A local art gallery hosted a display marking the 110th anniversary of the birth of Bruno Schultz, the great Jewish Polish artist and writer. He wrote in Polish and lived in Drohobych, Halychyna. Experts believe that this place formed his creative outlook. It was also in Drohobych that he died in 1942, during the Nazi occupation.
The exposition includes three pictures from the gallery stock, ten watercolor prints from the Mickiewicz Literary Museum in Warsaw, a 1916 pencil drawing (displayed for the first time), rare publications, leaflets, and publications dedicated to him, and five frescoes based on children’s tales and restored by Bruno Schultz in 1942 (shortly before his death) at the so-called Landau Villa in Drohobych. The reader might well recall that his name made headlines across the world because of those frescoes, part of which were transferred to Israel. Moreover, when this detective story surfaced last May it triggered an international scandal.
At the time, the former Landau Villa, then inhabited by an elderly couple, was visited by people later identified as officials of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel. With the tenants’ consent they dismantled and packed some of the frescoes that would later surface in Israel. How could this have happened? Why did Drohobych authorities fail to react to such an unlawful act? How were the frescoes smuggled out of Ukraine? Finally, why has Ukraine not demanded that Israel return the loot?
“The last one is perhaps the easiest to answer,” says Borys Voznytsky, manager of the Lviv Art Gallery. “In response to all our letters of protest the Israeli side says something like what do you expect us to do, we have a gift certificate covering the frescoes and issued by the current owners of the former Landau Villa, meaning the whole transaction is legitimate.”
Perhaps it is, but if so, why try to keep the whole thing secret? Why did the Drohobych authorities “remember” Bruno Schultz’s creative heritage only after the whole affair became public knowledge, primarily thanks to Ukrainian and foreign media (among them Polish and German periodicals)? What steps have the Ukrainian authorities taken to clarify the matter? Only one thing is certain today: former Drohobych Mayor Oleksiy Radziyevsky lost face and his career because of the fresco scandal. He was voted out. As for the competent authorities, Borys Voznytsky says he was several times interviewed by SBU and militia officers and at the prosecutor’s office. Every time it was about the value of the frescoes now in Israel and what he personally thought had happened in Drohobych.
“I told them all I knew, but I had more questions than I did answers. For example, how were the frescoes smuggled out of Ukraine? Those were frescoes, not something you could hid in your glove box. It was a heavy bundle.”
Indeed, more questions than answers remain. The only consolation is that the media coverage has helped thousands upon thousands of people to learn about Bruno Schultz, including Lviv oblast where only a handful of experts had known his name. Now books with his works are hard to buy and they will apparently have to be reprinted. Likewise, his exposition at the Lviv gallery attracted full houses. This is simply more proof that every cloud has a silver lining; the fresco fraud simultaneously dragged Schultz’s name from oblivion.
Meanwhile a memorial plaque was unveiled on a wall of the restored house in which the artist had lived. The legend is in Ukrainian, Hebrew, and Polish – perhaps because Bruno Schultz’s creative legacy belongs to three cultures. The granite plaque reads, “Bruno Schultz was an outstanding Jewish writer and artist, master of Polish literature.”