happens when short circuits of sense occur between words"
Bruno Schulz, the world-renowned writer and painter and a Polish Jew, experienced the terror of German occupation in the Galician city of Drohobycz in 1941-42. He initially survived by painting murals for the children of the SS officer Felix Landau, on the nursery walls of the villa they had occupied.
Bruno Schulz was shot and killed by the SS on November 19, 1942.
Despite an intensive search after WWII, his murals were not found until February 9, 2001, when the documentary filmmaker Benjamin Geissler discovered the long lost pictures. In May 2001, representatives of Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial removed fragments of these murals from Ukraine, sparking an international controversy.
„Finding Pictures" documents the search, the discovery and sudden disappearance of the Bruno Schulz murals in piecing together the story of one of the most controversial museum acquisitions in recent years. Yad Vashem has claimed the moral right to preserve the works. Ukrainian and Polish officials say the removal was a crime. But what do the Jews from Drohobycz say?
This film enables viewers to follow the director through a meticulously composed mosaic of both known and unpublished testimonies about Bruno Schulz and his last days.
Bruno Schulz was born in 1892 in Drohobycz, a small town in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. He thought and wrote in Polish in Drohobycz and rejected all offers to move, feeling that he could not be creative elsewhere. Located in the N.E. Carpathian foothills in the east Galician oil region, economically and culturally diversified, Drohobycz was one of the most significant centers of Jewish culture in Europe preceding WWII. Most of the Jews there were murdered in the extermination camp Bel¿ec and in the woods of Bronica.
"Finding Pictures" introduces us to Holocaust survivors who knew Schulz and connects today's world to the poetic and fearful visions described in Schulz's works.
zu Berlin, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Paideia - The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, Stockholm
TV-Broadcast: MDR, Germany, Mittwoch, 02.02.2005, 23:35
TV-Broadcast: ARD Digital, Germany, - Gedenktag der Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, Freitag, 28.01.2005, 23:30
Fundacja Judaica - Centrum Kultury Żydowskiej - The Judaica
- Center for Jewish Culture, Krakow, Poland.
Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, 71 rue du Temple, 75003 Paris, France, 7.11.2004
TV-Broadcast: TVP1, Poland 5.+12.11.2004
Jewish Eye World Jewish Film Festival, Tel Aviv, Israel, 29.10.2004 – in competition
Festival „Der neue Heimatfilm” #17,
Freistadt, Austria (PDF) 25.-29.8.2004
Filmkunstfest Schwerin, Deutschland 9.5.2004
32nd Belgrade International Film Festival FEST, 27.2.2004 - 07.3.2004
Hamburg, Kino 3001, 29. Jan. – 4. Feb. 2004
Academy of Arts, Berlin, 25. Jan. 2004
Toronto, Beth Tzedec Synagoge / Goethe Institut, Canada, Dec. 2003
Filmclub L'viv University, Ukraine, Nov. 2003
MOLODIST Kyiv International Film Festival 2003
Leipzig, DOK Festival for Documentary and Animated Films 2003
International Film Festival, Czech Premiere
Cracow Film Festival
2003 Polish Premiere, Opening film
Montreal Jewish Film Festival 2003 Canadian Premiere FINDING PICTURES
New York, World Premiere:
FINDING PICTURES, November 19, 2002
The New York Times , June 20, 2001 – Front-Page
Artwork by Holocaust Victim Is Focus of Dispute
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
A bitter international scandal has erupted in a city in Ukraine, about 30 miles from the Polish border, where last month workers from Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust museum, chiseled five fragments from a newly discovered series of wall paintings. They are the last known work of Bruno Schulz, a Polish Jewish writer, artist and Holocaust victim.
With that single act, whose legality is disputed, Yad Vashem, the most august memorial to Jewish victims of Nazi slaughter, has unleashed a rumble of protests through a part of Europe that still feels battered and bruised by a vicious and violent century.
The Schulz murals, illustrations of Grimm fairy tales that decorated the nursery of a Gestapo officer’s son, have been caught in the throes of that history. According to Yad Vashem, the fragments in its possession, which depict a princess, a horse-drawn carriage and several shadowy figures, including two dwarfs, are now being restored. Plans call for them to be put on display at Yad Vashem’s new historical museum in Jerusalem, which is to open in 2004.
Schulz, an evocative writer whose stylized drawings also have a cult following, painted the murals under duress. He was working on them when he was shot to death on Nov. 19, 1942, in Nazi-occupied Drogobych (pronounced droh-HOH-bich), or Drohobycz, as it had been known between the wars, when it was part of Poland.
They were found last winter by Benjamin Geissler, a German filmmaker, in an apartment inside the villa once occupied by Franz Landau, the Gestapo officer who demanded them. Mr. Geissler, 37, had come to research a film on Schulz, a tragic figure who, it was once said, was born an Austrian, lived as a Pole and died as a Jew.
In written statements, representatives of Yad Vashem defended the removal of the fragments. They said they had approval from local authorities in Drogobych, a point that the authorities vehemently dispute.
But the crux of Yad Vashem’s argument refers to a higher claim to property left by Jewish Holocaust victims, particularly in Poland, where the prewar Jewish community of 3.5 million has now dwindled to several thousand.
