Strongman from Ciechanów

„Zysze Breitbart’s rival: Cabman Mojsze Hoc from Ciechanów is the healthiest Jew in Poland."

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„Zysze Breitbart’s rival: Cabman Mojsze Hoc from Ciechanów is the healthiest Jew in Poland. When he harnesses an ox, it cannot break free from his grip. He is going to Warsaw to crush iron and break chains and do the same stunts as Zysze Breibart. 25th April, 1926.”

In the middle of a paved yard stands a man in long boots and a cap. Behind him, by a low building, we can see a cab. The man is posing for a photo. He had done up only one button of his too tight a jacket. Slightly bended, hands down by his side. Abashed, he is looking into the camera. He is smiling. He seems excited.

From Kipnis’ note, we can learn that the main character of the photo is Mojsze Hoc, a cabman from Ciechanów. As in the case of all of the photographs presented at the exhibition, this one also has an inscription at the back, made by the author himself. However, this time, apart from information about the photographed, their profession and place of origin, Kipnis added an allusion to a particular historical figure. And maybe it was also what the photographed man wanted to say about himself.

In Kipnis’ description, the cabman from Ciechanów is compared to a famous 1920s’ strong man and vaudeville actor, called „the strongest man in the world” and „the king of iron”. Zysze Breitbart (1893–1925) was born in Stryków to an orthodox Jewish family. In 1919 he was employed by German Circus Busch, with whom he travelled and performed around Europe and the United States for a few years. In Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, Prague and New York he attracted big crowds.

For many Jews Zysze Breitbart was a hero, the embodiment of the power of the Jewish nation. When he came to perform in Vienna, a local Yiddish newspaper would announce the arrival of „Samson”. Preserved are posters, and also photographs from his performances in costumes making him look like legendary or mythical strong men. For example, this one from Kraków, in which he is parading escorted by men in costumes stylized as ancient Roman dresses. People shared legends about him as well as jokes; his images were printed on posters and postcards. He was truly famous. Kipnis’ description is also a prove of that.

The fact that Mojsze Hoc was called Breibart’s rival contributes to the photo, as it creates a special atmosphere. There is a pinch of irony in it, but it is gentle and filled with liking. Even through we are fully aware of a clear contrast between the title of the photo and its main character, even through we can suspect that Mojsze Hoc will not be performing in front of any audience in Warsaw, the fact of referring to the symbolic figure of Breitbart is not unimportant here.

Kipnis’ description refers to innocent bragging and discussions one could hear in this small, paved square. Talks about dreams which will never come true. About superhuman achievements, about fame, tinsel and circus stages of distant towns. About yearnings, which the folk legend about Zysze Breitbart feeds on.

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