Dodging the Draft in the Old Country

Besides poverty and pogroms, forced conscription weighed heavily on European Jews

My great-grandfather, Meshulim (or Szulim) Nemeth, served in the Austro-Hungarian army for ten years, two months, and twenty days, plus another two years in the reserves. He completed his service in 1889, almost exactly a century after Jews first started serving in the Austrian military under Emperor Joseph II.

Meaning “farewell” in German, a document known as an Abschied was awarded to a soldier who had completed his required service in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Signed in Stanislawow (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine) in 1889, the Abschied for my great-grandfather, Meshulim, was printed in true Galician style – German on one half and Polish on the other – and was carefully preserved and passed down through our family.

Meshulim Nemeth’s Abschied, Stanislawow, 1889. (Courtesy: Sharon Taylor)

While many Jews like him served in the Empire’s military, others chose a different path.

In fact, evading the draft by any means available was commonplace, sometimes even elevated almost to an art form as documented in memoirs, Yizkor books, and even in a novel written by Nobel Prize laureate S.Y. Agnon.

For the son of a wealthy family, influence was commonly used to escape military service. With corruption rampant, military draft boards could often be bribed. By pulling strings and paying off officials, the sons of wealthy Jews and non-Jews were able to evade service altogether or to acquire desk jobs, serving as clerks in the military.

Well-to-do Austrian Jewish children, ca. 1900. From the Nirenstein Family Album, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

But even for the wealthy, bribery could only go so far. On occasion, word would spread that a particular draft board coming to town could not be bribed, creating a situation that required more drastic action. Young men of draft age who had the means would often travel, taking extended trips to evade conscription. Some chose to emigrate.

However, with poverty rampant, young men often lacked the funds to travel, emigrate, or bribe the draft board. Observant Jews feared that it would be impossible to adhere to a religious lifestyle while serving in the military, and others dreaded leaving their families and communities. Throughout Eastern Europe, these young men found ingenious ways to avoid military service. Repeatedly, Yizkor books (many of which are available via the JewishGen Yizkor Book Project) document both the desperation and creativity of these young men.

Austro-Hungarian cavaliers and Jewish boys in an unidentified early 20th century Eastern European town. Postcard Collection, National Library of Israel archives

Life in Jewish Tluste (today, Tovste, Ukraine) by Abraham Stupp, for example, describes some of the methods of evading conscription employed by the men in that Galician town. A few weeks before the draft board was due to arrive, eligible men would band together and stay up night after night, hoping to make themselves appear unfit for service when examined by the draft board. Known in the town as “sufferers,” they would spend their sleepless nights in groups, singing and shouting in an effort to stay awake. Trying desperately not to sleep, the sufferers often turned to mischief, deliberately waking their relatives in the middle of the night.

In Kalusz (now Kalush, Ukraine), young men would stay awake in the synagogue, hoping to make their eyes appear red and sickly for the medical examiners. As in other towns, by the early hours of the morning, these bored young men turned to pranks in order to keep themselves going. In the Jewish section of Kalusz, they would walk through the streets from house to house with a musician, waking the inhabitants with a serenade and requesting money. Those who refused their demands for payment became further victims of the pranksters. Returning later that night, the mischievous sufferers of Kalush would remove the wooden steps from the entrances to the attached shops of the residents who had refused to pay. In the morning, when those people tried to leave through their shop door, they would inevitably fall out of the house and onto the sidewalk.

The Landsmann Hotel in Kalusz, early 20th century. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the NLI Digital Collection

In Tlumacz (present-day Tlumach, Ukraine), young men were known to drink vinegar to slow the heart, or to rub their eyes with weeds to make them appear red and unhealthy. They practiced abstinence, fasting during the day and eating only at night. Attempting to make themselves look unfit for service, they gathered in the synagogue to keep each other awake. They spent their nights wandering through the sleeping town, playing cards, moving wagons from one house to another, and switching piles of firewood from the rich to the poor. Sometimes they would leave a bleating goat tied beneath the window of a sleeping family.