„Most of the Holocaust survivors live in Israel, but the remnants of the vibrant Jewish life, and of the suffering of the victims and the survivors
are scattered throughout Europe,’’ wrote Lisa Davidson, an assistant spokeswoman for the museum.
„Therefore we have the moral right to those remnants.’’ This argument has been fiercely disputed in Poland, where Schulz is seen first and foremost as a Polish writer. His luminous, sensuous style, in books like „The Street of Crocodiles‘‘ (originally titled „Cinnamon Shops’’) and „The Sanitorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,’’ has earned him a faithful following inside and outside Poland.
When Jerzy Ficowski, a Warsaw based author and editor who is Poland‘s leading expert on Schulz, heard that Yad Vashem had taken the fragments, he dismissed it as an absurd impossibility.
„Alas, after a few days I had to retract my denials because Yad Vashem itself acknowledged what it considers to be an act of justice, and what I consider a crime,’’ he said through a Polish translator.
Ms. Davidson of Yad Vashem said that Drogobych officials had told the museum’s representatives that the disposition of the wall paintings was up to the Kaluzhni family, owners of the apartment where they had been found. She also said that the same officials said that the city had final authority over the murals.
But Nikola Mykhac, head of the city’s cultural affairs department, said in a telephone interview that no one from the city administration had given written or oral permission for removal or export of the fragments.
„There was no talk of taking away these effects,’’ he said. „We cannot even imagine how they could have removed them from a technical point of view.’’ Mr. Mykhac said he only helped arrange an initial viewing of the wall paintings by the Yad Vashem representatives.
Once the removal, which took place from May 19 to May 21, was discovered, the event become frontpage news in Poland. Polish officials
issued a statement condemning the action, which they said bordered on vandalism, and cultural commentators delved into the tricky question of whether Schulz was a Jewish author writing in Polish or a Polish author of Jewish origin.
Ukraine’s claim to Schulz, which is based purely on geography, is more accidental. But still, Drogobych, once a bustling multicultural center in Galicia, an Austro-Hungarian province, was where Schulz spent his first and final years. (He went to university in Vienna, where his family fled just before World War I.) „This town and land became a self-sufficient microcosm, ‘‘ he wrote in „The Republic of Dreams,’’ an essay.
„This was his small homeland, the only world where he could breathe and work, as he himself has said,’’ Mr. Ficowski said. „He rejected all offers to move elsewhere, to Warsaw or wherever, because he was not able to create anywhere but Drogobycz.
Thus his artwork was not only chopped up, and a part of it taken away; it was also wrenched from its most important context.’’
Perhaps the most bitter reaction has come from Drogobych’s tiny Jewish community, made up of fewer than 400 Jews.
Dora Katznelson, 80, vice president of the Reform Jewish congregation in Drogobych, was so infuriated that she sent a letter to the Israeli government, which was later published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
„Not just Jews and Poles,’’ Ms. Katznelson wrote, „but also Ukrainians who read every day in Ukrainian newspapers about the barbarous theft of Schulz’s paintings, cry in wonder, Yad Vashem? It’s impossible.‘‘
Born in Bialystok, in Poland, Ms. Katznelson has spent 40 years in Drogobych and said she had once seen firsthand the city administration ‘s indifference to the legacy of the Jewish community. She was present in 1992 when a top city official declined to accept a monument to Schulz sent by Israel on the 50th anniversary of his death, arguing that residents would criticize him for raising a monument to „a stranger,’’ even though Schulz was a native son.
Anti-Semitism, which has deep roots in the region, has periodically erupted into violence, most virulently during the Nazi occupation. The years under Soviet rule were marked by another kind of repression.
In Israel some have suggested that this history of intolerance was reason enough to remove the wall fragments to Yad Vashem. „Who cares about them in Drogobych?’’ scoffed Yehuda Bauer, a former official at Yad Vashem who was quoted in Gazeta Wyborcza on June 1.
Still, Ms. Katznelson is convinced that Drogobych is the right place for a memorial to Schulz. „These were the last paintings of a great Polish Jewish artist, and as his last creation, it should stay here,’’ she said in an interview.
Even when they were thought to be lost, the murals have been an integral part of Schulz’s story. It was well known that he had been commanded by Landau to decorate the walls of his son’s nursery in a villa that had itself been taken from a Jewish family.
For 60 years the murals – not frescoes, since they were not painted in fresh plaster but in a compound made from cheese Ñ went undetected in the Villa Landau, as the building came to be known. It had been divided into five apartments after Drohobych became part of the Soviet Ukraine after World War II.
It was only last February, when Benjamin Geissler and his father, Christian Geissler, arrived to research their film, that a close inspection was finally made of the tiny pantry off the kitchen in the apartment of Nikolai Kaluzhni, a former Communist Party clerk, and his wife, Nadezhda.
There, behind the onions and garlic and beneath a coat of rose-colored paint, the Geisslers found the faint outline of Schulz’s sketches. Later Polish and Ukrainian experts came to the apartment, cleaned some parts of the walls and confirmed that the work was Schulz’s.
Afterward, Benjamin Geissler began a campaign to raise money to turn the Villa Landau into a museum to Schulz and to resettle the current tenants. Anticipating the danger of looters, he also wrote to the Ukrainian Culture Ministry, asking for guards at the site.
