By Edith Chomentowski

My father, David Garfinkiel, born in Radom in 1902 was a painter. He did not have a photo of his mother Gitla Rakocz, only a portrait he had drawn of her in 1919. And he had put together this drawing and the cut-out photo of his father, Mendel Gurfinkiel, which he had framed.


Mendel and Gitel Garfinkiel (Gurfinkiel)

My grandfather, Mendel Gurfinkiel (1859-1924), and his sister Sura were born in Radom, but their parents and grandparents were from Zarnow (Polish: Żarnów), a village about 80 kilometers west of Radom. In the mid-1850s, Mendel's father Icek Gurfinkiel, his wife Chana Ruchla Judkewicz, and their two living children, born in Zarnow, had moved to Radom.

My paternal grandmother, Gitla Rakocz (1862-1924) was also born in Radom, but her father, Lejzor Pinkus, and her paternal grandparents were from Przytyk, about 20 kilometers west of Radom. The first Jews had settled there in the 17th century, and by 1830 a thousand lived there, representing 86% of the population[1.1]. Lejzor moved to Radom at the latest in 1857, when he married Sura Laja Gluzman on November 22, 1857 by Rabbi Gawriel Dantziger, who officiated in Radom from 1857 to 1868.

My paternal grandparents, Mendel Gorfinkiel and Gitla Rakocz married in December 1879. I know from their marriage certificate that at the day of wedding Mendel was 19 and Gitla 17 years old, the wedding took place in Radom and

“was preceded by a public communication in the synagogue in Radom on November 17, 24 and December 5 / November 29, 6 and December 17 of 1879 (Julian and Gregorian calendar’s dating). The newlyweds declared that there was no marriage contract concluded between them. The parents' permission was given orally. The marriage ceremony was performed by Samuel Mohilewer Rabbi of the Radom Synagogue” (successor of Rabbi Dantziger from 1868 until 1883).

The development of the Jewish community in Radom in the middle of the 19th century seems to have attracted the Garfinkels and the Rakoczes. In Radom, the Garfinkiel family was called "the family of artists". Mendel, the father was a painter and stone carver, carving tombstones among other things.

Children of Mendel and Gitla

Mendel and Gitla Gorfinkiel (the surname is written also in other variations: Gourfinkel, Garfinkel in the official registers[1.2]) had ten children: Chana Ruchla, Rozalia, Hirsh, Sura Laja,  Felix, Dora, Elka, Hilary and David. The first one who is not named died before the age of one year. Twenty years separate the second child, Chana Ruchla, born in 1882, from the last one, Jacob David – my father, who was born a few months before the marriage of his older sister.

They all attended school and spoke and wrote Polish, the language in which they exchanged letters, but they also knew Yiddish, which they no doubt used with their parents. Some had "polonized" their first names, Ratsa to Rozalia, Fiszel to Felix, Dwojra to Dora, Chil to Hilary. The girls, with the exception of the first, did not marry very young. 

Dora worked for a few years as a teacher in a school in Jedlinsk, 15 km from Radom, before getting married in 1933.


Rozalia was fanciful and did not marry, but she loved to organize costume parties for her family and friends, especially on Purim, re-enacting the Esterka of Radom. She became known as a painter and participated in several exhibitions.

In an article from the weekly Trybuna in Radom, dated March 25, 1938 the exhibition of her work was described as follows:

“After a well-deserved success for her exhibition at the Zionist Club, the talented artist presents new paintings at the Social Club... The majority of the paintings represent flowers, with a very realistic rendering, not belonging to any artistic school, full of charm and simplicity....But we can also appreciate still lifes and landscapes, including a lovely "House in Kazimierz".


The eldest brother, Hirsh, was a painter and stone sculptor, like his father. His sculptor-statuary workshop is mentioned in the  Franco-Polish directory of companies operating in Poland (Polish: Księga adresowa, page 271) in 1929 under the address of 5 Witolda Street (ul. Witolda 5).  

In the photo below, taken in 1935 in Hirsh’s workshop, are posed, from right to left: his brother Hilary, his sister Rozalia, his wife Perla, seated, surrounded by his children, Szmul, Gita and Lejzer, who will also be a stone sculptor. 