Back in the synagogue, the men were known to drink the congregational whiskey and refill the bottles with water. On Friday nights, they would steal trays of gefilte fish that were left out to cool for the Sabbath. Tales of their pranks were handed down from year to year, with each new batch of potential conscripts trying to outdo the exploits of previous groups.

Draft age men in Chorostkow (today’s Khorostkiv, Ukraine) spent three to four months depriving themselves of sleep so that they would appear weak and unfit for military service. In the town, these young men were referred to as “plaagers”. It has been noted that their efforts to avoid conscription were rarely successful.

For those who wanted to eliminate all chances of being drafted, self-mutilation was the most drastic option. Desperate to stay in their communities, draft age men were known to make themselves unfit for service by cutting off fingers or even blinding themselves in one eye.

Parents and communities generally supported efforts to avoid conscription, and mothers often boasted of the creative methods their sons used to evade the draft board and trick its medical inspectors. Practicing abstinence to avoid the draft became almost a rite of passage and a bonding experience for young men in countless shtetls.

This practice was so prevalent that it even played a key role in the novel, A Simple Story by S.Y. Agnon (published in Hebrew in 1935 by Schocken Publishers; published in English most recently in 2014 by The Toby Press). A Simple Story is set in Szybusz, a fictitious version of Agnon’s hometown, Buczacz (now Buchach, Ukraine). Agnon brings Szybusz to life, with its small Jewish shops, dusty streets, and Dickensian cast of townspeople.

S.Y. Agnon as a young man, 1908. From the S.Y. Agnon Archive, National Library of Israel

Shortly after his marriage, the main character, Hirshl Hurvitz, finds himself lying in bed awake, night after night, thinking about his lost true love and about the draft board which is on its way to town. It’s rumored that this draft board can’t be bribed, unlike the ones in past years. As a result, Hirshl fears that he will certainly be drafted. With the draft board traveling toward Szybusz, Hirshl’s anxiety and his unhappiness with his marriage deepen, and he stops eating.

Hirshl’s doctor recommends daily walks to improve sleep and appetite, so after working all day, Hirshl spends his sleepless nights walking, sometimes staying out until dawn. He begins drinking strong coffee during the day to stay awake, and as time passes, his melancholy and anxiety, as well as his lack of food and sleep, take their toll. Eventually, Hirshl suffers a complete and embarrassing public breakdown. Humiliated, his parents fear that Hirshl’s madness will cause them to lose their standing in the town.

Buczacz in the early 20th century. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the NLI Digital Collection

While Hirshl recovers at a mental asylum in Lemberg, his parents discover that all of Szybusz believes that Hirshl was simply practicing abstinence and that his breakdown was a performance aimed at evading the draft board and tricking its medical examiners. The townspeople even praise his ingenuity, noting that his methods were far preferable to cutting off a finger or blinding an eye to escape conscription. Since only his parents know the truth, once Hirshl recovers, he is able to return to his life in Szybusz without disgrace.

 A Simple Story is fiction, but this plot line is firmly based on practices that were widespread in Galicia at the time. After the fall of the Austrian Empire, the practice of abstinence and the tradition of draft evasion carried over into reborn Poland. Across the border in the Russian Pale of Settlement, draft evasion through emigration or “suffering” was also widely practiced.

As for my family, avoiding military service does not appear to have had any influence on my maternal grandfather’s decision to leave Europe. In February of 1911, just two years after he arrived in America, he enlisted in the U.S. Army serving for seven years and rising to the rank of sergeant. Because of his Austrian citizenship, he was honorably discharged a year after America entered the First World War.

Isidore Weisner at Eagle Pass, Texas,1917 (Courtesy: Sharon Taylor)

A version of this article first appeared as part of “Leaving Galicia – Poverty, Pogroms, and Draft Evasion” in the March 2020 edition of The Galitzianer, the quarterly journal of Gesher Galicia. It has been published here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

For more “Jewish Journeys”, check out our online exhibition launched in collaboration with AEPJ as part of European Days of Jewish Culture 2020.

