cover image Bruno Schulz: An Artist, a Murder, and the Hijacking of History

Bruno Schulz: An Artist, a Murder, and the Hijacking of History

Benjamin Balint. Norton, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-86657-5

Cultural critic Balint (Kafka’s Last Trial) probes the inner world of Polish Jewish artist and writer Bruno Schulz (1892–1942) in this spellbinding biography. Raised in Drohobycz, Poland (present-day Ukraine), Schulz gained entry into Eastern Europe’s thriving literary and art circles only to have his career cut short when the Red Army invaded Poland in 1939. During the subsequent Nazi occupation, Schulz’s erotic drawings, depicting “masochistic scenes... of men groveling at women’s feet,” attracted the attention of SS officer Felix Landau, who made Schulz his “personal Jew”—entitling the artist to protection and extra rations—and forced him to paint a series of murals on the walls of Landau’s villa and other buildings. Though Schulz’s friends in Warsaw conspired to help him escape Drohobycz, he was shot dead on a street corner in November 1942. Balint describes how Schulz’s “phantasmagoric” stories influenced Isaac Bashevis Singer, Philip Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer, and others, and details the international furor when Israeli agents pried Schulz’s murals from the walls of Landau’s former villa and sent them to Yad Vashem for display. Throughout, Balint’s dogged research and lucid analyses shed light on the interplay between Schulz’s psychology and his art. It’s a fascinating portrait of the artist in extremis. Illus. (Apr.)