Some literary texts about Lejzerowicz
Chava Rosenfarb (born Łódź, 1923; died Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, 2011):

The Tree of Life [Boym fun lebn], her monumental novel about life in the Lodz ghetto, Yiddish-language writer Chava Rosenfarb writes about Lejzerowicz calling the character “Vladimir Winter.”  Like Hilda Stern Cohen, Chava Rosenfarb also frequented Lejzerowicz’s literary/cultural circle. Here are three key excerpts from the novel.

The Tree of Life [Boym fun lebn]: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto. Book Two: From the Depths I Call You, 1940-1942 and Book Three: The Cattle Cars are Waiting, 1942-1944. Translated from the Yiddish by the author in collaboration with Goldie Morgentaler. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press / Terrace Books, 1985. © 1985 Chava Rosenfarb. First published in Yiddish in 1972 by Hamenora, Tel Aviv. Reproduced here by permission of Chava Rosenfarb and Goldie Morgentaler.

Note: to see Goldie Morgentaler reading a poem by Chava Rosenfarb in Yiddish and English, click here (link to YouTube). Click here for Chava Rosenfarb’s website.

Excerpt I:
From a letter written by the character Dr. Michal Levine (Book 2, Chapter 7, pp. 90-92):

Now I looked around the large bright room. To my astonishment, the walls were covered with paintings. “You are Dr. Levine, aren’t you?” I heard the owner of the apartment ask. I noticed a quaint-looking crooked frame of a man with a huge hump on his back. Above the hump, as if supported by it – a large head, with an enormous forehead fringed by a black artistically-long mane of hair in a “Polka” cut. The face was dominated by a pointy nose that set a shadow both on his hollow cheeks and his shapeless mouth. His sharp hot gaze restlessly jumped over me, uncertainly but with curiosity. We shook hands. I felt the unpleasant touch of his cold wet fingers. “Nadia told me about you . . .” he said, then noticed the paint splotches he had left on my hand with the handshake. “Oh, forgive me,” he grinned, rubbing a corner of his artist’s cape against my fingers. “I am in the middle of something.” He pointed the tip of his nose in the direction of the window. There stood an easel and on it, a canvas with the unfinished outlines of a boy’s face, surrounded by multicoloured patches of paint. Only the eyes in the face seemed completely finished. They stared at me with both a deep earnestness and a childlike charming shyness. I approached the painting; the little man hurried ahead of me. “This boy has been intriguing me for quite a while now” He guided his finger over the surface of the canvas. “A genius. Fifteen years old. A second Einstein. The greatest professors of mathematics have tested him. Usually I paint him downstairs, near the dried-out water pump. That was where I noticed him for the first time. The way he was sitting, the inclination of his head, the expression of his eyes, looking into a book and at the same time beyond its pages, the shape of his body, the shape of the water pump and its wheel . . . Do you understand? A fantastic harmony in the dissonance.”

I looked through the window. Before my eyes there rose another fantastic sight. I saw the town outside the ghetto: the churches, the streets, the tramways, and nearby, the barbed wire fence, a snake striped with poles running past the very front of the house. I leaned out and saw a green uniform, the muzzle of a gun, a helmet. It occurred to me that the German soldier must be unbearably hot, dying for a drink of cold water. With even more delight I inhaled the air of the spacious room. I asked for a glass of cold water. I did not feel like leaving yet, wanting to rest at least for another few minutes.  The little man caught the glance I cast at his old-fashioned padded armchair.

“Do sit down, please,” he said with animation and handed me the glass of water.

I sat down. From the paintings on the walls faces stared at me, ghetto types, ghetto scenes. At the side, leaning against the wall, stood an enormous painting of Presess Rumkowski. It seemed as if the Old Man was soaring above the houses, above the landscape of the ghetto. I was surprised at how much this [90 / 91] painting resembled Guttman’s portraits of the Presess. When I had scrutinized the other painting, however, I immediately realized the difference in his style of painting and that of Guttman. Guttman is more traditional, more realistic, more a story teller, a draughtsman, whereas the paintings on the wall in front of me had an air of restlessness, of search. They were more poetic, rather symbolic and they all seemed wrapped in a mist that blended form, colour and mood into one. Only here and there I noticed a sharp, screaming, almost painful line of colour. Some paintings seemed familiar to me, I did not know why.