Clothing to Corona, the Life and Legacy of Sir Montague Burton of Leeds

Born Moshe Dovid Osinsky, he was a giant of industry, welfare and charity knighted by the king

Montague Burton's Sun Room. Courtesy: West Yorkshire Archive Service

The photo comes from the West Yorkshire Archives and shows the Sun Room in the 1930s – at Montague Burton’s factory in Hudson Road, Leeds.

Who was Sir Montague Burton, what was his story and – perhaps most importantly – what can we learn from his legacy today?

Leeds, city of men’s clothing

First a bit of history – West Yorkshire used to be the textile manufacturing heartland of the UK. Leeds was men’s clothing; Bradford was wool; Halifax was carpets; Huddersfield was high quality cloth and engineering, especially for textile machinery; and Batley and Dewsbury were for shoddy – the recycling of rags.

The Jews came mainly to Leeds and it was a good partnership – Jews brought with them tailoring skills and Leeds was the expanding centre of the UK men’s clothing industry.

Production had moved from one individual making an item of clothing to a factory system with a distribution of labour – workers doing an individual task in the factory.

Montague Burton’s clothing factory, the largest in the world. Courtesy: West Yorkshire Archive Service

From Moshe to Montague

Sir Montague Burton, born Moshe Dovid Osinsky in the Kovno Province of Lithuania in 1885, came to the UK in 1900 aged 15 along with thousands of other Jews. He opened his first shop in Chesterfield in 1904 and when he was naturalised in 1910 he became known as “Morris Burton” living in Sheffield, but the shops were called “Montague Burton”.

Burton built up a chain of men’s clothing shops and by 1919 he had 40. In 1921, he acquired the land at Hudson Road, Leeds where he built his factory, which at its height employed over 10,500 people, the largest clothing factory in the world.

The photo from the 1930s of the Sun Room was when production was at its height. Burton, as a factory owner, was conscious of the need to look after his staff and the Sun Room was an example of a facility provided for the staff. There was a doctor, a dentist and medical facilities on site – it was a complete factory-town where staff were looked after.

Burton built a huge empire, was knighted in 1931 and died in 1952 aged 67.

Newspaper headline announcing Burton’s knighthood, published in The Sentinel on June 12, 1931

He was buried in Leeds but wanted to be buried in Harrogate – fifteen miles from Leeds where there was a Jewish community but at the time no Jewish cemetery. By 1964 there was a Jewish cemetery in Harrogate and Sir Montague and his wife, Lady Sophia, were reinterred in the new Jewish cemetery in Harrogate as the first burials.

Burton’s tombstone in Harrogate Cemetery. Photo: Nigel Grizzard

A legacy of industry and philanthropy

So what was Sir Montague Burton’s legacy?

Burton wasn’t the only clothing manufacturer in Leeds – there were many others, large and small, and the large players such as Burton were key players in the UK clothing industry.

From an employment perspective he built a huge manufacturing and retail empire. He gave the opportunity of working in a large factory to many first-generation Leeds Jews who became part of a Jewish industrial proletariat in Leeds.

He was a very generous funder of many institutions – he endowed a chair at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he funded charities and Jewish projects in Yorkshire.

His legacy lives on through the Jewish Museum in London, in Raymond Burton House, and his descendants were key arts funders in Yorkshire.

Letter from Montague Burton, signed in Hebrew, to the renowned poet Shaul Tchernichovsky regarding Burton’s support for a Hebrew University scholarship. Shaul Tchernichovsky Archive, National Library of Israel, image from the Genazim Institute: TSHERN-31378/2. Click image to enlarge

Clothing to corona

I arrived in Leeds in 1976 when the tailoring industry was still functioning, the next decade saw the decline as manufacturing was shipped overseas.