He received no response. Later, when he went to Jerusalem to interview survivors of the Drogobych ghetto, officials at Yad Vashem gave him no indication of their plans, he said.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Geissler said, he received a letter from Mr. Kaluzhni, dated May 17, saying that a group from Israel was ready to pay $3,000 for the murals, which, according to the city, had become his property through the process of privatization.
In the letter Mr. Kaluzhni said he had refused the offer. What happened next is unclear, but two days later, the crew from Yad Vashem, led by a Ukrainian immigrant to Israel, arrived.
All together, five fragments – the three large sketches, each roughly one-and-a-half square feet, and two smaller patches – were removed after gauze was taped on the wall to protect the surface. The crew applied gauze to another fragment but left it behind. How the fragments were taken out of the country is not clear: under laws from the Soviet era, export of cultural property created before World War II requires approval from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture.
According to diplomats from both countries, the Ukrainian and the Polish governments have filed formal inquiries with the Israeli government.
But so far, they said, they have received no response.
Presumably, much more of the original murals remains in the apartment, but it is uncertain how or when the work will be uncovered.
„The picture is destroyed,’’ Mr. Geissler said in a telephone interview from Hamburg, „and nobody will know the whole picture. For me, it is very tragic to see Bruno Schulz only as a Jewish victim or only as a Polish writer. He is simply Bruno Schulz, and this is a violent postmortem attack against him.
In Search of a Creative Light the Nazis Tried to Blot Out
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
So much about the life of Bruno Schulz, the elusive Jewish writer and artist from Poland, was lost or destroyed in the years after a Gestapo officer shot him dead in the street in 1942 that it is something of a miracle that even fragments have survived at all.
Schulz wrote several thousand letters, of which only about 150 are preserved. Most of his artwork disappeared after it was consigned by Schulz to an unidentified friend for safekeeping. The manuscript of his unfinished novel, "Messiah," has never surfaced, despite several intriguing leads followed by Jerzy Ficowski, a Polish poet and the leading authority on Schulz.
Even the fragments of a legendary wall painting, done by Schulz under Nazi duress and discovered in February 2001, have been dispersed. In May 2001 a crew from Israel chiseled five patches off the wall of a pantry in the Ukrainian city of Drohobych and took them to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
The deed was done without public debate or scrutiny, but a furious international debate erupted soon after over where the pieces of Schulz's shattered legacy would best be honored. The Ukrainian government eventually filed a protest, and in Drohobych, or Drohobycz as it was known between the wars, local officials who approved the illegal removal of the works were thrown out at the last elections.
Since then more patches have been found and transferred to a Ukrainian museum.
In New York the debate picks up again tomorrow at the Center for Jewish History, where a documentary by the German filmmaker who discovered the wall paintings is being presented on the 60th anniversary of Schulz's murder, along with two recently translated books, one by Mr. Ficowski.
The opening scene of the film, "Finding Pictures," sets the theme. "We are looking for the pictures, the lost pictures of Bruno Schulz," says Christian Geissler in an interview with one of the few Jewish survivors of the slaughter at Drohobych. Benjamin Geissler, Christian Geissler's son, wrote and directed the film.
The film cuts from the search to the discovery, from the past to the present, from the story of Felix Landau, the Nazi officer who put Schulz to work painting murals and other pictures for him, to a transcontinental dialogue about the hasty removal of the wall fragments, which became known as filming was under way.
The documentary also includes one more find in the continuing pursuit of Schulz's legacy: a wooden box with an inlaid picture of a young girl riding a horse, which in the film is declared by a visibly moved Mr. Ficowski definitely to be the work of Schulz. It was found by Benjamin Geissler in the possession of Landau's son, now living in Vienna, and was given by Mr. Geissler to Schulz's nephew, now living in Cologne.
Filmed in six countries with interviews done in various languages of the Jewish diaspora, the film is a montage without a narrating voice, punctuated with readings from Schulz's published works.
"In the film, I have put together fragments and associations in the style of Schulz — in his phrase, `the crosstalk of birds' — which means that the viewers have to make up their opinion of what they see," said Mr. Geissler, who has come to New York from Hamburg for the world premiere of "Finding Pictures."
The filmmaker argues that the drawings found in what had once been the nursery of the Landau children are not simply renderings of Grimm fairy tales, as many believed. He points out that the face of a red-coated coachman resembles that of Schulz himself and that the face of the queen — one of the fragments taken to Israel — is remarkably similar to that of Landau's mistress.
Furthermore, he argues, the faint remains of a painting of a forest, found above the door of the pantry-nursery, could well be a haunted reference to Bronica, the site of a mass grave dug for Jews and by Jews outside Drohobych.
"The double sense of the picture is that he tells the real story of what is going on, but as a fairy tale," Mr. Geissler said. "He knew then that every day of those days could be the last day of his life. When you are an artist, you want to leave a message."
The forsaken city of Drohobych itself is one of the characters of the film. Once a thriving town in the Austro-Hungarian region of Galicia, Drohobych changed names and countries after World War II and turned into a drab, dismal outpost of the Soviet empire.
Schulz's attachment to Drohobych was well known and, Mr. Ficowski says, was a source of anguish for his literary friends in Warsaw, who as it happened had arranged for his escape on Nov. 19, 1942 — a day known as Black Thursday, when Schulz and 264 other Jews were killed in the streets during a murderous outburst by the Nazi occupiers.
