The fight over Shulz's identity . . .
There’s no question that the great Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz was a “modernist master,” but the manner of his death has made him a much more complex historic figure: Schulz, a Jew in the Drohobycz ghetto who survived the Nazi occupation until 1942 by working for an SS officer painting murals in his home, was shot dead on the street by a rival SS officer who believed that Schulz’s protector had killed his Jewish dentist. Schulz’s murderer supposedly later told Schulz’s protector, “You killed my Jew. Now I’ve killed yours.” Now, as Benjamin Paloff details in a Boston Review essay, an international contretemps has broken out over the possession of the murals Schulz was painting at the time of his murder. Soon after the murals were re-discovered in 2001 under decades of whitewash in a private home, “representatives from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in Jerusalem, arrived in Drohobycz and hastily removed those portions of Schulz’s murals that had already been uncovered by the Polish art conservationists.” Since then, reports Paloff, public opinion “has raged against what is generally perceived as the theft of national treasures.” For Poles, “Yad Vashem’s actions carry a weighty significance. They suggest that dying because one is a Jew negates the relevance of having lived largely as a Pole—and, harsher still, that Jewishness and Polishness have been deemed fundamentally irreconcilable.” But, says Paloff, “In Poland, they love Bruno Schulz. They want him back.”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.