  


Felix was a photographer in Warsaw and his brother-in-law Lazarus Kogan, Elka's husband, is based in Tomaszov Mazowiecki, near Lodz, where he has a photo studio.


My father Jacob David

The youngest child Jacob David, my father, was born on July 31, 1902.

The Yiddish writer Mendel Mann[1.3], who knew my father well, recalled what the painter owed to his childhood:

"David Garfinkiel was born in Radom, a town in the very flat part of the country, the Poland of the plains, which resembles the French Beauce. It was there that he saw the light for the first time, it was there that he imbibed the twilight, it was there again that he heard the rooster crow" .    

David began drawing at a very young age. In 1923, he did his military service.


Death of grandparents

In 1924 his parents had died within months of each other. There were buried at the Jewish cemetery in Radom located at Towarowa Street. At the photographs of their tombstones, preserved among my father’s family photos we can read:  

"Here lies Mrs. Gitel daughter of reb Eliezer Pinhas (z''l )[1.4], wife of reb Mendel Garfinkiel, who passed away on the 25th of the month of Av Menahem[1.5] 5684 (August 1924), a God-fearing woman, who was the crown of her husband, a merciful woman. Rest in peace our dear mother, ascend to the eternal throne and pray for your children".

"Here lies an upright man, a pious and humble Hasid who feared God and was faithful to his community, pure of heart, important and loved by his relatives, he worked all his life with fidelity and lived by his manual labor, Reb Menahem Mendel, son of Reb Ytzhakh (z''l). May his memory be a blessing. He left his children and returned to the land. 17 Adar 5684 (March 1924)".

These graves no longer exist, as the cemetery was completely devastated during the war.

My father’s artistic education  

In 1925 David Garfinkiel was able to realize his dream: to study drawing and painting at the School of Fine and Decorative Arts in Krakow, then in 1927 at the Municipal School of Decorative Arts and Painting in Warsaw (Polish: Miejska Szkoła Sztuk Zdobniczych). 

In Warsaw, he exhibited in collective salon (Polish: Salon Doroczny 1931/1932) and participated in the activities of the Jewish Association for the Propagation of Fine Arts (Polish: Żydowskie Towarzystwo Krzewienia Sztuk Pięknych (ŻTKSP), created in 1923 to organize exhibitions and "propagate a taste for the arts within Jewish society”.


But since the beginning of the 20th century, Paris has been the world capital of the arts and has attracted Jewish artists from Eastern Europe. David Garfinkiel obtained a visa and arrived in Paris in1932. He liked to tell the story that he bought his train ticket to Paris with a winning lottery ticket...

 


He never returned to Poland. He joined the “Ecole de Paris”, and Montparnasse became his home. He attends the Julian Academy and also enrolls in courses at the Academy of the Grande Chaumière, where he rubs shoulders with foreign artists, including many Poles and Russians[1.6]. To earn a living, he became a photo retoucher. In 1934, he worked for the Harcourt studio created the same year. Very quickly he exhibited in the Parisian salons: the Salon d'Automne, the Salon des Indépendants. 

It was also in Paris that he met the woman who was to become his wife, Chaja Pesza (known as Pauline) Glocer, who was born in Pinsk, Poland (currently Belarus) on November 3, 1907. They got married in 1934 at the town hall of the 19th arrondissement. And Gisèle was born in 1937.

The Shoah

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. On September 8, the Germans seized Radom and in October, they annexed the territories of western Poland.

In the "Sefer Radom" we read[1.7]:

"A few days after the capture of Radom, thousands of German civilians arrived who had to be settled in apartments. They began to catch Jews to carry ...all kinds of furniture...They worked for free in hundreds of places and were brought back every night, beaten, often crippled, crippled...The Germans ridiculed them, humiliated them...A pious Jew was caught and his beard was cut off or set on fire...A Jew was ordered to smear another with mud and then to dance with him. ....."

"Those who could, especially the young, began to leave the city and run away to join the Partisans, or to the east, to the Soviet-occupied areas of Poland."

Two sons of my father's older sister might have run away to the USSR, but they were never heard from again. I got this information from a letter sent to my father by a friend from Radom. In this letter, which I had translated from Yiddish, dated "Regensburg April 16, 1947", this friend, who apparently knew my father's family very well, gives him news about them until 1942.