In his book "Regions of the Great Heresy" (W. W. Norton), a biographical sketch now updated with an account of the recovery and, in his view, loss of the Drohobych wall paintings, Mr. Ficowski recounts Schulz's poignant and ultimately tragic attachment to his hometown.
"Only Drohobycz and its environs inspired Schulz to recreate the charm of myths encountered in childhood," Mr. Ficowski wrote in the book, which is being presented in tomorrow's event at the center. He added: "For Schulz, drawing upon his imagination was at the same time a process of drawing upon memory — not what he termed `biographical' memory, whose lack he felt in himself — but an emotional `memory of climates.' "
In the other new book, "Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories" (Penguin), a collection of 13 tales from the Holocaust by the Polish-American writer Henryk Grynberg, Schulz's death is recalled by one of the few survivors of the Nazi slaughter: another testimony to a life that, remarkably after 60 years, continues to be freshly remembered.
As the tale of the Drohobych wall paintings proves, even the process of putting together the fragments of that memory is still painful, but the resulting debate has added new life to Schulz's reputation. "What is important now," Mr. Geissler said, "is that people speak of Schulz."
What happened in Drohobych
43rd Annual Cracow Film Festival
This year’s Cracow Film Festival will be held between May 28th and June 1st. The Selection Committee, chaired by Jadwiga Głowa, has already narrowed down the field of almost 1300 submissions to a group of 62 international and 40 Polish entries in the two competitions. With 8 entries, Russia has more films in the international competition than any other single country. The domestic film competition has traditionally been dominated by documentary films; this year will be no exception.
Among the films vying for the Golden Dragon this year, “Der Er En Yndig Mand,” (This Charming Man) this year’s Oscar-winning short film from Danish director Strange-Hansen, and Kenneth Branagh’s “Listening,” are both drawing a lot of attention. Michał Bukojemski, Grzegorz Królikiewicz and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz are all represented in the domestic competition by their latest works. Four films have qualified for entry into both competitions: the animated film “Katedra” (The Cathedral) by Tomasz Bagiński, the feature film “Moje Miasto” (My Town) by Marek Lechki and two documentaries: “Życie przed tobą” (The Life in Front of You) by Maciej Adamek and Jacek Bławut’s “Kraj urodzenia” (Your Native Country).
The brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay, makers of animated films, will be awarded this year’s “Dragon of Dragons” for overall achievement. Piotr Dumała will be contributing an essay on their work to our next issue. [The Quay Brother’s animated adaptation of Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles is well known in Poland –trans.] The Polish premiere of the feature-length documentary film about Bruno Schulz, “Bilder finden” (Finding Pictures) by Benjamin Geissler, screened outside the competitions, is sure to be another highlight of this year’s festival.
“Bilder finden” (Finding Pictures) qualifies as one of the few documentary works which will be remembered not only for having documented an important chain of events, but for having triggered one as well. It also boasts an intriguing and multifaceted structure, that offers, for Polish audiences especially, an array of unexpected new perspectives.
In addition to the main story (more about that below), a wealth of provocative motifs lie beneath the immediate surface of “Finding Pictures”. One of these is the fascination of the father figure. This motif comes up in Schulz’s prose, but in the film, the only references to that fact are the fragments from Schulz’s Sklepy Cynamonowe (Cinnamon Shops), read aloud off camera in English translation and illustrated with pictures created especially for the film. On the other hand, though never expressly mentioned, the motif itself echoes throughout the film: the narrator and “guide” to the world the film creates is Christian Geissler, the director’s father. Although 39 year old filmmaker Benjamin Geissler has always been interested in the German/Polish question (his last film “Zeitsprung” [Time Warp], which is set in Upper Silesia, was shown at the Cracow Film Festival three years ago), the actual impetus for “Finding Pictures” was his father’s. The author Christain Geissler (whose book The Sin of the Fathers helped start the debate in the German literary scene of the early 1960’s about the guilt carried by the German people for the evils committed in WWII.) had long admired the prose and figure of Bruno Schulz, and he passed along to his son not only this love, but the idea for the subject of the documentary film as well. The subject, one he had run across it in the Schulz biography by Jerzy Ficowski (who also appears in the film) was that of certain frescoes, yet to be located, but known to have been painted by Schulz during the occupation at the request of Felix Landau, a Gestapo officer under whose “protection” the artist was living. The son took up this suggestion and cast his father, appropriately, in the role of the investigation’s muse. In February, 2001, the film team headed out to Drohobych [W. Ukraine], where – within a matter of days – they were to make their exciting discovery. Their search led them to the apartment of the Kaluzhnyis, an elderly Russian couple in failing health. The apartment had been used by Landau during the occupation. In what had once been a child’s room, but had since been converted into a pantry, Geissler discovered the frescoes that no one else had been able to locate.
