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2017-08-06

They killed me today, I'm still alive, but I won’t last much longer

‘They killed me today, I'm still alive, but I won’t last much longer’ – these words the dying painter, Roman Kramsztyk, allegedly spoke to Samuel Puterman.

It probably occurred on August 6, 1942 in the basement of the tenement house at 5 Elektoralna Street in Warsaw. In this townhouse Kramsztyk lived in a small attic room. There he was at about 10:00 am caught in a roundup, with Germans dragging the Jews out of their houses and rushing them to the Umschlagplatz. 5 Elektoralna Street in Warsaw was Kramsztyk's last address.

Ilustracja

Roman Kramsztyk at his exhibition in Warsaw, 1932, photo: NAC    

Kramsztyk was strongly attached to Warsaw. It was the birthplace of his parents as well as his own – he was born there in 1885, there he grew up and went to school. In his adult life, although he lived in Paris, he would return to Warsaw as often as he could. 

In Warsaw Kramsztyk started to study drawing under the tuition of Zofia Stankiewicz and Miłosz Kotarbinski as well as Adolf Edward Herstein. He continued his studies at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts. During the 1903-1904 semester he was taught by Józef Mehoffer. For the next three years he studied painting in Munich. However, he had not graduated from any university. In the period 1910-1914 he lived in Paris where he was a member of the Society of Polish Artists in Paris and the Polish Artistic and Literary Society in Paris. During the First World War he stayed in Warsaw and Krakow. In 1922 he was one of the founders of the ‘Rhythm’ Association of Polish Artists. In the same year he moved permanently to Paris. He tried to visit Poland every summer.

Ilustracja

Roman Kramsztyk, Portrait of Irena Kramsztyk née Zylbermintz, 1920s, Central Judaica Database / POLIN Museum    

Kramsztyk's works can be included in a classical-realist trend. In the latter period, the painter often referred to Renaissance art. Kramsztyk exhibited his works at exhibitions in Cracow, Warsaw, Lvov and also in Barcelona, Paris and Brussels. In 1937 he took part in the International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Paris and in 1939 at the World Exhibition in New York. His creativity was characterized by diversity. He painted landscapes, still lives, acts and portraits. He portrayed persons belonging to the cultural elite: painters (Moses Kisling, Leopold Gottlieb), writers (Jan Lechoń, Anna and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz) and the stage artists. 

In the summer of 1939, Kramsztyk came to Warsaw for his mother's funeral. He was in Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II. In 1940 he was sent to the Warsaw ghetto and, despite being offered help in escaping it, he did not decide to take it up. Initially, he lived with his friends, Jerzy and Izabela Gelbardów, at Sienna Street. From there he moved to a small room in the attic at 5 Elektoralna Street.

Ilustracja

Roman Kramsztyk, Still life, around 1912, National Museum in Warsaw   

Drawings from the ghetto reflect the nightmare of everyday life – hunger, disease and death. Unfortunately, only a small part of these drawings survived. Few were kept on the so-called Aryan side or got hidden in the Ringelblum Archive. On August 6, 1942, during the Great Action, Kramsztyk was shot by Germans in the courtyard of the tenement house where he lived. His acquaintance, a painter, Samuel Puterman, working in the ghetto as a policeman of the Jewish Order Service, found him wounded. Puterman gave an account of this encounter:

‘Kramsztyk went to his flat for a few pencils, at ten he was surprised by the blockade, he had no place to hide. An accidental bullet got stuck in his lungs, he fell imbrued in blood, unconscious. The Germans left him sprawled out in the yard. It was only a few hours later when the screams and gunshot noise abated, those hidden in the shelters went out into the yard and took him to the basement. A doctor that was there gave him a few injections, but offered no hope. […] He had a high fever, was conscious, then hallucinated again. I did not have the courage to leave, he caught me with a burning stare. He tightly held my hand. ‘Tell them, mister, comrade, to paint. Tell them goodbye from me.’ I had to give him a solemn oath that I would persuade his colleagues to paint, after the war, the scenes from the history of the ghetto. Let them cast acts, portraits and still life, the world must learn about these crimes. Tell them that Kramsztyk asked them to paint scenes from the ghetto. To sacrifice everything, let the world know about the bestiality of the Germans. " [Quotation from: Pamiętniki z getta warszawskiego. Fragmenty i regesty (Diaries from the Warsaw Ghetto. Fragments and regestas) edited by M. Grynberg, Warsaw 1988, pages 250-251]. 

Aleksandra Król

Bibliography:

  • Kossowska I., Roman Kramsztyk, [w:] Culture.pl [online] http://culture.pl/en/artist/roman-kramsztyk [access from: July 25, 2017].
  • Piątkowska R., „Intra muros”  Roman Kramsztyk w getcie warszawskim ( ‘Intra muros’ – Roman Kramsztyk in the Warsaw Ghetto), „Kwartalnik Historii Żydów” 2002, no 2, pages 195-205.
  • Piątkowska R., Między „Ziemiańską”, a Montparnasse'em (Between ‘Ziemiańska’ and Montparnasse), Warsaw 2004.
  • Piątkowska R., Tarnowska M., Roman Kramsztyk 1885-1942: wystawa monograficzna (monography exhibition), February-March 1997, Warsaw 1997.

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