“It looks funny doesn’t it?” he asked, his restless eyes following mine, “that I hung them all up like that? To whom could it occur before the war to cover the walls with his own paintings? But here . . . This way it is easier to keep oneself company.”

“I live with a painter. Guttman.” I said. “Do you know him? I’ll give him your address.”

“Don’t bother. He has my address, but he won’t come.”

“Why are you so sure?”

I insisted that he tell me and he did. He blinked his small sharp eyes. “I don’t make a secret of it. I fell ill last winter. It burns me out. You’re a doctor, so you should know that the only thing that can save me is to eat well . . . and I must paint.” He slumped onto the little sofa, seeming even more shrunken and hunched than he was before. His face turned gray, the sharp nose completely overshadowing his shapeless mouth. “I work for the
Kripo [i.e., the Kriminalpolizei, the German criminal police authority]. Don’t get frightened. I’m not a stool pigeon. The Germans give me photos of their wives or sweethearts and I paint portraits of them. I don’t harm anyone, and if I can smear on a face on a canvas for them, to save myself, then I do it. Do you understand, Doctor? I must live. I’m a good painter. They provide me with as much paint as I want, and with canvases too. I’m in their hands. But don’t forget, I’m no different from those who work for them in the Resorts, [i.e., Arbeitsressorts, factories and workshops in the ghetto] and if you want to know, not different from you, Doctor. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, by bringing a Jew back to health, you only fix a machine that works for the Germans.” His eyes did not seek condemnation in mine, they sought approval. He was nervously combing his long mane with his fingers. “If my colleagues have abandoned me for that reason,” he concluded, “then let them. I shall pay the price.” He cut off his monologue and moved to the edge of the sofa, closer to me. “What could it be, Doctor, that I constantly run a high temperature? And I perspire. Pails of water pour down from me.” I remembered that I still had a patient to visit and stood up. “I don’t mean, heaven forbid, that you should examine me.” He also jumped to his feet, blocking my way. “It was only a question. You don’t have to answer me.”

“Get undressed,” I ordered, annoyed, apathetic.

Within a moment, his bare hunched back flashed before my eyes. I pressed my ear against it, then against his chest. His pulse was racing. I did not know whether out of nervousness, or because of his fever. Nor did I like his breathing. His pointed nose was already against my face; the glance of his veiny eyes nervously danced over me. I did not know what to tell him. “It isn’t That, is it, Doctor?” He smiled crookedly, while slowly dressing. It seemed unnatural to me that his underwear was so clean.

“I’ll come to see you again.” I shook his hand. I stopped for a moment as I passed the bed where the baby slept, its fists relaxedly raised above its head. I envied it. At the door I turned to my host “Your name is . . .” [91 / 92]

“Winter, Vladimir Winter,” he introduced himself. As I left him, I recalled having seen his paintings at exhibitions in Warsaw during my student years.

Excerpt II:
Description of an evening in the apartment of the painter and poet “Vladimir Winter” (Izrael Lejzerovicz) on a Saturday evening in Fall 1943. (Book 3, Chapter 20, pp. 268-270):

The sound of a woman’s voice came from behind Winter’s door. Someone was reciting a poem in a melodiously vibrant voice. Michal [Levine] removed his wet coat and waited. He did not want to disturb. The voice flowed on and on without becoming heavier or lighter. He tried to catch the words but all he could hear was the rhythmic flow of syllables, pouring out with the waves of the voice. His curiosity grew. He slowly entered the room. It was partly lit. The doors of the “cannon” oven stood open, reflections of playful tongues of fire danced over the faces of those present, over the walls hung with paintings. The person from whose mouth the voice was coming sat on the floor close to the oven. Michal [268/269] was unable to divert his gaze from that mouth. There was something awesome, breathtaking in the sight of a moving mouth, without a face or a body. The fire in the oven quietly crackled as it accompanied the strange voice.