When I took young Jews round the former tailoring areas it wasn’t even a memory – it was too far removed from their current families.

Burton’s Factory today. Photo: Nigel Grizzard

Recently, I went down to the Hudson Road Complex where 10,500 people were employed. It is in Harehills, Leeds and the huge factory still stands. Only when you visit it do you realise how enormous it was. Today it is a clothing depot for Arcadia – a UK clothing chain store, a centre for ESOL (English as a Second Language) and additional small work places.

Most interestingly, during the PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic in April and May this year – the subject of the Leeds clothing industry was resurrected.

I go to an online morning service at the United Hebrew Congregation in Leeds and one of the clothing manufacturers now in his 90s lamented with a former colleague how they could have turned their factories into production centres for PPE rather than send RAF (Royal Air Force) planes to Turkey and China, as the British government opted to do given contemporary circumstances.

The photo of the women working in the factory harks back to a previous era when Leeds and the North of England was a manufacturing base.

The last few months have taught us many lessons and perhaps the most important one is that it would serve the United Kingdom well to restore its manufacturing base rather than be hostage to overseas suppliers.

Montague Burton would have agreed with that sentiment.


The story of the Montague Burton Sun Room is one of many featured on the recently launched “Hidden Treasures: Celebrating Jewish Archives in Britain” website. It has been published here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond. 

Pearl and the Golem-Maker: A Love Story

How the decades-long romance between the Maharal of Prague and his wife began

The teachings of Rabbi Judah Loew – better known as “The Maharal of Prague”, or simply “The Maharal” – are still widely learned centuries after his death.

An exceptional intellectual figure, the Maharal was also the legendary creator of the Golem of Prague – a creature formed from mud, brought to life thanks to secret mystical knowledge possessed by the wise sage, and let loose to defend the city’s Jews from all-too-common anti-Semitic attacks.

The Old-New Synagogue in Prague, where the Maharal served as rabbi. Some claim that the Golem still lies asleep in its attic. From The Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Though Rabbi Judah looms large in Jewish culture and lore, the woman behind the man has largely been lost to history.

Her name was Pearl.

Pearl and Rabbi Judah had seven kids together: six girls and one boy. They were married for some 65 years, passing away within just a few months of one other – first Rabbi Judah and then Pearl.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

According to an account retold in “Sefer Niflaot Hamaral“, an early 20th century collection of tales about the famous rabbi, this is how Pearl and Judah’s love story began:

Reb Schmelke Reich was a wealthy and respected figure who arranged for a marriage between his daughter Pearl and Judah Loew, a promising 15 year old Torah scholar.

Young Judah headed off to yeshiva to learn and in the meantime, Reb Schmelke’s fortunes reversed and he became very poor, unable to pay a dowry for his daughter to wed.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

Three years after the marriage was arranged, Reb Schmelke wrote to his son-in-law to be, letting him know that seeing as he could not afford a respectable dowry, the young man was freed of his commitment and didn’t have to marry Pearl after all.

The young man wouldn’t hear of it, writing back that he would wait for assistance from on high.

Reb Schmelke’s fortunes didn’t turn around, yet Judah continued to wait… and wait…. and wait…

The righteous young Pearl decided to help her parents out by opening a small bakery and selling bread to support her family. She worked in the bakery for ten years, while her betrothed continued learning Torah, waiting for the day he could marry his beloved.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

Then war broke out.

A horseman galloped up to Pearl’s shop, spearing a large loaf of bread that was sitting out.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

She courageously ran after the horseman, pleading with him not to steal the bread, explaining that her livelihood and those of her aging, impoverished parents depended on income from her shop.

The horseman argued that he had no money, not even enough to pay for a loaf of bread. Instead, he offered an extra saddle blanket he had with him, violently throwing it at her and riding away.

When the frightened Pearl went to inspect the blanket, she found it to be surprisingly heavy. So heavy, in fact, that when she picked it up, it ripped and gold coins came tumbling out.

