Arthur Szyk, the Polish Jewish artist, who has been acclaimed as the greatest living illuminator, is returning to Poland after a stay of several months in this country where two exhibitions of his illuminated manuscripts have attracted much attention. He is planning to return to the United States in the autumn with his complete works.
Mr. Szyk, as an artist, is reflecting honor both on Poland and the Jews, even as Pilichowski did as a painter, as Glizenstein does as a sculptor, as Sholom Asch does as a novelist, and as scores of other Polish Jews who have distinguished themselves in the arts, in science, in music and literature. Artists, musicians, authors, scientists truly represent the spirit of their nations and their countries, transcending the frontiers of prejudice and of religious or racial differences. They portray the characteristic qualities of their people: Without even attempting to do so, they unite peoples instead of dividing them. They mirror the finer ideals of their people, even though they may be realistic in their art. They are the unaccredited ambassadors of good-will and sympathetic understanding and of the eternally beautiful and truthful, the symbols of civilization by which their nations are judged and evaluated.
Mr. Szyk has created a series of masterpieces that not only attain the heights of artistic achievement but that are also a distinct contribution toward a better understanding between the Poles and the Jews of Poland. His series of illuminated pages of the historic Statute of Kalisz, as beautiful in craftsmanship as any of the finest examples of illumination in the Middle Ages, bring to life a glorious period in Polish history of which the Polish people may justly be proud. The Statute of Kalisz, the Magna Carta of equal and human rights, issued to the Jews of Poland by Boleslaw the Pious, the ruler of Poland, in 1264, is a document that may well remind the rulers of various countries today that seven hundred years ago religious bigotry was concretely outlawed in Poland, that the anti-Jewish ritual murder myth was officially denounced and that genuine tolerance was written into the laws of Poland of those days. There have been many evidences of sincere friendship between the Poles and the Jews for centuries. Jewish culture flourished in Poland. Jewish learning and idealism thrived in Poland.
During Poland’s oppression under Tsarist Russia, the Polish people were persecuted even as the Jews were persecuted. The Tsarist government, the reactionary Black Hundred organization, which tried to crush both these oppressed nationalities, and which finally destroyed itself as well as the Romanoff dynasty, endeavored to create strife and dissension between the Polish people and the Jewish people in order that both shall remain weak and subjected to the Tsarist misrule. Unfortunately the seeds of Tsarist anti-Semitism were thus implanted in a certain portion of the Polish people. Poland was liberated again through the World War, with the aid of Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House. At the Peace Conference Poland was saved by that great artist, Ignace Paderewski, who was regarded as the real representative of the Polish people, rather than Dmowski, who misrepresented the Polish people by his Russian-infected intolerance, bigotry and prejudice.
Poland has been liberated from the yoke of Russia, Austria and Germany. The destructive vices of Tsarism belong to the scrapheap of discredited history. Poland cannot afford to indulge in the costly luxury of permitting the disintegrating heritage of Tsarism to undermine the well-being of all the people that constitute the republic of Poland. Still less can Poland afford to permit the influence of Nazism, which is a combination of hate, bigotry and war-madness, to gain a foothold on her soil.
Poland needs peace at home and with her neighbors, in order that the Polish State may continue to develop as a factor for peace and stability and economic recovery.
The destructive influences of Tsarism and of Nazism should be staunchly resisted by the entire Polish people, if they wish Poland to remain free and independent. When these vicious elements are eliminated, the historic friendship between the Polish people and the Jewish people will also be re-established, for the good of both.
Mr. Szyk’s illuminated Statute of Kalisz is a work of great beauty and tremendous political significance, which is destined to help cement Polish-Jewish friendship.