The story of these frescoes, uncovered before the audience’s very eyes, dominates the film’s surface, forming its main theme. The documentary follows the drama of their story as it unfolds. We watch Alfred Schreyer, a former student of Schulz’s, as he leads the filmmakers to a Polish acquaintance, Apolonia Kluegler, and then, as he phones the Kaluzhnyjs, on her advice. He establishes that the apartment they are living in had indeed once been Landau’s. We see the team arrive at the Kaluzhnyjs’ and watch as they uncover the first evidence that the frescoes are in the pantry. ‘Gott sei dank!’ cries Christian Geissler. ‘They’re here! How can we film them?’ ‘It’s a miracle,’ adds Schreyer. It is a miracle. The frescoes had been waiting there, undiscovered, for decades. Agnieszka Kijowska and Wojciech Chmurzyński from Warsaw and Borys Woznicki from Lvov, art-experts called in from the Polish-Ukrainian Commission, set to work – on camera – uncovering the frescoes the filmmakers have discovered. ‘Oh my God,’ gasps Woznicki. ‘God Almighty,’ echoes Chmurzyński, ‘it evokes his self-portraits!’
And then, towards the end of the film, we learn about the theft of the frescoes by the Yad Vashem Institute. ‘They pulled out all the stops, and, as we say here in Drogobycz, they made the father of all fools out of them,’ comments Mrs. Kluegler.
From the outset we understand that the real protagonist of the film is Bruno Schulz. It is he that is the focus of all this effort, it is around him that all the activity centers, and it is the hope of uncovering something new about him that is driving all of the people involved in the filming.
And yet, the longer we watch the film, the more elusive the secrets of the great artist become. A foreigner from the outset, an outsider among the nouveau riche residents of pre-war Drohobych: who was this dried-up, neglected man, always in that same jacket, whom the school children preferred to ignore? Did he really love the women he was living with? Did anyone recognize his genius at the time? Did he himself somehow sense what was going to happen to him? Was he truly the masochist that people see in his self-portraits? How, then, are we to explain the fact we can now discern those very same features in the faces of the fairy-tale figures drawn on the walls of the four year old son of one of Hitler’s stable of killers?
As the film progresses, we come to understand that the protagonist of the film is not in fact Bruno Schulz, nor yet the German author, Christian Geissler, who has set us on his trail. The real protagonist of “Pictures” is the whole colorful and multilingual band of individuals who appear in front of Benjamin Geissler’s camera, each in some way bound up with Schulz’s story. And even those who don’t appear: those who are present only in photographs or as names on gravestones, like the secretive Felix Landau (1910-1983), or the man whose voice is heard over a telephone line, Wolf Dieter Landau, now living in Australia but once the four year old resident of the bedroom, who cannot remember anything about the frescoes that were painted for him. Alfred Schoenfeld from Paris, Yehuda Bronicki and Benio Loeffelstiel from Israel, Dora Kacnelson and Maurycy Weiss from Drohobych, and Wilhelm Koch from Stuttgart– each shares with us a piece of the story of Bruno Schulz, but in doing so each reveals some part of his or her own story as well, and we sense that any one of them could be the protagonist of a separate documentary. This intangible, elusive band plaiting together all their destinies, past and future: surely this is the very theme that Bruno Schulz himself used to dream of capturing.
Perhaps the features that characterize this group portrait can be best observed in the figure of Alfred Schreyer. A handsome, distinguished, elderly man, he has lived his entire life in Drohobych. In fact the subtlest element in this group portrait is that of the encounter between Alfred Schreyer and Christian Geissler– similar in age, so very different in other ways. The quiet, unimposing, contented writer from Germany, meets Alfred Schreyer, the Jewish-Polish intellectual – impressive, constantly reveling in his own charm, yet unsatisfied. ‘I could have emigrated to Germany after the war,’ says Schreyer at one point, ‘but I didn’t want to. My mother died here, my family died here. I wanted to stay in Drohobych. I didn’t want to die in Germany. Do you understand?’ The moment when Christian Geissler takes off his cap and answers, ‘I understand. God knows, I do understand’, struck me as the most beautiful scene in the film. Might this one “found picture” have been what drew Benjamin Geissler to Drohobych?
Director, Camera, Editing: Benjamin Geissler. Idea: Christian Geissler, Benjamin Geissler. Sound: Marek Śląski. Music: Guglielmo Pagnozzi. Production: Benjamin Geissler Filmproduktion, Germany 2002. Length: 106 min.
CORRIERE DEL TICINO – MERCOLEDÌ 13 AUGOSTO 2003, CULTURA & SPETTACOLI
56th Locarno International Film Festival
Jewish Artist had painted them for a Nazi Hierarchy
The search of lost Frescos
The extraordinary rediscovery, which lasted 3 years, of the works of Bruno Schulz
Like in the best of the detective novels, Finding Pictures (Bilder finden) starts at the discovery of a truth, to then take advantage of the voyage that the investigation imposes on it and to the actual places travelled and the events that characterises them. In this way Benjamin Geissler, based on an idea from his father Christian, in 1999 starts off on the trail of several frescos by Bruno Schulz, a Jewish author that had lived between 1941 and 1942 in Drohobycz, a small village presently in the Ukraine. Having succeeded where others before him had failed, the film director finds again the frescos (which had been whitewashed), m the run down storage room of a Ukrainian apartment. It deals with mural illustrations of certain fairytales that the author had painted for the children of Felix Landau, a Gestapo official that had employed him in his service as a private painter before his execution. The principle drama of the fascinating documentary is, therefore, the discovery of these lost frescos. Interesting is the first phase of the inquiry, with the father of the film director f accompanied by Alfred Schreyer, who moves around the small Ukrainian village between phone calls and visits 'With the local inhabitants, capturing at the same time interesting moments of daily life and testimonials on what was happening 60 years ago.
