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Yad Vashem The Story of the Jewish Community of Plonsk

Josef Schlesinger

  • Self-portrait, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Michael Kopelman, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Moshe Levin, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Yehoshua (Ika) Greenberg, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Moshe Potroch, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Herman Fraenkel, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Dr. Moshe (Mois) Brauns, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Zvi (Hirsh) Brik, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Peter (Fritz) Gadiel, Kovno Ghetto, 1943
  • Dr. Rudolf Volsonok, Kovno Ghetto, 1943

Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1919. Died in Prague, Czech Republic, in 1993.

Started his studies in 1938 at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. Following the German occupation in March 1939, he and his parents, Louis and Elsa Schlesinger, moved to Kovno, where his father established a textile factory. He married Sarah Siegel and continued his art studies in Kovno. Following the German occupation in June 1941, he was deported to the ghetto. There, he was put in charge of a toy factory, designated for German children. At the request of the Ältestenrat, Schlesinger and other artists documented daily life and events in the ghetto, and drew portraits of various ghetto functionaries. Schlesinger and Esther Lurie also made portraits of German officers. When the ghetto was liquidated in July 1944, he was transported to the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany, where he was conscripted for forced labor, at the Messerschmidt GA factory. After the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945, he returned to Prague, where he completed his education and was active in the art scene. Served as Director of the Central-Bohemian Gallery, and his works were displayed in numerous exhibitions.

Schlesinger documented the members of the Jewish leadership of the Kovno Ghetto, the chiefs of the Jewish police, physicians and additional public figures. Due to the shortage of paper, the portraits were drawn on small scraps. These portraits reflect the great effort committed to documenting ghetto life in official, frontal and precise portrayals that allow identification of the subjects. In addition, the choice to portray attire, ties, suits and hats, highlights the roles filled by the subjects, and their status. The drawings were hidden in containers and buried in the ghetto’s cemetery. After the war, Avraham Tory, the secretary of the Ältestenrat, returned to the ghetto ruins and found the buried materials. Among others 26 portraits by Schlesinger, which were eventually donated to the Yad Vashem collection.