She promptly gave the riches to her father who used them for the dowry, and after more than a decade of waiting, Pearl and Judah were married.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.


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The Nazis Failed to Destroy the Artist David Friedmann

Now his daughter is searching for his Nazi-looted and lost artwork

Since childhood I watched my father paint with an intensity and passion that struck a chord within me. I was intrigued about his successful prewar career and the fate of his Nazi-looted art. He had little to show from a collection of hundreds of paintings, drawings, lithographs and etchings. This fueled my passion to find these works and to rescue him from obscurity.

David Friedmann in 1936 in his apartment at Paderborner Strasse 9, Berlin-Wilmersdorf. In the background his painting of the Berlin Cathedral appears. After World War II, it was found in his sister-in-law’s apartment. Friedmann’s painting of the Schlossbrücke und Zeughaus (castle bridge and arsenal), today the German Historical Museum, also appears. These paintings are among hundreds of Nazi-looted and lost artworks.

David Friedmann was born on December 20, 1893, in Mährisch Ostrau, Austria-Hungary, now Ostrava, Czech Republic. He studied etching with Hermann Struck and painting with Lovis Corinth in Berlin. He painted some of the most important events in modern history, surviving World War I and World War II as an artist. Friedmann produced late impressionist landscapes, still lifes, interiors, nudes and achieved acclaim as a painter known for his portraits drawn from life. He exhibited at the Akademie der Kunst, Berliner Secession and numerous galleries throughout Germany and Czechoslovakia. His use of light and dark, his ability to convey expressions on faces, the composition, are all hallmarks of his work. With pencil and paper, he captured the great chess champions of the 1920s. In 1924, his quick-sketching skills launched a secondary career as a freelance press artist. He sketched hundreds of famous contemporary personalities from the arts, music, theater, sports, politics, and industry, published mainly in the Berlin newspapers and the radio-program magazine, Der Deutsche Rundfunk. Among the portrayed luminaries were Albert Einstein, Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, Max Liebermann and Emanuel Lasker.

“Richard Réti at the Chessboard”, Lithograph, 1923. This appeared in a portfolio entitled “Das Schachmeister Turnier in Mährisch Ostrau” and alternatively “Köpfe berühmter Schachmeister”. Five portfolios have been found. (© Miriam Friedman Morris; image courtesy of the National Library of the Netherlands)

Friedmann’s flourishing career in Berlin was terminated in 1933 by the Nazi regime. As each of his options narrowed, he continued to produce art illustrating the events and his personal experiences of the time. In 1938, Friedmann fled with his family to Prague, escaping from the Nazis with only his artistic talent as a means to survive. He depicted human fate as a refugee in Prague, as a prisoner in the Lodz Ghetto, in the Auschwitz subcamp, Gleiwitz I, and as a survivor. His wife Mathilde and little daughter Mirjam Helene were murdered in Auschwitz.

In 1941, the Gestapo looted his left-behind oeuvre in Berlin. He lost his studio furniture and materials, hundreds of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, etching prints and lithographs. After Friedmann’s deportation to the Lodz Ghetto, Nazi authorities looted his Prague art production. In 1946, when mail service from Berlin to Prague was finally restored, Friedmann received portrait prints and photos of his work in an album. The Prague portraits dated 1940 to 1941 gave face to numerous known and unknown victims — historically significant evidence of a dynamic Jewish community destroyed by the Nazi regime. Additional portrait prints were found at the National Museum in Prague, Beit Theresienstadt in Givat Haim (Ihud), Israel, and in two family-owned collections. Numerous works, including portraits and landscapes, surfaced at the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Surviving photos of still lifes painted by David Friedmann in 1939 and 1940 in Prague. His last residence before deportation to the Lodz Ghetto was Dušní 10 in the city’s Jewish Quarter.
These portrait prints by David Friedmann of Jakob Edelstein, František Weidmann and Herbert Langer were produced in 1940-1941 in Prague. The album was later gifted to the Yad Vashem Art Museum.