He wrote: "... I visited your older sister several times... Her two sons had escaped to the USSR in 1939. If they were sent to the depths of Russia or to an Asian republic, it is almost certain that they survived. Eventually they joined Anders' army..."

In early 1941, the Germans distributed new identity cards to the Jews. These identity cards were yellow with the letter J printed on the front page. In order to obtain them, an Antrag[1.8], an application for the issuance of an identity card, had to be filled out, a form printed in German.


The names of the streets are Germanized. Thus, Żeromski Street became Reichstrasse. On April 1, 1941, the Gestapo ordered the creation of a Jewish "order service", a Jewish police force. A week later, the ghetto was demarcated, or rather 2 ghettos, the large ghetto in Walowa (Polish: Wałowa) with 27,000 people and the small ghetto in Glinice with about 5,000 people. Jewish policemen had to stand guard at the gates of the ghetto.

On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the USSR. The mail that arrived at the city post office of Radom was distributed to the Jews of the ghetto.

From France, David Garfinkiel corresponded with his family in Radom. He had sent a letter to his sister Rozalia with a photo of his daughter Gisèle, who had turned 4 in April 1941. Rozalia replied on July 7, 1941 and sent her letter-card to Mrs. Olchitzky, my mother's aunt, because my parents and sister had left Paris in 1940 for the free zone.

      

"David's letter just arrived. You can't imagine how happy I am to hear from you. It is a feast for me when your letters arrive. I couldn't answer David because of my eye, which sometimes hurts a lot. I only paint signs when there are any ..... You can laugh at me, but I am in a bad mood, but I have to go on. Basia[1.9] is for the 2nd year in America. She already has a big boy. I imagine her as a mother. Chana wanders with the girls at my house, Felix too. Hirsh lives in Glinice like me. I live next door to a family. I have a room like a matchbox... Maybe God will allow us to talk about everything again one day....I kiss you a thousand times".

Hilary adds:

"We are really scattered. Rozalia and Hirsh are in Glinice. Me and Dorka are in the center. At the moment I am at Rozalia's with my little Marc who is catching butterflies in the garden behind the little window...As you know I have a little girl. My Perla is now 1 year and 5 months old, a beautiful little girl. And your little Gisèle, how is she? Do you, David, have a permanent job? I have one in my profession. We send you a thousand hugs and kisses. From Elka I often have greetings for you.

 


My father treasured this letter, the last mark of life of his brothers and sisters, a letter in which they had certainly censored themselves.

The liquidation of the ghettos

The liquidation of the Radom ghettos began with the small ghetto of Glinice, on the evening of August 4, 1942. At midnight all the inhabitants were ordered to leave and gather near the railroad tracks; those who did not leave quickly enough were shot on the spot. More than 6,000 people, 2,000 of whom were taken from the large ghetto to fill the wagons, were crammed in and sent to Treblinka.

The liquidation of the large ghetto began 12 days later, on the night of August 16-17, 1942, following the same scenario. Between 1,000 and 1,500 Jews who tried to resist or hide were shot on the spot. 4,000 people were selected for work and locked up in two camps. The remaining 18,000 to 20,000 Jews were sent to the gas chambers in Treblinka.

The Garfinkiel family that remained in Poland was completely decimated: all eight of my father's siblings perished, either in the Radom ghetto, or in Treblinka in 1942, or for Sura Laja, in 1944, in the Lodz ghetto, a city where she had moved a few years before the war with her husband Chaïm Tenenbaum and her daughter Basia, born in 1919. The spouses also perished as well as their children: of David's seventeen nieces and nephews, two may have perished in the USSR and fourteen were murdered, including one, Lejzer Icek Garfinkiel, in Mauthausen in January 1945.

In Lodz, in 1939, an American, Abraham Kaufman, came to visit his family and met Basia Tenebaum, with whom he fell in love. Back in New York on August 21, he learned a few days later that Germany had invaded Poland. He immediately took the boat, returned to Lodz and married Basia. They went to Denmark and embarked on October 28 from Copenhagen for New York, where they arrived on November 13, 1939[1.10].

Basia, one of David's nieces, is the only survivor of the Garfinkiel family members who remained in Poland.

