 Kirszenbaum travels to Brazil and his taken in by the Brazilian painter, graphic artist and sculptor of Jewish faith Lasar Segall (1891–1957). When he returned to Paris in 1949, Kirszenbaum became a French Citizen and travelled to Morocco and Italy.

1954 Kirszenbaum marries Dagna Zoref, née Banal (*1909 in  Lemberg/Poland), a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
On August 1, Jecheskiel David Kirszenbaum dies of cancer in Paris.

Kirszenbaum’s work is often discussed in connection with Marc Chagall (1887–1985). The influence of the Bauhaus can be clearly seen in his constructivist and expressionist works. Thematically, Jewish life is in the foreground: scenes from the shtetl, religious life, but also persecution and expulsion time and again. Particularly in his late work, there is also a juxtaposition of Christian and Jewish subjects.

The exhibition of the Volkshochschule Weimar focuses on the cartoonist Kirszenbaum as a critical contemporary witness of the Weimar Republic.

Signature of the painter J(echeskiel) D(avid) K(irszenbaum)
Der Querschnitt, vol. 6 / 1926, n. 11, p. 833
Duwdiwani – signature of Kirszenbaum as a cartoonist
ULK, vol. 55 / n. 37, 17.9.1926, p. 286

Jecheskiel David Kirszenbaum (1900–1954)
Nathan J. Diament / Caroline Goldberg (Hg.): J. D. Kirszenbaum (1900–1954). The Lost Generation. From Staszów to Paris, via Weimar, Berlin and Rio de Janeiro / La génération perdue. De Staszów à Paris, via Weimar, Berlin et Rio de Janeiro. Paris 2013.

Frédéric Hagen: J. D. Kirszenbaum. Katalog der Rerospektive in der Galerie Karl Flinker. Paris 1961.
Caroline Goldberg-Igra: The Restoration of Loss. Jechezkiel David Kirszenbaum’s Exploration of Personal Displacement. In: Ars Judaica, hg. von der Bar-Ilan University, Faculty of Jewish Studies, Department of Jewish Art, Nr. 10/2014, S. 69–92.

J. D. Kirszenbaum (1900–1954). Retrospektiva/Retrospective. Ausstellungskatalog Muzej Mimara/The Mimara Museum. Zagreb 2018.

Yechezkel Kirszenbaum: Childhood and Youth in Staszów. In: »Life Chapters of a Jewish Artist«. Übersetzt von Leonard Levin. Original in Hebräisch in: Sefer Staszów (The Staszów Book), hg. von Elhanan Erlich. Tel Aviv 1962, S. 221–229. Übersetzt: Staszów Memorial Book – Translation of Sefer Staszów
(The Staszów Book). New York 2020.
Online: https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/staszow/sta221.html

Johanna Linsler: Jesekiel David Kirszenbaum, entre aspiration révolutionaire et mémoire du shtetl. / Jesekiel David Kirszenbaum, zwischen revolutionärem Streben und Erinnerungen an das Schtetl. In: Anne Grynberg / Johanna Linsler: L’Irréparable. Itinéraires d’artistes et d’amateurs d’art juifs, réfugiés du »Troisième Reich« en France / Irreparabel. Lebenswege jüdischer Künstlerinnen, Künstler und Kunstkenner auf der Flucht aus dem »Dritten Reich« in Frankreich. Hg. von der Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg. Magdeburg 2013, S. 265–289/290–314.

Nadine Nieszawer / Deborah Princ und andere (Hg.): Artistes juifs de l’École de Paris 1905–1939 / Jewish Artists of the School of Paris. Paris 2015, S. 177 f./428 f.
Online: http://ecoledeparis.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/1.pdf

Pawel Skowron: Jesekiel Dawid Kirszenbaum i Jan Skowron. Malarze ze Staszowa. (Maler aus Staszów). Kielce 2020.

Homepage J. D. Kirszenbaum. Online: https://www.kirszenbaum.com/

Jesekiel David Kirszenbaum (1900–1954) – Ein Bauhaus-Schüler. Ausstellung der Porta Polonica in Solingen 2019.
Online: https://www.porta-polonica.de/de/atlas-der-erinnerungsorte/jesekiel-david-kirszenbaum-1900-1954-ein-bauhaus-schueler

A Tribute to Painter J. D. Kirszenbaum. Willy Brandt Center Jerusalem 2019.
Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsUXlvHp06I