He scanned the faces of the listeners. A pair of arms was stretching out towards him. Junia [Zuckerman, daughter of a formerly wealthy industrialist] was sitting on the floor, wrapped in his mother’s white crocheted shawl. Her thick black hair covered her face, allowing only her glowing eyes to shine through. Carefully, he waded between the legs spread out on the floor, until he reached Junia and sat down beside her. Her warm hands took his face between her fingers. They glided over to his forehead and slid down along his wet hair. A rounded, full moment of peace. Junia asked in a whisper about [her sister] Bella, and he lowered his mouth to her ear. “She sends regards. She asked me to tell you that she loves you more than ever.”

Then the reciting voice took hold of him completely. From where he sat, the mouth was not visible; instead, his eyes embraced a female back; a figure framed by the light from the oven, as if cut out by a scissor made from the tongues of flame.

Winter, his eyes shut, was lying on the sofa with one hand under his cheek, while the other rested at his side, partly folded, like an ear, listening. A crooked exalted smile played on his mouth. Leaning against the sofa sat [the poet Simcha Bunim] Berkovitch, his gray mop of hair upright, each strand an exclamation point, his puffed face red with the reflection of the flames from the stove. From beneath his glasses there peered a pair of blinking dots. Their gaze was like a pair of rays reaching to the other end of the room where Rachel Eibushitz sat. The girl kept her face turned towards the oven. Berkovitch seemed to take in Rachel’s face along with the voice which flowed on, loud, heavy and warm. His lips moved, as if he were mumbling along with the incomprehensible phrases. Near Berkovitch sat a few people whom Michal did not know and among them the redhead, Esther. Her face looked transparent, her hair a sharp contrast to her pallor. Her veined hands rested loosely braided over her belly. Michal immediately noticed that she was pregnant. A hazy dream-like recollection: he had once delivered her child. A dead child. Or perhaps he had merely seen himself at such a scene one night, in his sleep?

Near Esther sat the violinist Mendelssohn [a well-known German-Jewish musician from Hamburg]. Michal and he rarely met nowadays, since they had even less to say to each other than before. Mendelssohn had become apathetic. He busied himself with caring for his body, with getting cigarettes and worshipping his hands. Only when he needed something Winter could not provide for him, did he seek out Michal. Mendelssohn’s face expressed no feeling, no sensitivity to the voice hovering over the room.

The declaiming voice began to fluctuate. It became increasingly fast, stormy, tragic. Michal could understand every word and sentence separately, yet he understood nothing. What a weird long poem it was! It seemed to wind around the roofs of houses, to sing around the church with its red turrets and the dead clock, to describe the sick crows, each crow a house in the ghetto. The spread wings of the crows were the roofs over empty nests. The poem sang about a bed used for firewood. The words of the poem filled the bed with the bodies of a man and a woman. Then it spoke of the fire which devoured the bed; the voice seemed to jump along with the bed into the blaze, roaring from inside with a wild awesome roar and abandoning itself to a hysterical frenzy, unbearable to listen to. [269/270]

Then the stream of words stopped, but their echo lingered on in the air like the smoke after a fire. Winter opened his eyes, his hand began to flutter in the air. “Magnificent! Unbelievable!” he exclaimed.

No one responded. The two dozen people, sitting one against the other, seemed like one paralysed body. Then the voice resumed its outpouring of words. At first it was shaky, but soon it climbed to its measured height, setting its images afloat over the silence on rhythmically swaying waves. The voice talked about the strings of rain which resembled the woven beards of praying grandfathers; it sang about autumn and dried-out water pumps squeaking and groaning, wishing for the winter to freeze their sorrow. The voice sang about a sky without birds and a town without children. Soon it grew heavier, until it began to squirm again in hysterical spasms. Sighs and murmurs could be heard in the room, a kind of anti-lilt which the listeners started in order to protect themselves against the frenzied voice.