David Garfinkiel and his family in France during the war

On May 2, 1940, Jacob David Garfinkiel and his wife Chaja Pesza Glocer became naturalized French citizens. The Germans entered Paris one month later, on June 14.

Later, in application of the law of July 22, 1940, concerning the revision of naturalizations[1.11], the decree of September 9, 1943, withdrew French nationality from them and their daughter, who was French by declaration. But the Garfinkiel family was not informed of this because, at the beginning of June 1940, they took refuge in Brive-la-Gaillarde, in Corrèze, then in Lyon.

On March 8, 1944 (six months after the decree was issued), a police superintendent from the Rhône Prefecture wrote to the Garde des Sceaux (Minister of Justice) that the people concerned could not be notified of the disqualification because they had left their home in Lyon without indicating their refuge. However, he added, "the research continues, Garfinkiel having kept his apartment in Lyon"[1.12].

To support the family, David tried his hand at textile design, creating patterns for the silk industry in Lyon. He lived more or less in hiding but continued to paint and even participated in exhibitions.

In July 1942, a second child was born, Emmanuel, under difficult conditions and who would suffer mental and physical consequences for the rest of his life. Gisèle, the eldest child, was placed with farmers in the Lyon area for two years.

In 1946, the Garfinkiel family returned to the capital. It had grown with me who had just been born. David found his studio looted. All of his work had disappeared, as well as that which he had left in Poland, as he would later learn.


But above all he discovers that his entire family has perished. This tragedy has never ceased to haunt him and to illustrate itself in his works.

Janosik's dance

I would end this article with this painting made by my father and which he had titled Slavic Dance; it is now in the collections of the Polish Historical and Literary Society in Paris (Polish: Towarzystwo Historyczno-literackie).

 


Some Polish people explained to me that this painting represents Janosik's dance. Janosik is an epic figure in Polish culture, a kind of Robin Hood who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. His magic belt made him invincible, but he lost it and legend has it that he was about to be hanged and was still dancing.

My father was steeped in Polish legends, in Polish culture, and in this painting he has transposed in a style that is both very Parisian and somewhat exotic, the visual memory of a snapshot from his youth in Poland.

 

Edith Chomentowski

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Daniel Vangheluwe, «Research in Przytyk and Kadlub, province of Radom» Généalo-J, Issue 111, autumn 2012, pages 22-24.
  • [1.2] Record book (Polish: Księgi ludności, sygn. arch.9836  K.234)
  • [1.3] Mendel Mann is the author of numerous novels in Yiddish and translated into French such as the war trilogy: "At the Gates of Moscow", "On the Vistula", and "The Fall of Berlin". The quotation is taken from an article in the Yiddish newspaper Unzer Wort dated 7.02.1964 (this newspaper was published in Paris from 1944 to 1996)
  • [1.4] Z''l: Zichrono levaha. Accompanies the mention of the name of a deceased person and means "of blessed memory".
  • [1.5] Av is the month in which the two Temples of Jerusalem were destroyed, it is customary to add to it, in the Ashkenazi world, the name of Menahem which means comforter.
  • [1.6] About the artist and his work see www.garfinkiel.net
  • [1.7] The Sefer Radom, the Yizkor-bukh in Yiddish, a book of remembrance published in 1961 in Tel Aviv by the natives of Radom in Israel, the United States, Canada and France. Part on the Shoah translated from Yiddish into French, published in Revue d'histoire de la Shoah, n°200, March 2014, Mémorial de la Shoah.
  • [1.8] Many of these Antrag are in the archives of Radom, the identity cards have disappeared with their unfortunate holders.
  • [1.9] Basia Tenebaum, her niece.
  • [1.10] Ancestry.com, New York Passenger Lists 1820 to 1957 Inc. Year: 1939; Arrival: New York.
  • [1.11] Of the 485,200 people naturalized between August 1927 and December 1940, an estimated 15,154 were denaturalized, including about 6,000 Jews (Bernard Laguerre, "Les dénaturalisés de Vichy (1940-1944)", Vingtième Siècle, revue d'histoire, no. 20, 1988, pp 3-15).
  • [1.12] Read in the naturalization file of my parents that I consulted in 2012 at the National Archives (Fontainebleau site). Since a few years, this archive has been progressively transferred to Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.