Artwork was systematically confiscated and sold at auction by the Nazi regime. The whereabouts of the remainder of Friedmann’s looted art is unknown.

Descriptive title: “At the Water’s Edge”, Oil on wood panel. Signed Dav. Friedmann lower left and dated 1932.
This was one of several paintings to later emerge in France with the red number “6198”, suggesting an auction sale reference number.

From his incarceration period, a portrait drawing of a Polish prisoner in Gleiwitz I was discovered at the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Evidence also surfaced of Friedmann’s work in the ghetto. His 1942 etching of the Lodz Ghetto bridge appeared as a header on pages of The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944. A handmade album with thirty-three drawings documenting the activities of a hat-manufacturing workshop (“ressort“) in the Lodz Ghetto in 1943 is also held in the collection of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

This colorized drawing is from a 1943 album by David Friedmann documenting the activities of a hat-manufacturing workshop (“ressort“) in the Lodz Ghetto.
(Photo credit: E. Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw; Inventory No. MŻIH B-419/24)

Liberated at age 51, an age significantly older than most survivors, Friedmann believed there was a reason he lived. The responsibility to bear witness weighed heavily on his conscience even before deportation. His burning desire was to show to the world the ruthless persecution and inhumanity as practiced by the Nazis, in the hope such barbarism would never happen again. Friedmann captured the scenes he could not erase from his memory — forced labor, torture, killings and the death march. He called the series, Because They Were Jews!

“Death March from Camp Gleiwitz I to Camp Blechhammer”, Oil, 1947. David Friedmann depicts himself as the prisoner with the eyeglasses as a reminder that his art is a first-person witness to evil. He was liberated at Blechhammer by the Red Army on January 25, 1945. (© Miriam Friedman Morris)

Friedmann continued to paint throughout his postwar journey. In 1948, in Prague, he wed Hildegard Taussig, a survivor of several concentration camps. Their marriage began at a refugee’s pace. One year later, the couple fled communist Czechoslovakia to Israel, where their daughter, also named Miriam, was born. He worked in a sign shop and contributed to the founding of Israel’s commercial art industry.

Every spare moment he painted for himself. Friedmann’s color palette changed to brighter, sun-filled hues as he left behind his old dark world to explore his newly adopted country. After two years, he established his own advertising business and freelanced for the newspapers, permitting more time for artistic pursuits. Besides portraits, he painted landscapes of Lake Kinneret, Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Naharia and Tiberias. Some works are signed “Dfri” in Hebrew letters Daled, Peh, Resh, Yod.

He also enjoyed painting the Yarkon River views and Hadar Yosef, where we lived. Sympathetic to the impoverished Jews who had emigrated from Yemen, he portrayed beggars on the streets to express their plight. David Friedmann had captured the landscape of the beginnings of the Jewish state. Decades later, I had immense pleasure tracking down the dramatically changed scenery he painted, now difficult to find or nonexistent.

“Yemenite Jewish Beggar”, Oil, 1950. From a private collection
“Street between Tel Aviv and Jaffa”, Oil, ca 1950. From the Miriam Friedman Morris Collection

Israel was a new state in poor economic circumstances. Undeterred by his being 61-years-old, Friedmann set his ambitions on America, arriving in New York in 1954. He had to forget what was hidden in his heart, the paintings from the concentration camps and make a living. Straight from the boat he auditioned for the billboard company, General Outdoor Advertising (GOA). He painted as fast as possible, because only this would save our family from poverty. GOA did not care about his age or that he barely spoke English.

They were impressed with an accomplished artist who painted with astonishing speed — the same skill that saved his life in 1944 in Gleiwitz I where Friedmann had improvised with primitive materials, making his own paints and brushes out of camp supplies to paint a mural across a barrack’s wall in order to show the SS officers his artistic ability and spare him from death. What could he produce to impress them? He thought of the Havel River, painted in Berlin with “white clouds in the blue sky, trees, and in-between a few small houses with red roofs, water, white sailboats and their reflections on the surface of the water.”

