Photo Credit:
Jonasz Stern, Scena podwodna, 1969, kolaż / płótno, 67,5 × 83,3 cm, courtesy of J.J. Grabscy.

The recorded testimony of Jonasz Stern at the Yad Vashem digital collection relates: “Testimony of Jonasz Stern, born in Kalusz, Poland, 1904, regarding his experiences in the Lvov Ghetto, his rescue from shooting in killing pits during the liquidation of the Lvov Ghetto, in hiding, in Budapest, in Romania, and in other places.”

The transcribed account follows:

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“Escape from Krakow to Lvov with his wife, at the outbreak of the war; move from apartment to apartment, after the occupation of Lvov; deportation to the Lvov Ghetto, November 1941; Lvov Ghetto life including overcrowding, hunger and the lack of means of existence; “Aktion,” August 1942; obtains Aryan documents for his wife, and her move to Stryj; capture of the witness, May 1943; deportation to Janowska camp with 3,000 Jews; concentration of thousands of Jews in a field for two days, without food or water, and shooting into the crowd by the Germans; transfer of 7,000 men, women and children who are naked, in railroad cars to Belzec; escape from the train through a window which he broke when they were 6.5 kilometers from Lvov; return to the Lvov Ghetto for ten days, until the liquidation of the ghetto; deportation of thousands of Jews to Janowska camp, mid-June 1943; transfer of the Jews to the killing site in Hyclowa Gorka, the next day; escape from the shooting pit, after ten hours among the corpses of the dead and the wounded people; hides in fields and in a forest, and receives help from the local farmers, in particular from Poles from Poznan who resided in Sknilow; return to Lvov, and hides with the help of Polish friends; move to Rozniatow by train; walks on foot through the mountains and illegally crosses the border into Hungary; he is attacked by a shepherd before crossing the border, who beats him and steals his belongings; move to the Hungarian side, after wanderings in the mountains for eight days; arrival to Budapest with the help of local people; life under the protection of the Polish Committee, until the German occupation of Hungary; move to Romania, summer 1944; capture by the Gestapo, and release after the intervention of Endre Laszlo, a commander of the Hungarian Gendarmerie in a town near Budapest; life in Budapest; liberation by the Red Army.”

The account concludes with the following heartbreaking lines: “Receives information regarding the return of his wife to Krakow during the war, and that she willingly presented herself to the Gestapo, due to her lack of means of existence and exhaustion.”

Other than that, Painter Jonasz Stern left a permanent mark on the Polish art of the 20th century. Before the war, he was a member of the first Grupa Krakowska (Krakow Group), and in 1957 he co-founded Grupa Krakowska II, with members including Maria Jarema and Tadeusz Kantor. These were the two most significant artistic formations in Poland. The pre-war Group experimented with form and manifested its left-wing stance, the majority of members affiliated to the KPP, the Communist Party of Poland.

After the war had erupted, Stern fled from Krakow to Lvov. Of his paintings only one remains, the Nude Study from 1935, which is now part of the collection of the National Museum in Krakow.

After the war, Stern became a philosopher, reflecting on life, its transience and dignity. In his assemblages, he expressed his thoughts using simple symbols: scrunched-up fabric, animal and fish bones, stones, netting and – occasionally – photographs. The drama of his paintings is entirely devoid of pathos. Stern created a universe of abstract landscapes left by a world annihilated.

Jonasz Stern – Landscape after the Holocaust

Aug. 5 – Sep. 25 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (MOCAK), 4 Lipowa St. 30-702 Kraków, Poland. Tuesday–Sunday 11 AM – 7 PM, Monday – closed. phone +48 12 263 40 00.

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