Henryk Hechtkopf Arts


Henryk Hechtkopf Arts

Throughout the decades after the war and until his death at the age of 94, Hechtkopf continued to document his fond memories of Polish Jewry from before the war in a series of paintings entitled “Yiddishe Parnosa” [Jewish occupations]. The collection includes dozens of drawings depicting various means of livelihood in the Jewish shtetl – the matchmaker, the fiddler, the glazier, the cobbler, and more. Many are depicted with a nostalgic humor, and all bear the mark of a historical determination to commemorate the spirit of a world long gone.

In October 2000, at the age of 90, Hechtkopf wrote of this collection: “The ‘Yiddishe Parnosa’ series which I gradually created over the years since my immigration in 1957 is based on my memories of life before the outbreak of the second world war. It now includes 50 black and white drawings and I do not yet feel the collection is complete, for many lively images ache within me of wonderful Jewish people busy in their various occupations, the vast majority of which were massacred by the Nazi beast, including nearly my entire family, including my mother, sister, and grandmother. These drawings are carved from the blood of my heart, and I have created them to counter the false opinion that Jews did not work but rather exploited the labor of others. I strongly suggest publishing an album of these drawings to serve as a memorial for this wonderful Jewry. Such an album should contain a short introduction by a distinguished personality and a scientific article of an important historian specializing in the Holocaust. The album need not be profitable – and the drawings should find their proper place in an important Jewish museum.”

Hechtkopf in Israel

Upon his arrival in Israel in 1957, Hechtkopf settled in Bat Yam, where he remained for the rest of his life, working as a painter and as an illustrator of books. Hechtkopf illustrated many of Israel's most popular children's books, working for the leading publication companies in Israel, in addition to publications in the USA. He is most famous for his children’s illustrations, easily recognizable to generations of Israeli children. These illustrations portray an innocence and light-heartedness that lie in stark contrast to the often heavy memories clouding many of his powerful surrealist paintings.

Hechtkopf felt deeply connected to his Jewish roots, as is evident in his drawings and paintings of Jewish topics, particularly Biblical stories. In his own words: “The Bible can be political, it can also be much more. For me it is much more – it represents a sense of connection and love stemming from my childhood, it is the inner realms of my people, it encompasses all that is human – it is morality, it is faith, it is ethics, it is the fundamental laws of humanity. It is beauty of language, it is the characteristics of mankind, love, hate, deceit, flattery, diligence, laziness, fear. It is the pride of a young nation who thousands of years ago brought forth a creation admired by all the world nations and is translated into all of its languages.”

Over the years, Hechtkopf employed styles ranging from realism to surrealism and exciting abstract, now remaining in private collections. He was also a portrait painter, capturing the images of young girls, children, laborers and tradesmen. In addition, his work includes several themed series of drawings, including: Polish landscapes, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Tzfat, Stories of Tzadikim, Biblical Stories, and others. In 1980, Hechtkopf was the only Israeli illustrator noted in an encyclopedia of great illustrators of the world "Something About the Author" – Commire, Gale Research, Detroit, Michigan, (Volume 17 p. 79).

While he employed different styles and techniques, his strong sensitivity and particular identity are evident in all his work. His wife passed away in 1989, and Hechtkopf in 2004, at the age of 94. While they left behind no heirs, Hechtkopf claimed that his paintings were his children.

Henryk Hechtkopf (1910-2004)

Who was Henryk Hechtkopf? An artist whose legacy is a rare collection of paintings in a variety of media, as well as illustrations for many children's books and Stories of The Tzadikim. Henryk Hechtkopf's work encompasses a range of subjects and artistic styles: biblical scenes and portraits, surrealism and abstract expressionism. His work is interesting not only by its own merits but because of the life story that stands behind it.

Henryk Hechtkopf was born to a Jewish family in Warsaw in 1910, the younger child of two. His father, Itzhak, was a merchant, and died when Hechtkopf was just over one year old. His mother worked as a midwife. The house was liberal and Hechtkopf received a secular education. He studied in the Hebrew Gymnasium "Chanoch" and then in Warsaw University. After obtaining his law degree, Hechtkopf became the first Jewish jurist to article at the Polish Supreme Court.

From early on, his artistic talent was evident. At the age of 10 he began studying art from the renowned artist Henryk Berlewi who taught him until 1927. When Berlewi moved to Paris, Henryk studied with Wladislaw Weintraub, who later perished in Treblinka. His art first appeared in 1932 in an exhibition held by the "Jewish Society for Promotion of Art." The next year, he became a member of the Society and participated in the Society’s exhibitions every year until the outbreak of WWII.

Documenting Polish Jewry

While Hechtkopf's work was always very strongly informed by his Jewish background, drawing on religious symbolism and Jewish life in the Shtetl, his experiences during WWII were to have a profound impact on his work. At the beginning of the war, he retreated with the Polish army east into the Soviet Union, where he was captured and sent to work in a series of forced labor camps. After the war, he returned to Poland to find that his whole family had been massacred in the Holocaust. Hechtkopf's drawings in the weeks following his return to Warsaw portrayed the ruins of the ghetto and the city which surrounded it. Twenty-four of these works were purchased by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel. Yehudit Shendar, the art curator of Yad Vashem has commented on the strong impact that Hechtkopf's work has on the viewer, as a first-hand account of destruction and despair. This collection of 24 drawings was published in a limited edition in 1960 by Yad Vashem. Hechtkopf designed in 1949 the first Polish stamp commemorating the Holocaust, and won first prize in an international competition for posters on the theme of Holocaust and heroism. He also illustrated the first books to appear in Yiddish after the war (“Yiddish Buch” publications).

After the war, Hechtkopf was offered a position as a judge in Warsaw, but decided instead to move to Lodz, which was then the center of artistic life in Poland. In Lodz, he met his wife Alla. He helped establish the Jewish artist's society in Lodz, which he headed from 1946 to 1951. He also taught film at the Lodz film school, where Roman Polanski numbered among his students. Hechtkopf was also a filmmaker. Together with Jan Batory, Hechtkopf directed Poland's first post-war non-documentary successful film, "Forbidden Melodies" (1956), as well as Podhale w Ogniu (1956) [Podhale on Fire], and “The Soldier of Victory” (1950-1952) which he directed together with Wanda Jakubowska, in addition to at least another two films.

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