Elements of Biography

The painter and Yiddish-language poet Izrael Lejzerowicz, was born 6 November 1902 (according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russian-controlled lands); this corresponds to 19 November 1902 (Gregorian calendar) and 19 of Cheshvan 5663 (Hebrew calendar) in the heavily industrial city of Łódź, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. He was the son of Lejb Lejzerowicz, a poor tailor, born in 1869 in Warka (150 km east of Łódź), and his wife Ruchela Koc or Kac (Katz), who was born in 1868 in Warsaw and died in Łódź on 31 March 1934. Family records indicate that Lejb Lejzerowicz died at age 74.

According to census reports and family records, Izrael (called Srulek by the family) was one of seven children born to the couple between 1896 and 1910: Abram, Szmul, Estera, Izrael, Sura/Sara, Szloma, and Chaja. In the 1930s, the family lived in an apartment in a building whose history is bound up with that of the city’s Jewish community: Kilińskiego 49 in central Łódź, having moved at some point from Zawadzka 4 (now Adama Próchnika 4). Of the children, two survived the war. Szmul/Samuel, born in 1896, emigrated to Germany (Dortmund and later Berlin) before World War I to evade Russian military service. He, his wife, and daughter Ruth left Germany for London in 1938/39. Sura/Sara (later called Sophie Leiserovic) and referred to informally in the family as Sala or Sosha), born in 1905, also survived the ghetto period. She moved to Lyon, France after the war with her husband, Tobias/Tomek Rozynès, whom she married after the war, and died in Lyon in 1981. She left no children. Ruth Leiserowitz moved to the United States with her husband Geoffrey Lewis and their children in 1960.

Izrael Lejzerowicz was a disabled person; he may have suffered from kyphoscoliosis as a child. One source recounts that a childhood accident injured his back and left him permanently disabled. He also reportedly suffered from lung and heart problems.

Little is yet confirmed from official sources about Lejzerowicz’s formal education. According to a 1942 report by Oskar Rosenfeld of the ghetto’s Statistical Department, who knew Lejzerowicz well, the artist studied on a scholarship provided by the Łódź industrialist Eitingon (or possibly by another Łódź industrialist, Poznański) in an independent arts school in Berlin, perhaps the Lewin-Funcke-Schule. He also may have studied in Paris. Some sources report that he studied in Rome but this is almost certainly not true. His work demonstrates his classical training as an artist. He was multi-lingual, speaking Yiddish, Polish, Russian, and German.

By 1920, Lejzerowicz was contributing to arts and literary projects in Łódź and beyond. In the decades before the German invasion of September 1939, Lejzerowicz was active (particularly as a portrait painter) and participated in group exhibitions of young Jewish artists in Łódź, the best known of which was called “St.Art,” short for “Stowarzyszenie Artystów.” He also created abstract, symbolic drawings and illustrations, often on religious themes. He took part in exhibitions in Łódź, Kraków, and Warsaw. He deposited five of his works from the 1920s in the new municipal modern art museum in Łódź, now the Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi.

During the ghetto period, he lived with his father and worked at Rybna 14A (Fischstrasse), where he hosted a salon for artists and writers in many languages – Yiddish, Polish, German, probably Russian – giving himself and his guests a means of maintaining their dignity as human beings.

Today, Lejzerowicz is remembered especially for the drawings of people and scenes in the Ghetto of Łódź during the Nazi occupation, some of them based on photographs by Mendel Grosman or others, since artists were not allowed to draw in the open air. During the 13 months of its existence (May 1942-June 1943), Lejzerowicz was compelled to work for the “Wissenschaftliche Abteilung” (“Scholarly” Department), which was linked to the “Litzmannstadt” (the name given to the city by the occupiers) branch office of the Nazi “Institute for Research on the Jewish Question”
(Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage), based in Frankfurt/Main. Along with another artist, Hersz Tsvi Szylis, Lejzerowicz continued working in the department for an additional three or four months after its official closing in order to complete work that had been begun. This department was created by and reported directly to Hans Biebow, head of the German ghetto administration, rather than to Rumkowski’s office. We know from Oskar Rosenfeld’s comments and from Lejzerowicz’s own notes (preserved at the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw) that the artist was one of several who were involved with the creation of an exhibition about traditional Jewish life in eastern Europe that was on display in the ghetto but never traveled beyond Łódź.

There are various accounts of the artist’s death; we believe he was still alive on August 1, 1944 in Łódź, as he is listed in a petition to Rumkowski requesting food rations. It is likely Lejzerowicz was murdered in Auschwitz in August 1944, after the liquidation of the ghetto. As a handicapped person, Lejzerowicz would not have survived a selection at the death camp.

After the war, a number of drawings by Lejzerowicz were rescued by Nachman Zonabend and divided between two institutions in Israel: Yad Vashem and the Ghetto Fighters’ House. A large collection was acquired by the Jewish Historical Institute over several years in the late 1940’s from Sophie Rozynès, the artist’s sister. The Jewish Historical Institute also acquired individual works from various other people in the postwar period. In addition, paintings and drawings have survived in private and public collections in Poland, the United States, and Mexico. A number of photographs of lost works have survived in private collections, at Yad Vashem, and at the Polish State Archives in Łódź.