One of the listeners could no longer bear it and turned on the light. The recitation stopped. The people began to stretch their limbs and wipe their eyes. Michal stood up and ploughed through the crowded room towards the man who had turned on the light, and grabbed his arm. [The painter] Guttman had a thick beard and looked like an old man. But he seemed lively, cheerful.

“Look at her,” he pointed to the woman who had been reciting. “I’m painting her.”

The woman had a head of dishevelled blond hair, a milk-white face with red chubby cheeks and doll-like, round eyes. They were wide open, full of sky blue, they seemed to look and see nothing. One deep furrow cut her forehead into halves, reaching down between her pointed eyebrows. Her mouth, colourless and puffed, was spread in a dull smile. She stroked the floor with both hands as she rhythmically rocked herself back and forth.

“Who is she?” Michal asked.

“Itka, a sort of poetess . . . You heard her improvise. I am the one who brought her,” Guttman said, not without pride. “At the beginning she is always better, more in equilibrium. But as soon as she gets tired, she falls into such a tone . . . impossible to listen.” He leaned over and whispered in Michal’s ear, “She escaped from the madhouse during the raid. My . . . that weird beauty . . . the music . . . the treasure of images . . .” They were discussing Itka, while their gazes spoke about themselves. They looked at each other with the same curiosity as they had an eternity ago, when they had first met.

Excerpt III:
Description of a final visit to the apartment of the painter and poet “Vladimir Winter” (Izrael Lejzerovicz) in summer 1944. (Book 3, Chapter 27, pp. 335-336):

They went back to the building [at Rybna 14A] where Junia [Zuckerman] and Michal [Levine] had lived to see what was happening to Winter. He received them with a broad welcoming gesture. His face, which had never smiled properly, was beaming. Standing by his easel, he worked feverishly with his brush. He inundated his visitors with a torrent of boisterous incomprehensible words.

“I have won! I, Vladimir Winter, have won! This morning they tore up my letter of protection at the
Kripo. They politely invited me to leave with the first transport of the tailors. They’re going to turn me into a tailor! Is it not a bit too late?” he roared wildly. “Let them go to hell! Look at the works they’ve helped me to create! Look at my walls! And now they’ve given me back my freedom, too. Because, Doctor, listen, I was no traitor but a slave. Now I am beginning to work for real . . . like a free spirit. Look here, I am overwhelmed by a sacred inspiration. Of course, you can’t see a thing yet. Do you want to know why I am applying such dark colours? What I have in mind with that navy blue? Don’t worry. It’s not going to be a gloomy canvas. It is a summer night in the ghetto. Do you understand? The idyllic . . . the ideal . . . that’s what I want to bring out. The navy blue will be as soft as velvet, the stars will be like diamonds, the houses like gondolas floating into infinity. And do you know what I will do as soon as it is finished? I will invite all my colleagues, the entire intellectual élite of the ghetto, to have a good look at my work. Then I will pack everything up. Oh, God, why do I still feel so cold and so hot? Doctor, don’t make any mistake, I’m not running a high temperature. It is only because I’m tense. Come closer. Junia, you too. Even you will understand me today. Put yourselves at the [335/336] window . . . Do you see the sky? There is only one such sky in the entire world. The sky over the ghetto.” He checked his pulse and turned to Michal with a business-like voice, “Doctor, don’t you think that I am perspiring because of tension and the stuffy air? Give me a glass of milk, little goat,” he turned to Junia. They asked him whether he intended to join the transport, or to hide. He picked up his brush again, after he had taken one sip of milk. “I intend to do nothing, until I finish this work,” he replied. “Then we shall see.”

“You know what the situation is, don’t you?” Michal pulled him away from the easel by the sleeve.

“Take your hands off me, Doctor!” Winter pierced him with his hot hawkish eyes. “There are no longer any bosses in my life!” he shouted, “I am a free spirit. And now forgive me, all of you, and get out of here.”