Józef Sandel — biographical timeline

The history of Józef Sandel’s association with fine arts can be divided into two distinct phases – before the war and after the war (as well as the interim period during the war, although naturally he was not particularly active then).

Wide zrzut ekranu 2017 02 01 o 10.05.05
Józef Sandel with his wife Ernestyna Podhorizer

The subject of our exhibition, which is part of a series of projects celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, is research in the field of art history, motivated not only by a drive to uncover the truth, but also by a desire to commemorate the work of Polish artists of Jewish origin.

The exhibition is not only meant as a tribute or an expression of maudlin sentiment. It aims to showcase the work of Józef Sandel as an important milestone in the history of not only the Jewish Historical Institute as a research institution, but also in studies of the culture of Polish Jews in general. 

You can see the exhibition „Art of history and the fight for memory. Józef Sandel (1894–1962) founder of Jewish Historical Institute Museum” till 19th of March. 


1894 (29 September) – he is born in Kolomyya (Kołomyja) near Stanislaviv (Stanisławów), Galicia, the Habsburg Empire, in a poor family, as the youngest of seven children of furrier Awigdor and vegetable seller Brucha, née Rindehau.

before 1912 – he attends the Baron Moritz von Hirsch public Jewish school in Kolomyya (one of the many educational institutions established in Galicia by the Baron Hirsch Foundation).

1912 – he travels to Germany to stay with his brothers, where he holds a sequence of jobs, including one as an agent in a textile company in Freiburg near Dresden, Saxony; during his stay there he continues his education.

1914–1918 –during the World War One, he serves in the Austrian-Hungarian armed forces (as an Austrian subject).

1918 – released from the army, he returns to Kolomyya, where he becomes involved in the leftist movement; he is a member of the Jewish Security Company and enters the Council of Workers’ Deputies.

1920 – he travels to Dresden, where he works as an agent for a textile company; he enrolls in the local Kunstgewerbeschule (school of arts and crafts) and attends lectures on art at the Volkshochschule.

1924 – he becomes co-owner of a textile shop in Dresden; he starts supporting young artists with leftist inclinations and joins the Communist Party of Germany.

1925 – he is a co-founder and editor of the literary and art magazine Der Mob; as a foreigner, however, he is soon expelled from Germany for his communist activity.

1925–1928 – he lives in France (where he works as a laborer in an ore mine in Long Brie, and later in the Peugeot automobile factory) and in Vienna. 

1928 – he is granted permission to return to Dresden. 

1929 – he opens his own gallery in Dresden, featuring “young art” and promoting the work of leftist artists from Germany. 

1930 – he organizes the exhibition „Modern Portrait” in his gallery. 

1931 – he organizes the exhibition “Artistic and Spiritual Dresden in Images”, presented in several German cities.

1933 – after Hitler seizes power, Sandel moves to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he organizes four exhibitions. 

1935 – Yugoslav authorities order him to leave the country for ideological reasons, so he moves to Poland, where he initially settles in Vilnius, becoming involved in the artistic life of the local Jewish community.

1936 – he moves to Warsaw, where he is asso-ciated with the circle of the Jewish Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Krzewienia Sztuk Pięknych, ŻTKSP) and the Association of Jewish Artists in Poland.

1939 – he is appointed commissioner of the summer exhibition of Polish artists in Kazimierz Dolny (the Celejowska House); after the invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September, he settles in Lviv (annexed by the Soviet Union following Poland’s territory being divided between two occupiers), where he works at the museum department of the local branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (formerly the Ossoliński National Institute).

1942—1945 – after the outbreak of war between the Soviet Union and Germany, he moves to the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, where he works as a teacher of German language. 

1946 – he returns to Poland and settles in Warsaw (he lives in Konopacka St. in Praga district); he is appointed head of the art department (committee) of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland and chairman of the reactivated Jewish Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts (ŻTKSP); as its chairman, he organizes an exhibition of works by Rafał Mandelcwajg.

1948 –he organizes the exhibition “Works by Jewish Artists – Martyrs of the German Occupation 1939–1945” that is held in the building of the Jewish Historical Institute but under the auspices of ŻTKSP.

1949 – he is the curator of another ŻTKSP exhibition, also held in the JHI building, featuring rescued works by Jewish artists; after the ŻTKSP is dissolved, he takes up employment at the JHI.

1950 – he is appointed head of the Museum of the JHI; marries Ernestyna Podhorizer (widow of Vyacheslav Zaikin, university lecturer), his colleague in the ŻTKSP and then at the JHI, graduate of the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences at the University of Lviv; before the war, she was a high school teacher associated with leftist circles (even briefly imprisoned for anti-government activity).

1953 – he retires after being dismissed from the JHI by director Bernard Mark “in connection with the reorganization of work” (meaning that works of art were no longer to be displayed in the exhibition halls and the Institute would focus solely on featuring the history of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising); following his retirement, he concentrates solely on scholarly activities; he makes unsuccessful attempts to reclaim the collection he had amassed from the JHI (whose management he no longer trusts) and donate it to the Socio-Cultural Society of Jews (Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Żydów) in Poland; he joins the Association of Historians of Art and Material Culture, today Association of Art Historians (Stowarzyszenie Historyków Sztuki, SHS). 

1962 (December 1) – he dies in Warsaw, child-less, continuing his research until the very end; he is buried at the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street.

1969 – Ernestyna Podhorizer-Sandel is appointed head of the Museum of the JHI. 

1984 – Ernestyna Podhorizer-Sandel dies in Warsaw, and the legacy of both art histo-rians goes to the JHI.

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