Jewish art in Poland, as in other places throughout the world, comes from two sources: art by Jews or art by gentiles about Jews.
Jews in Poland today produce art that is very heavily influenced by the Holocaust, either reflecting the horrors of the past or memorializing the victims. Lately there has been a revival of postcards and calendars that include collectable art. These items are available mostly at Jewish venues throughout Poland, such as synagogues, community centers and even cemeteries.
Clay figurine of rabbi, holding a coin, bought at the Warsaw airport.
The art produced by non-Jews falls into two categories. There are traditional portraits, which are copies of older art, predating the Shoah. One can find the typical rabbi studying, with a book in his hand, his head on his hand. It has been said that it looks as if the rabbi is contemplating the fate of his people more then being in deep study.
Also popular are the kitschy souvenirs, sold all over from kiosks to fancy gift shops, in old town squares and the airports. These invariably show a rabbi or the Polish concept of a rabbi. Full beard, hat, peyot, sometimes even a tallit is included. The one common feature to all these characters is a large “Jewish” nose. Another frequent feature is the placing of a one-gruz coin in the palm of the figure. Many people see this as a sign of the latent anti-Semitism that still exists in Poland.
Print of an old Jew holding a moneybag.
Younger artists are producing the other form of gentile art. You find very nice pieces coming out of the high school art classes that show a deepening respect and understanding of Judaism. In Czestochowa the local school has produced much material of “art based on Jewish ideas” and have sent a portion of its best work on tour.
Hand-carved wooden depiction of a rabbi, bought at a street fair in Wroclaw.
The material has been on exhibit throughout the U.S. and Israel and won numerous awards. The Krakow Jewish Festival is also a major source of Jewish Poster Art. The annual contest, to create the festival poster, has produced some amazing results of Jewish-related art. The posters are very well accepted throughout the art world and sold around the world.