That he was a genius was undeniable. Even from the little of his work that has survived it can be seen that artist and writer, Bruno Schulz was a genius. He was born in the small town of Drohobycz in 1892, which was then part of Galicia, a province of Austro-Hungary. Schulz lived a quiet, seemingy ordinary life - he taught art classes during the day, and by night dedicated himself to his writing and art.
His first exhibition was held in Warsaw in 1922. By the end of the decade he was writing the stories which would bring him fame, and would lead to the publication of his book The Street of Crocodiles in 1933. By 1938, Schulz was well on his way to becoming an internationally respected author.
This all changed with the Second World War, when Germany invaded Drohobycz in 1941. Recognizing that his life was in severe danger, Schulz began to send as much of his writing and art to his gentile friends across Europe. This included a hand-written copy his unpublished magnum opus The Messiah (allegedly sent to Thomas Mann), the manuscript for which has never been found.
Being Jewish, Schulz was placed under arrest, and was to be sentenced to a work camp or executed. Because of his artistic talents, Schulz was favored by the brutal Gestapo officer, Felix Landau, who was in charge of the extermination of Galician Jews. Landau admired Schulz’s talents, and as he was also in charge of the Jewish labor programs, had Schulz decorate his apartment, painting murals on his son’s nursery room. This position allowed Schultz certain privileges and some protection. It also gave him time to think and plan his escape.
On November 19th 1942, Schulz was walking through the Aryan District to his home in the Jewish ghetto. He walked past the labor exchange at 44 Mickiewicz Street, where the previous year Landau had rounded up 350 Jews and executed them in cold blood. As Schulz reached the corner of Czacki street, leading to the entrance of the ghetto, he was stopped by Gestapo officer, Karl Günther. Günther smiled, placed his Luger against Schulz’s temple, and shot him twice in the head, killing himself instantly.
Günther later told Landau he did it as an act of retaliation, ‘You killed my Jew - I killed yours.’
Today, all we have left of Schulz’ work are his drawings, letters, a handful of short stories, and the novels (or connected stories) The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Schulz’s work is beautiful, poetic, dream-like and mythic, and has been described as producing ‘the metaphysical feeling of the strangeness of existence.’ In 1986, the Brothers Quay made their classic stop-motion animation interpretation of The Street of Crocodiles, which compliments Schulz’s tales, rather than gives a literal interpretation.
Bonus documentary on Bruno Schulz, aftter the jump…