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"Szyk's Haggadah"

Gad Nahshon, Editor
The Jewish Post

The "Szyk's Haggadah" is one of the most well known Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. It is a unique breathtaking piece of art which was created between 1937 to 1940 by a forgotten great artist and dedicated freedom fighter Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). Born in Lodz Poland and died in New Canaan, Connecticut, USA. Szyk, a great humanist, believed that art should be used as a weapon for social justice and for defending democracy. But he was, first of all, a lover of his people and always expressed the greatness of the Jewish traditions and heritage. Using ancient methods of illumination or 'microscopic art' Szyk decided to up-date his Haggadah by depicting the 'Egyptians' as Nazi S.S. soldiers and 'Pharaoh' as Hitler. He even used Nazi swastikas in order to make his point. But later he gave up this idea.

According to experts such as Rabbi Irvin Unger of Historicana (San Francisco), the first 250 edition of Szyk's Haggadah was published in London by Beaconsfield Press in 1940. Rabbi Unger is doing everything in order to bring Szyk back to our Hall of Jewish fame. Recently, he curated an excellent successful exhibition of Szyk's works entitled:

"Justice Illuminated" at the prestigious Spertus Museum, Chicago. Another scholar Joseph P. Ansell pointed out that the first Szyk's Haggadah was: "...a full color illumination on double leaf parchment." Szyk, being a refugee in London, presented his first volume to the King of England, George VI. In a letter to the King, Szyk also protested against the British policy of closing the gates of Palestine in front of the Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis.

Most of the first deluxe edition were donated to various major libraries. But in later years, different editions of Szyk's Haggadah were published and sold to the public. In 1976, Maariv Publishing House printed a new edition of this unique Haggadah.

It should be noted that Szyk developed a new concept of the 'Four Sons.' Rabbi Unger explained: "This wicked son is depicted as undermining Judaism from within as a campaign was being simultaneously mounted against the Jewish people from without." Szyk's Haggadah was praised by the critics. Szyk demonstrated the fact that he was and is the greatest illuminator-miniature artist in modern history. And we must preserve his heritage. He should not be forgotten. He should be integrated into our new Holocaust conscience, as well. His values were Jewish and universal at the same time.

But these values were linked to his roots: "I am but a Jew praying in art, and if I have worked and if I have succeeded to some degree, if I have been favorably accepted among the elite of society, I owe it all to the teaching and traditions and the eternal virtues of my people" said Arthur Szyk.


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