Bakst’s Self-portrait, 1893, oil on cardboard, 34 x 21 cm., The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Léon Samoilovitch Bakst (Russian: Лео́н Никола́евич Бакст) (10 May 1866 – 28 December 1924) was a Russian painter and scene- and costume designer. Born as Lev (Leib) Samoilovich Rosenberg (Лев Самойлович Розенберг).
Leon was born in Grodno (currently Belarus) in a middle-class Jewish family. After graduating from gymnasium, he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts as a noncredit student, working part-time as a book illustrator. He was expelled from the Academy after depicting figures in the Pietà as impoverished Jews.
Beginning in 1909, Bakst worked mostly as a stage-designer, designing sets for Greek tragedies, and, in 1908, he made a name for himself as a scene-painter for Diaghilev with the Ballets Russes. During this time, he lived in western Europe because, as a Jew, he did not have the right to live permanently outside the Pale of Settlement.
During his visits to Saint Petersburg he taught in Zvantseva’s school, where one of his students was Marc Chagall (1908–1910).
(via Wikipedia & Yiddishkayt)
a Jewish partisan in eastern Poland (now Belarus), WWII
from the exhibition Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photography of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman, Galicia Jewish Museum
This Jewish partisan actually is Faye Schulman in 1943.
At the Café
by Anna Margolin
Alone in the café now,
as voices hush and fade,
as lamps give off a pearly glow
and float out of the café
and over the street—
like luminous swans.
—Waiter, black coffee—demitasse!
Alone in the café now,
with moments rustling like silk,
I raise my dusky fragrant wine
to the street, to the distance.
And like a song is the thought
I give off into the gloom,
a white light.
All the faces in smoke, like masks.
A joke, a shrug, a bleak glance,
and false words flaring, making you blanch.
Have I offended you, my dear?
Here, all of us wear cold, contemptuous masks.
We disguise the fever with clever irony
and a thousand smiles, shouts and grimaces.
Have I offended you, my dear?
In the frosty gleam of the lamps
in the glances, in the voices
my silence floats towards you—
a bright and secret sign.
Wafts like a summer breeze around you,
speaks haltingly to you
about you and me.
Oh, quiet, quiet words
about you and me.
And becomes silent
lulls you with yearning hands.
Takes you with white and quivering hands.
Translated from the Yiddish by Shirley Kumove. Drunk From the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin can be found in the YIVO Library here at the Center.
From the Jewish Women’s Archive: “Rosa Lebensboim, better known by her pen name of Anna Margolin, is regarded by literary critics as one of the finest early twentieth-century Yiddish poets in America. Her poetry, translated by Adrienne Rich, Kathryn Hellerstein, and Marcia Falk, among others, appears in many Yiddish poetry anthologies in English. Captivating, temperamental, and intellectually gifted, Anna Margolin influenced the work of several major writers and thinkers of her time.” Click here to read more.
Submitted by Sarah Ponichtera, Center for Jewish History.
Special thanks to David P. Rosenberg for assistance in the library.
Today in Yiddishkayt… January 21
Birthday of Anna Margolin, Yiddish Poet
The great Yiddish poet Anna Margolin, penname of Rosa Lebensboym, was born on January 21st 1887 in what is today Brest (Yiddish: Brisk), Belarus. Though Margolin published just one book of poetry in her life, her poetry and work as a journalist and editor were critically acclaimed and deeply influential for Yiddish literature. When she began publishing poetry in the Yiddish press under the pseudonym of Anna Margolin in the 1920s, critics argued that the author must certainly be a man, because no woman could write poetry of such quality. Margolin’s friend and lifelong companion Reuven Ayzland described to her in letters how the Yiddish intelligentsia would argue about who the unknown author of her poems could be, and how “the general opinion is that it must certainly be a man…these poems are written by an experienced hand. And a woman can’t write like that.” (via Yiddishkayt)
Nesvizh Synagogue, date unknown
Nesvizh Ghetto Resistance, July 1942
After the German invasion in June 1941, an aktion was ordered on Nesvizh and thousands of Jews were executed all at once in the small city. By October 30, 1941, the Jewish population in Nesvizh had been reduced from between 4,500 to 5,000 to approximately 600 Jews. The remaining Jewish population was limited to a ghetto.
Anticipating a second aktion, an underground movement in the ghetto was formed to resist the community’s complete annihilation and to embody the mottos: “We shall not go like sleep to slaughter” and “Let me die with the Philistines”. Underground participants acquired arms by having weapons — including a machine gun — smuggled into the city from storehouses. Nine months later, in July of 1942, the Nesvizh ghetto began to hear of German liquidation engulfing nearby communities. They prepared for the imminent orders: digging bunkers, organizing into fighting units, and preparing additional homemade weapons like knives and hatchets. In the event of an occupation, they planned to set fire to the ghetto and break through to the forest.
On July 20th, a German commander stood outside the gates of the ghetto and announced the order to liquidate with the exception of thirty essential skilled workers. When the Germans and collaborating Belarusians infiltrated the ghetto, the Jewish resistance set their houses aflame and fought towards the gate. The Germans and Belarusians soon overpowered the resistance, killing most in the onslaught. Only twenty-five underground fighters succeeded in escaping to nearby forests.
Having endured one of the first ever ghetto uprisings, many of these survivors went on to join partisan units, including the Zhukov Otriad, and continued in the struggle to resist.
(via Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation)
Masha Bruskina, a Jewish Soviet partisan hanged with two other partisans, Krill Trus and Volodya Sherbateyvich. The sign reads: “We are partisans who shot at German soldiers.” Minsk, Soviet Union, October 26, 1941. (via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Jews march in the Minsk Ghetto, 1941.
October 26, 1941 — German soldiers parade three young people through Minsk before their execution. The placard reads: “We are parisans who shot at German soldiers.” (via Jewish Virtual Library)
Marc Chagall. The Newspaper Vendor. 1914. Oil on canvas
“Chagall’s arresting Newspaper Vendor (Le Marchand de journaux, 1914) came from a period when the painter found himself back in Russia and mostly confined to the Vitebsk area, in what’s now Belarus, following the outbreak of World War I. Jewish refugees poured in from all over, fearful of being caught alone and labeled as pro-German. In this claustrophobic milieu — Chagall paints it gray as phlegm — news was always dire.
The sky in the work is the wan dying red of an ember about burnt out, the artist’s projection of Vitebsk’s future. The old bearded newspaper seller — a cubist construction down to the very shard-like newspapers he’s carrying, warning of the war — is weariness personified. The Parisian avant-garde meets Russia realities in this painting.” (via The Toronto Star)
Marc Chagall, Over Vitebsk, 1914
Over Vitebsk belongs to a large series of works that the artist began after his return to his hometown in June 1914, which take as their subject an over-life-size, elderly beggar floating above the snow-laden rooftops of Vitebsk. The painting plays on the Yiddish expression for a beggar moving from door to door, er geyt iber di hayzer, which translates as “he walks over the houses.” This whimsical turn of phrase allowed Chagall to transform an otherwise naturalistically rendered scene of Vitebsk in winter through the addition of a strange airborne character with a sack on his back, whose presence imbues the composition with a dreamlike otherworldliness. (via Philadelphia Museum of Art)
The floating beggar is a luftmensch (“air person”), representative of the wandering Jew and an ancient symbol for the outcast Jewish existence.