We fast forward to January2001, at first impact the characters with the precious storage room that offers to the ones present and therefore to the spectator sensations like at the tomb of Tutenkhamen. They follow the investigations of the polish art experts that are able to make reappear, slowly, slowly, the desired images in favour of the film camera. And this is how it is confirmed, directly that we are dealing specifically with Bruno Schulz exhibitor of the polish avante garde, recognisable Goya style and to expressionism. But in May 2001 certain members of the Yad Vashem intervene a memorial to the Holocaust, that manage to remove from the wall the two principle Frescos and steal them, taking them illegally into Jerusalem. The delusion and the anger reign amongst the polish and Ukrainian authorities (the latter perhaps accomplices in the operation), and amongst the inhabitants of the region. Alfred Schreyer confesses not to be able to take any more of the whole movement created by this case and to be afraid now to answer the telephone... To note, however, is the fact that five minor pieces of the composition have remained on the walls and later exhibited in Poland.
Finding Pictures (Bilder finden) in other words, returns to us, therefore, an intriguing investigation on certain artistic objects, but this is only the minor merit of this work of art. Through interviews, overexposure of designs, excerpts of literature works of the author or of Landau's diary the figures that are the principle motor of the whole work become sketched. The historical reconstruction makes also use of testimonials of the descendants of the Nazi hierarchy and of horse images, most loved by him and present in the already now famous frescos. But above all, we become involved in the sufferings and in the peculiarities of the Drohobycz inhabitants, with frank delicacy.
More than almost every other region in Europe, Galicia was under the rule of and influenced by the interests of various empires, nations, political systems and religions.
After Poland had been divided in the 18th century by the Prussians, Austria and Russia, Galicia fell prey to the Habsburger Empire in 1772. The social structures of the Polish-Lithuanian empire remain basically unchanged under Austrian rule, which meant that the conflicts caused by religious differences, different languages and social problems remained unchanged.
Lwow (German Lemberg), today's capital of the Ukrainian Oblast L'viv and the former capital of the Austrian territories of Galicia and Lodomeria, was a center of Polish nationalism with its Polish university. Whereas the Catholic Church was the center of crystallization for Polish nationalism, the Vatican-oriented Uniated Church with its Ruthenian rites was the center of Ukrainian nationalism. Time and again throughout the centuries, persecution of and pogroms against the Galician Jews took place. In part, they were even demanded by church authorities. Not until 1867, in the course of the Josephinian Reforms, was there a legal declaration of equality, which was supposed to "civilize" the Jews.
Once they began pumping oil, a Jewish proletariat also developed there. Nearly 15% of the Jewish population worked in the field of agriculture. The more relaxed national laws led to the situation that there were once again more Jewish barkeepers, tax agents and estate stewards. In that way, Jews became middlemen between the town and the countryside, between the estate owners and the peasants, not only in regard to the increasing social and economic conflicts at the time of industrialization, but also concerning the intensifying national and religious contradictions between Poles, Ruthenians and Austro-Germans, between Catholics, Russian Orthodox and Uniates. Galician-Polish politicians used the Jews to stir up public opinion against the Habsburg administrators and divert it from the Polish landowners.
During that time, students from Kharkiv, who fought for a national revolution and were Marxist-oriented, founded the 'Revolutionary Ukrainian Party' which became the 'Ukrainian Social Democratic Party' in 1905.
The First World War which also took place in what is now The Ukraine meant six years of war and civil-war-like destruction: With the collapse of Germany and Austro-Hungary, those two countries lost their influence on area of The Ukraine. When a West Ukrainian People's Republic was declared in Lemberg on 13 November 1918, the Polish troops attacked immediately and conquered Lemberg before November was over. The Allies allowed the newly founded Republic of Poland, which was now on the winning side, to occupy this Eastern territory all the way to the old Austro-Russian border. Very bitter fighting took place between the Red Army and the anti-Bolshevik White Troops under General Denikin, who had set up a military dictatorship in the eastern and southern Ukraine. Under the White dictatorship, the so-called 'League for the Destruction of the Jews' was organized. Every member was required to 'annihilate' 500 Jews during his life and was given 1,000 rubles each for every victim. In April 1920, Poland's nationalistic leader Pi³sudski signed an agreement with Petljura, the strong man of the White Ukrainian military state. Just a few days later, Poland marched into the Ukraine and occupied Kiev on 7 May. Ancient dreams of a nationalistic Poland appeared to become reality. But the Red Army, whose political War Commissioner was Josef Stalin, led a quick counter-attack. The Polish attack on Kiev, 'the cradle of the Russian nation', unleashed a wave of patriotism within Soviet Russia. Even former top-ranking Czarist officers joined the Red Army.
In 1921, the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic was founded with Kharkiv as its capital.
In 1922, the USS was one of the founding nations of the USSR. The western Ukraine with Lemberg / Lwow remained under Polish jurisdiction until 1939.
