Mącznik’s Watercolor of The Gombin Synagogue, 1937

Dr. Samson Munn wrote the following: “Most of this calendar year [2021], there had been an exquisite exhibition devoted to Hersh Fenster at the Museum of Art and History of Judaism in Paris. It was extremely successful; all tickets through its end in October were sold in April, soon after it opened. It was curated superbly by Pascale Samuel.

“Fenster was a writer and art critic in Paris closely affiliated with the École de Paris. Most artists of the École de Paris were Eastern European Jews, and most were murdered by the Reich.

“An important part of the exhibition was the 1937 trip taken by Fenster and the artist Jacob Macznik. The intended purpose of the trip was to visit and record important synagogues of eastern Europe prior to their anticipated destruction by the Nazis. Macznik proposed the journey to Fenster. Fenster was to write about them, and Macznik to paint them. Macznik planned and perhaps did create up to 30 or so watercolor-and-gouache folios of eight such synagogues.

“Fenster either never wrote about them, or his writings about them have gone lost. Just two of Macznik’s folios are known to exist. There also exists one photograph that included the two while on that journey (in Sandomierz).

“I believe this to be an early and important example of Holocaust resistance art. Apart from the Yiddish book chapters noted below, and scant contemporary Yiddish newspaper articles, there had been little knowledge of this important act.

“One of the eight synagogues was in Gombin. Here is a link to a page describing the folio, with links from that page to see color images of the final synagogue watercolors/gouaches, including that of Gombin.

“Macznik worked by sketching the synagogue at the locality in pencil or pen. Only after returning to Paris did he work to create the watercolors.

“So, in some sense, the original sketches are even more important than are the beautiful, colorful, final products. Most of the original sketches have gone lost over the decades. I have salvaged two related to those eight synagogues. I have had them conserved by a paper-art conservator, and then framed in an acid-free environment behind UV protection. One of the two was the sketch at Gombin/Gąbin. Here is an image of the sketch, which served as the model for the final watercolor/gouache.

“We know that the archives of the MAHJ have a glass-plate, black-and-white negative of the synagogue painted (watercolor and gouache) by Macznik in two perspectives. The original sketch and any actual watercolors/gouaches of the perspective from the rear have, to my knowledge, gone lost. So, that glass negative is important. Here is an inversion of the glass-plate negative of the black-and-white photo of the Macznik watercolor/gouache (now not known to exist) of the rear perspective of the synagogue:

“If any of your group has interest to learn more about that trip, about this resistance art, one may do so by reading the chapters about Macznik in the books (written in Yiddish) by Fenster and by Chil Aronson. The chapters appear in their original Yiddish as well as translated into English, French, Polish, German and Hebrew at this page. A black-and-white image of the synagogue appears in the 1963 Aronson chapter, corresponding to the color image you may see by linking from the folio link (above).

“By the way, Fenster explains in his chapter that, immediately prior to joining Fenster on the trip, Macznik had deviated briefly to Prague, to paint the Old New Synagogue there. He also sketched synagogues in Przeworsk and Rzeszow prior to linking up with Fenster in Tarnow. So far as I know, two large watercolors were done by Macznik of the Old New Synagogue in Prague; I salvaged one and it is similarly conserved and framed.”

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