20 March 2011

Library of Congress: Szyk Haggadah program, April 4

In the mid-1930s, Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk created a haggadah in the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

The Szyk Haggadah will be displayed on Monday, April 4, at a Library of Congress program marking the Abrams publication of a new facsimile edition, with translation and commentary by Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin and Irvin Ungar.

The original Haggadah is housed in the LOC's Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Ungar's talk - "Arthur Szyk and His Passover Haggadah: A Library of Congress Treasure" - will take place at noon, Monday, April 4, in the African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room, Room 220, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street SE., Washington, DC. The talk is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required, but seating is limited.


Arthur Szyk (1894–1951) was an acclaimed artist, activist, illuminator and political illustrator. During World War II, his anti-Nazi caricatures were widely published in the United States, most memorably as covers for news magazines such as Time and Collier’s. For almost a decade, Szyk labored to create an elaborately illustrated haggadah that attacked the Nazis, but he could not find anyone willing to take the risk to publish his version of the Passover story. Szyk retold the ancient narrative as if it were an event unfolding in his own time, imagining the Hebrews as Eastern European Jews in need of a modern Exodus to the Land of Israel. His masterpiece was finally published in England in 1940, stripped of its anti-Nazi iconography.
Born of Jewish parents in Lodz, Poland, his early training was in Paris and Cracow. He served as artistic director of the Department of Propaganda for the Polish army regiment quartered in Lodz, 1919-1920. In 1921, he moved to Paris and lived and worked there for 10 years. In 1934, Szyk traveled to the US for exhibitions of his work, such as a Library of Congress exhibit of 38 miniatures commemorating George Washington and the Revolutionary period. In late 1940, after living for some years in the UK, he immigrated to the US.
In 2000, the Library of Congress celebrated the acquisition of several important original works by Szyk with an exhibition in the Swann Gallery titled "Arthur Szyk: Artist for Freedom." The display, which can be viewed online at www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/szyk, featured 17 representative works, from caricatures of Axis leaders to masterpieces of illumination such as the Szyk Haggadah.
A former pulpit rabbi, Ungar is CEO of antiquarian booksellers Historicana, founded in 1987. He has led the interest in Szyk; curated major museum shows, written and edited several books, and lectured internationally on the artist.

Jewish scholar and ethicist Sherwin has authored or edited 28 books and more than 150 articles and monographs. An Szyk authority, he has served on the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies faculty since 1970.

"The Szyk Haggadah" (128 pages, 48 color illustrations) is available from Abrams and nationwide bookstores and online ($40, hardcover; $16.95, paperback). Copies signed by Ungar will be sold at the April 4 event.

See an LOC online exhibit of some of Szyk's works here.

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