Until 1924, that is, until Stalin's autocratic rule in 1928, Jews were declared equal to everyone else in the Soviet Union. In 1924, they began the process of 'deporting Jews to the countryside'. In 1927, Jews were resettled in Birobjian in the Biurejage Mountains near the Chinese border. In 1934, Birobjian was declared an 'autonomous Jewish district'.
From 1928-32, a national campaign was carried out in the USS against the 'Kulaks' (large landowners in Czarist Russia). Their estates were located primarily along the border to what is now Moldavia. The area was called the 'grain belt of old Russia'. (This area was also later of immense economic interest to the National Socialists.)
The grain requisition and forced collectivization in the area of agriculture, which also affected middle-sized farms, led to a time of famine during the winter of 1932-33 resulting in the death of at least one million people in the USS. The number of victims in the entire Soviet Union is estimated to be about six million. Exact figures are still not available today.
The severe economic crisis and the strengthening of anti-Jewish parties and movements all over Europe led to a rejuvenation of anti-Semitism in Poland as well. In the end, even the official state policy and the Catholic Church took on that attitude. In addition to the well-known accusations, Jews were also blamed for collaborating with the Bolsheviks. During the time from 1933 to 1939, the governmental relationship between Poland and Germany was extremely good. There were even visions of attacking the Soviet Union together. Similar to the Nazis, there were plans being made even within the State Department to send the Jews not only to Palestine, but also to Madagascar. In the autumn of 1938, following the German Empire's annexation of Austria, the Polish government took away the citizenship of 20,000 Jews living there, in order to prevent them from returning to Poland. After that, the National Socialists made their regulations regarding the deportation of Polish citizens more severe. In October, under cover of darkness, they transported 17,000 to 20,000 Jews to the border, in order to deport them. The Polish side closed its borders and countered by deporting German Jews.
In 1939, the western Ukraine was annexed by the Soviet Union in the course of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and became a part of the USS.
From 1941-44, the entire Ukraine was occupied by German and Romanian troops, who had signed a pact with the Germans. Galicia became part of the German General Gouvernement in 1941. Lots of the Ukrainians celebrated the German occupation troops as liberators and were signed up in the lists as ethnic Germans. The Ukrainians also joined the SS and Waffen SS regiments. Others became notorious overseers at German concentration camps. It often seemed as if these people who were 'only ethnic Germans' had to prove how German they were by being especially brutal in their treatment of the 'subhuman creatures'. Between five and eight million were killed during this period of National Socialistic occupation. Ukrainian Jewry was eradicated.
Towards the end of the Second World War, Stalin (and the Soviet Union) didn't only want Poland's western border to move further west because of the reparation demands. He also wanted to disrupt the long-term relationship between Poland and Germany. 1.6 million Poles were resettled from the former eastern regions of Poland to the former eastern regions of the German Empire. Especially members of the intelligentsia were deported from the cities.
The majority of those people living in the Soviet Union with its 1.125 million people who called themselves 'Poles' in 1990 are workers and peasants. But fewer and fewer of them can speak Polish nowadays.
While the signs became more evident that the Soviet Union was disintegrating, the 'Taras Chevtshenko Ukrainian Language Society' was founded in February 1989 in The Ukraine; the Ukrainian Memorial Society was founded in March 1989 in Kiev to investigate Stalinist crimes and repression as well as the famine of 1932-33; the right-wing nationalist party 'Narodni Ruch' was founded in September. Ukrainian became the official language in 1990, although a majority of the population in the eastern Ukraine and in Kiev speak Russian, and both languages are used equally often in politics and in the media. But in the western part of the Ukraine people speak Ukrainian.
After the Soviet Union collapsed and The Ukraine declared its independence in August 1991, the population's standard of living decreased tremendously. On the one hand, a large part of the population is barely surviving beneath the level of subsistence, although the state subsidizes bread, fuel for heating and public transportation. On the other hand, there is a small class of 'nouveau riche' which is nearly identical with the class of functionaries. One result of this disparity is the enormous increase in crimes during recent years.
The explosion of the reactor in Chernobyl contaminated the western Ukraine. The sarcophagus, the concrete shell surrounding the reactor, threatens to collapse. A second shell would cost about 1.3 billion dollars, a price The Ukraine is unable to afford.
The old mines and heavy industries have no money to modernize and add filtering equipment. High emissions of hazardous wastes are the result. Insufficient cleansing of water leads to the pollution of rivers and ground water. Consequently, drinking water is polluted by bacteria which acutely threaten people's health. Basic medical care is very limited due to the enormous changes and lack of equipment. Doctors and hospitals often require services to be paid in advance. As a result, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid and other diseases which can't be combated by means of vaccines are spreading.
The small town of Drohobycz is situated at the eastern base of the Carpathian Mountains in a gentle landscape surrounded by sleepy villages. Jews were first mentioned here in the 15th century. Drohobycz was one of the most significant centers of Jewish culture in Europe before the Second World War. IN 1939, the population of Drohobycz consisted of 36,000, whereby 17,000 were Jews.
When the Wehrmacht marched in, they brought along the specialists of the Carpathian Oil Corporation and sent them to the eastern Galician oil region in the swamps to the south of Drohobycz. The Carpathian Oil Corp. set up its own work camp near Borislav in the county of Drohobycz. The large majority of the 1,000 captives were Jewish laborers who wore an 'R' for 'refinery' next to their star.
