Ink and Blood
Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art
curated by Debra Schmidt Bach
through January 21, 2018 at the New-York Historical Society
edited by Irvin Ungar
D. Giles Limited, with Historicana and the Arthur Szyk Society, 240 pp., $54.95
Arthur Szyk may well be the only great Jewish artist whose work countless people recognize simply because they have attended a Passover Seder. First published in 1940 and still a Passover favorite, Szyk’s The Haggadah, with its striking mix of modern and ancient imagery, has imprinted itself on our communal holiday memory of the retelling of the exodus from Egypt.
Less well known are the explicit connections between the Egyptian pharaoh and Hitler that Szyk had embedded in his original version of the haggadah he created in the 1930s. It also featured swastika-bearing Egyptian taskmasters and a sinuous serpent with a row of swastikas on his back. Szyk painted them over to ensure publication, but there’s no mistaking the anti-Nazi message that remained in his sarcastic depiction of the “wicked” son as an assimilated German Jew proudly sporting Bavarian-style riding gear and a Hitler-like mustache. Nor was his haggadah Szyk’s only political salvo before, during, or after World War II. As a self-described “soldier in art,” he wielded brush and palette as a weapon throughout the 1930s and 1940s to attack fascism, plead for the rescue of European Jewry, and argue the case for an independent State of Israel. His illustrations and drawings were animated and passionate, seen in biting political cartoons in newspapers around the country, on the covers for such mass-market magazines as Time and Collier’s, and on numerous posters, programs, and other printed materials.