United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Modern Moses, 1943
The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk
action -
not pity

survivor testimony
historical photo
historical photo
[USHMM #93727/Irvin Ungar through the Arthur Szyk Society;
Original dimensions: 10" x 10"]
Modern Moses, 1943
News of the April–May 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising and of Jewish resistance in other parts of eastern Europe inspired Szyk to create artworks glorifying these deeds. He was, after all, an artist who made public the heroic traditions of the Jewish nation. In 1939, Szyk had already depicted Jews actively engaged in the struggle against the Nazi aggressors in Poland. His images of Jewish ghetto fighters and partisans were the fitting counterparts of their fellow Jewish soldiers in the Allied armies.

Szyk here transposed the biblical figures of Moses, Aaron, and Hur into the 1940s, conveying the optimistic message that the Jews will triumph over Hitler, the latest incarnation of their hated biblical enemy Amalek. While Moses remains largely unchanged, the other figures bear mixed symbols. Aaron seems to have been transformed into a Jewish soldier who wears a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) to stress his religiosity and carries a rifle instead of a staff. Hur takes on the appearance of a ghetto resistance fighter.

[Survivor testimony:

Alisa (Lisa) Nussbaum Derman
Born 1926, Raczki, Poland

Describes partisan activities
1994 interview]

Lisa was one of three children born to a religious Jewish family. Following the German occupation of her hometown in 1939, Lisa and her family moved first to Augustow and then to Slonim (in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland). German troops captured Slonim in June 1941, during the invasion of the Soviet Union. In Slonim, the Germans established a ghetto which existed from 1941 to 1942. Lisa eventually escaped from Slonim, and went first to Grodno and then to Vilna, where she joined the resistance movement. She joined a partisan group, fighting the Germans from bases in the Naroch Forest. Soviet forces liberated the area in 1944. As part of the Brihah ("flight," "escape") movement of 250,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors from eastern Europe, Lisa and her husband Aron sought to leave Europe. Unable to enter Palestine, they eventually settled in the United States.

What do the partisans do? They really made it impossible for the German army to move. We cut down trees, and blockaded the roads. We put, we mined the entrances to where, where the, where the resisters lived, and this was called an otriad, the units where, where they lived. They, uh, cut down telephone wires and, uh, they made ambushes at times, dynamiting the roads, the, dynamiting also trains that went to the front. And, uh, in the very same token we helped Jews that were hiding in the woods, because there were Jewish young children, and also elderly people, women, that escaped, one in a family, that ran out of a probably ghetto that was either burning or everybody was being killed, and quite a few children. I mean, not, not in large numbers, no. And, uh, we saw they lived at first almost like wild, running from place to place and hiding and not never having enough food, some of them even died. But when we came in into the forests we made sure that the, uh, the farmers keep them and they watch over them for their safety, because we threatened the farmers, if something will happen to their safety that you will be punished and punished severely. And, uh, you'd be surprised, they'd listen, because they knew that we were, we had power.

A group of Jewish partisans in the Rudniki forest. Near Vilna, between 1942 and 1944.
[USHMM #04097]

A group of Jewish partisans in the Rudniki forest.

Near Vilna, between 1942 and 1944.

Jewish partisans in the Polesye region. Poland, 1943.
[USHMM #12193]

Jewish partisans in the Polesye region.

Poland, 1943.

Jewish Artist
Wartime Caricaturist
Szyk resources
Szyk resources



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