The Germans established 'Ukrainian Security Units' all over the county of Drohobycz. Their personnel was recruited among the local anti-Semites.
Most of the Jews were murdered in Belzec, the extermination camp. But many of them were also shot in the forest of Bronica, outside of town on the road to Sambor. 'General of the Jews' Landau described it in his war diary:
"At 6 a.m., I am suddenly wakened from a deep sleep. Fall in line for an execution. Alright, I'll play the role of the executioner and after that the gravedigger. Why not? It is strange. A man who loves to fight has to shoot up defenseless people. 23 are supposed to be shot. Among them are the two women I already mentioned. They even refuse to drink a glass of water. I'm told to be one of the sharpshooters. I'm supposed to shoot any prisoners who attempt to escape. We drive along the road for a few kilometers. We then go to the right, into the forest. We are only 6 men at the moment, and we are looking for a suitable place to shoot and bury them. After a few minutes, we found a spot. The condemned line up with shovels to dig their own graves. Two of them are crying. The others are amazingly courageous... The condemned are divided into three shifts, since we don't have enough shovels here. It's strange, but I don't feel anything inside me. No sympathy - nothing - that's how it is - so everything's okay for me... The hole slowly gets bigger. Two have collapsed from crying. I always let them dig longer, so they don't think too much. While they're working they are actually calmer. All their valuables, like watches and money, are place in a pile. The two women are taken to the one end of the ditch after everyone has been taken to a clearing nearby. Six men have been chosen to do the shooting.
3 men are to aim at the heart and 3 at the skull. I take the heart. The shots ring out, and brain matter is sprayed everywhere. That's too much: two shots at the skull. The skull is literally ripped away. Almost all of them drop to the ground without a sound. But with two of them it doesn't work. They cry and whine for a long time. The next to the last group has to throw those who have already been shot into the mass grave. Then they have to line up themselves, and they fall in all alone. The last two have to stand right on the edge, so they fall in correctly. Some of the dead bodies are resituated with the rake, and then we begin to do our work as gravediggers. I'm dead tired by the time I get back, and we have to start our work. We have to clean up everything in the building."
By 1944, only 400 Jews had survived in Drohobycn.
A small new Jewish community has been established in Drohobycz today. It consists primarily of elderly people. Most of them are survivors of the Shoah. Some of them live very lonely lives and often under very poor conditions in ramshackle buildings. In the spring of 1978, the roof truss of the 160-year-old Drohobycz synagogue, which was once the nicest in all of Galicia, burned down. Apparently, someone manipulated the fuse box.
FINDING PICTURES – a film by Benjamin Geissler
Christian Geissler, Alfred Schreyer, Harry Zeimer
Apolonia Klügler, Vladimir Protasov †
Dora Kacnelson †, Mauricy Weiss †,
Nadija Kalushna, Larisa Kalushna - Ukraine -
Emmanuell Weintraub, Alfred Schönfeld † (OFF) - Paris -
Yehuda Bronicki, Benio Löffelstiel, Moussia Zeimer,
Maria Biermann (OFF) - Israel -
and the Officials ...
Jerzy Ficowski, Schulz Biographer - Warsaw, Poland -
Agnieszka Kijowska, Marek Wojciech Chmurzyñski
- Experts of the Polish Cultur-Ministery Warsaw, Poland -
Boris Wosnyzkyj - L'viv / Lemberg / Lwow
- Expert of the Ucrainian Cultur-Ministery Kiev, Ukraine -
Wolfram Koch, Disrict Attorney, Stuttgart, Germany
Tuviah Friedman, Institute of Documentation in Israel
for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes - Haifa -
Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, Director Righteous Among the
Nations Department, Yad Vashem - Jerusalem, Israel -
Teja-Udo Landau, Maria Landau - Vienna -
Wolf-Dieter Landau (OFF), Janina Landau (OFF) - Australia -
and many others more
Idea: Christian Geissler
Research, Treatment, Director, Camera, Effects, Editing: Benjamin Geissler
Sound: Marek Słąski
1. Assistant director: Yuriy Prokhasko
2. Assistant directors: Roman Dubassevych, Thomas Geldmacher
Producer: Benjamin Geissler
Executive producer: Peter Stockhaus
Music: Guglielmo Pagnozzi
Mixing: Markus Braak
Editor: Beate Schönfeldt
A Benjamin Geissler Filmproduktion with financial support by: Filmförderung Hamburg,
kulturelle Filmförderung des Bundes (BKM), Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung,
kulturelle Filmförderung Mecklenburg - Vorpommern · in co-operation with arte / mdr
© Benjamin Geissler Filmproduktion MMII
Length in 35mm: 106'15" Min. Color , Stereo /Screen ratio: 1:1.85
Length in Video (DVD, VHS + Beta SP / Digi-Beta): 102'10" Min. Color, Stereo / Screen ratio: 16:9
Original version: in German, Polish, Ukrainian, English, Russian, French and Aramaic with English subtitles
Other versions: Original version with German subtitles · Also available on Betacam SP, VHS (PAL), with English subtitles also available in VHS (NTSC)
Locations: Drohobycz, Est-Galizia / Ukraine; Israel; Austria; France; Germany; Poland
Shutting time: January 2001 - February 2002.
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Distribution in 35 mm - English / German Version: