When I first started looking through this Haggadah, I new that it was different. It wasn’t just the shiny silver case studded with blue stones, and embossed with Jewish emblems, it was the amazing images inside. It was like no Haggadah I had ever seen.
My Grandparents bought it on a trip to Israel in the late 60’s, or early 70’s. At first I thought that, maybe that, was all that these acid trip like drawing were, just a sign of the times they were made in, you know crazy paisley’s and all that, but something kept pulling me back. The images were just so evocative of war and pain. More in depth than any I had ever seen in any Haggadah.
So yesterday morning I started searching on line, only to find a treasure trove of information perfect for this little art blog. My little silver Haggadah was designed by none other then Arthur Syzk. His name might not spring right to the for front of your mind, but if you know about WWII propaganda, oh boy is this guy a heavy hitter. All of a sudden my Haggadah started to make some sense. You see Arthur Syzk was born in Lodz Poland, in 1895, not only was he an amazing water colorist, and gauche artist, but he was a badass caricaturist and crusader for political causes. That’s why when you look through his Haggadah you see so many references to Nazi Germany; he created it in 1940, and it reflects his passion for his Jewish heritage, as well as his concern for the hostility the Jewish people faced from the Nazi party.
Arthur started out studying in Cracow Poland and then moved on to Paris in the 20’s. In 1933 When Hitler first came into power he immediately began attacking the regime, thoughtless to what would happen to himself. He traveled quite a bit, until eventually settling in the United Stated in the 1940’s. The move was a major event for him sparking him to say: “At last, I have found the home I have always searched for. Here I can speak of what my soul feels. There is no other place on earth that gives one the freedom, liberty and justice that America does.
Arthur’s art was always about Human Rights and Civil Liberties, but during World War II he devoted himself to defeating the Nazi’s and calling the world’s attention to the extermination of the Jew’s in Europe. His wartime cartoons filled American papers, giving him the reputation of a “one-man army” and inspiring the slogan “action-not pity” which served as a watch word for Zionist Revolutionary groups. It even appeared in their advertisements. He was the most prominent Jewish artist to advocate the rescuing of Jews during the Holocaust and thought that many viewed what was happening like pornography, we know it’s happening but we can’t talk about it.
In the end his art is powerful. It reconstructs the tale of Jewish history from one of woe, to portray the Jewish people as a heroic nation that has resisted oppression and eventually triumphed. He sought to redefine how Jews saw themselves and how others saw them, not as people being forced from one horrid event to another but as assertive beings who shaped their own destiny.