“Havel River Landscape, Berlin”, Oil, 1923. This painting hung for decades in the home of Andrea Kress, who became curious about David Friedmann. She learned about the artist’s daughter’s pursuit for lost art and sent this photo.

GOA moved the family first to Chicago and then to St. Louis. After only fifteen months in America, Friedmann had been appointed to the top artist position at this branch. Instead of pictures from the concentration camps, he painted the iconic Clydesdales and happy folks selling beer on two-story tall billboards. The new career brought recognition and satisfaction with life in America. In 1960, the Friedmann family became proud United States citizens and symbolically dropped the double “n” spelling of the surname.

After retirement in 1962, his art would not be silent. He produced a second series of Holocaust art to fight antisemitism and race hatred of all people. The David Friedman Exhibition opened in Baltimore, Maryland in 1965, marking 20 years after liberation, and was even reported in the Israeli press.

David Friedmann adds final touches to his charcoal drawing, “Liberation?” The artist depicts himself as the prisoner with eyeglasses. (Photo: Peter Rosvik, St. Louis, Missouri, 1964)

Friedmann died at the age of eighty-six on February 27, 1980. He is recognized internationally with works on permanent display at the Holocaust History Museum, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem; the St. Louis Holocaust Museum & Learning Center; and the Sokolov Museum in the Czech Republic. His works are in the collections of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland; and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, among other institutions and museums. Exhibition venues include the Berlin Philharmonic Hall in Germany, the Terezín Memorial in the Czech Republic, the United Nations Headquarters and the German Consulate General in New York.

In 1954, Friedmann was among the first to win restitution from Germany for Nazi-looted art. The sum incorporated claims for all his looted property. He continued to fight for justice. In 1961, the International Supreme Restitution Court in Berlin adjudicated an upward adjustment.

This painting by David Friedmann was found in a 2002 catalog for auction house Joseph Weiner. Although titled “Stilleben”, the appropriate title is: “Vase mit Anemonen” / “Vase with Anemones”, Oil, 1923. Last known location: Haidhausen Kunst und Antiquitäten GmbH, Munich, Germany
“Liegender Häftling” (“Lying Prisoner”), Charcoal, 1945.  Last seen in Israel, the location of this drawing of a Gleiwitz I concentration camp prisoner is unknown. The drawing, one of eight from the collection of Zeev Shek, was intended as a donation by his widow Alisa Shek to the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem. Three drawings from this collection are on permanent display at the Holocaust History Museum, Yad Vashem.

David Friedmann was a successful artist with both Jewish and non-Jewish clientele. Art was sold privately, at galleries, exhibitions and auctions. Fleeing the German Reich, most emigrants found it necessary to sell their art to finance an escape. Others managed to flee with their art.

Artwork often continues to find new owners — sold at auction or through private sales — purchased by people who are not known as collectors. Pieces are displayed on walls of family homes for generations, art they enjoyed all these years, not knowing the paintings have a history and the artist’s daughter is searching to find them. David Friedmann artwork has surfaced all over the world — the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Israel, Australia, China, Canada and the United States. I have started to find his prewar art just over the last two decades.

Every painting to emerge is a victory against the German Reich. David Friedmann made important contributions both in the realms of 20th century art and in the creation of materials that play a powerful humanitarian role in educating people about the reality of the Holocaust.

My goal is to publish a catalogue of his works, evidence of the brilliant career the Nazis could not destroy.

Painted by David Friedmann in 1915 in the student atelier of Professor Lovis Corinth, Berlin, this is a rare surviving work from before World War I. After a decades long search, the author had the fortune to connect with the owner’s family and see the original painting in Israel in 2012.


For more about David Friedmann and to provide information you may have about existing works, please visit: or the “David Friedmann—Artist As Witness” Facebook page.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.


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