Ukraine/Israel -- Finally! Removed (or Stolen) Bruno Schulz Murals Go On View

Ruined Drohobych synagogue, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Back in 2001, Yad Vashem’s secret removal from Ukraine of Holocaust-era wall paintings by the Polish-Jewish artist Bruno Schulz touched off an international controversy. You can find links to a number of articles on the affair, including a New York Times op-ed by Sam Gruber, on the Ukraine page of the web site -- click HERE then scroll down.

Yad Vashem officials physically removed parts of the murals, which have fairy tale themes, from the walls of a villa in the town of Drohobych and smuggled them out of the country to Jerusalem.

In a statement, Yad Vashem said it had the “moral right” to the paintings.

"The correct and most suitable place to commemorate the memory of the Jewish artist, Bruno Schulz -- killed by an SS officer purely because he was a Jew -- and the place to house the drawings he sketched during the Holocaust is Yad Vashem," it said.

But the move triggered outrage in Poland and Ukraine, where Schulz's works are revered as national treasures -- and where removal of art from the wartime period is strictly regulated by national law. It also drew sharp reaction from international experts involved in the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage.

Now, with the dispute settled and the mural fragments restored and conserved, Yad Vashem is finally putting them on display -- it presented them publicly last week.

The exhibition "Bruno Schulz: Wall Painting Under Coercion," includes fragments of three murals depicting dwarfs, princesses, horses and carriages, along with images evoking Schulz's struggles during the Holocaust. ...

The dispute was settled last year; Israel recognized the Schulz works as the property and cultural wealth of Ukraine, and the Drohobychyna Museum in Ukraine agreed to give them to Yad Vashem on long-term loan.

Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Vladislav Kornienko took part in Friday's inauguration of the new display at Yad Vashem.

"The paintings have artistic, cultural, national and historic significance both to the Jewish people and the Ukrainian people," he said. "For almost 60 years these paintings were considered legend. Today, they are revealed to this generation and to generations to come."

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