Beniamin Rozenfeld. Draftsman of the Warsaw ghetto, conspirator, insurgent

11.12.2020
The identity of Beniamin Rozenfeld, the author of a series of five drawings from the Ringelblum Archive, depicting the living conditions and death in the Warsaw Ghetto, was established by Józef Sandel and confirmed by Dr. Agnieszka Żółkiewska. Learn about the researcher's findings.
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Beniamin Rozenfeld, Staging point (fragment) / Ringelblum Archive, JHI collection

 

Biography until 1939

Beniamin (Benek) Rozenfeld was born in 1909 (according to another source: 1912) in Lviv to Mina and Natan. He studied at the Faculty of Architecture of the Lviv Polytechnic, from which he graduated with the title of engineer in 1936. He practiced painting and sculpture.

Rozenfeld spent the first years of the occupation in Lviv. After the city was occupied by the Germans, he managed to get to Warsaw and stayed in the Warsaw ghetto.

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Beniamin Rozenfeld's card from the Information and Searching Office of the Polish Red Cross,

courtesy of the Warsaw Uprising Museum

Two brothers of Beniamin Rozenfeld survived the war: Józef (Leopold) and Edward. They both settled permanently in Israel. Józef named his son after his brother, Beniamin. Edward's son, Alon Oleartchik, is a well-known Israeli musician.

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Alon Oleartchik, source: https://www.facebook.com/oleartchik/

 

In the Warsaw ghetto

During the Nazi occupation, Rozenfeld stayed in the Warsaw ghetto. He contributed to the underground group "Oneg Shabbat". On the group’s request, he created a series of drawings about life in the ghetto and outside its walls. On March 7, 1942, he delivered five drawings, with extensive comments, to the group's treasurer, Menachem Kohn, for which he received a gratification of 100 zlotys.

According to Ruta Sakowska, Rozenfeld might have collaborated with Centos or another institution supervised by Centos, as shown by the similarity of the artist's drawing, entitled Funeral for the Hawker’s Wife, to an illustration made by an anonymous teenage author in the newspaper issued at the boarding school at 6-8 Gęsia street, "Głos Domu Chłopców" [Voice of the Boys’ Home] of February 10, 1941.

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A drawing by an unknown boy from the newspaper "Głos Domu Chłopców" of February 10, 1941.

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Beniamin Rozenfeld, Funeral for the Hawker’s Wife

Yet another, unconfirmed hypothesis says that he may have been the director and lecturer of vocational courses at the Jewish Council. According to reports from “Gazeta Żydowska” [Jewish Gazette], they were run by engineer called B. Rozenfeld.

However, there are many indications that Rozenfeld is the same as the artist who received the first prize (300 zlotys) in the competition for a propaganda poster of the Pomoc Zimowa [Winter Help] campaign, announced at the turn of 1941 and 1942.

 

Period spent on the "Aryan" side

Probably in the summer of 1942, during the mass deportations to Treblinka, Rozenfeld moved to the "Aryan" side in Warsaw. He was hiding in an apartment at 29 Ogrodowa Street under the assumed name of Jan Różyński, created from his Jewish name. Together with his youngest brother, Józef (Edward) Rozenfeld, who worked as a shepherd boy with the Sisters of Charity in Warsaw, he benefited from the care of the Jewish National Committee. However, he continued to maintain contacts with the ghetto. He dealt with smuggling food on its premises, incl. for the family of his friend, an art historian, Szymon Zajczyk. According to the post-war account of Zajczyk's wife, Dora (Natalia) Zajczyk, Rozenfeld built a network of bunkers in the ghetto that could accommodate about 100 people, equipped with electricity, running water and ventilation.

In the fall of 1943 Rozenfeld joined the Gwardia Ludowa [People's Guard] (later Armia Ludowa [People's Army]). Acting in its ranks, he assumed the pseudonym "Janek". He performed conspiratorial work consisting in preparing radio messages from a radio set hidden in the furnace of a room he rented. Ready messages were delivered to the liaison officer Krystyna Wójcicka. Apart from his underground activity, he was also involved in artistic work. He painted miniatures and created projects, incl. designed the office of the post-war Polish prime minister in the Gdańsk style. He also made the propaganda posters of the People's Army calling for an armed uprising against the occupant in Warsaw.

In August 1944, Rozenfeld took part in the Warsaw Uprising as a second lieutenant in the People's Army Czwartacy 3rd Battalion. He fought in the Old Town, and after its capitulation he went through the sewers to Żoliborz district. He was killed on September 10, 1944 (or, according to B. Meirtchak, in August 1944) and was buried in a mass grave with 21 other soldiers of the uprising at the Powązki Military Cemetery. His grave is in the B6 quarters.

See the location of Beniamin Rozenfeld's tomb in the Powązki Military Cemetery (in Polish)

 

Rozenfeld's artistic legacy from the ghetto

Five drawings by Beniamin Rozenfeld were found after the war in the first part of the Ringelblum Archive, excavated from under the former ghetto’s rubble in 1946. For many decades, their author was considered unknown, despite the fact that in the early 1950s Józef Sandel established his identity on the basis of Dora Zajczyk’s eyewitness account.

Gallery: Hospital “on the Other Side”, Chaimek Sztarkman, Funeral Fund, Staging Point

 

The drawings were made in a mixed technique: ink, charcoal and crayon. According to the handwritten commentary attached to them, probably prepared by the artist himself, they were created between 14 and 16 December 1941. Except for one drawing, entitled Hospital “on the Other Side”, they show people, places and scenes from the life of the Warsaw ghetto. Their subject matter focuses on the basic experiences of the majority of the inhabitants of the Jewish closed district: hunger, disease, death and violence. According to Urszula Makowska, the drawings were probably part of the two series planned by the painter, as indicated by the comment headings he left behind: From the "Little Smugglers" series and From the "Hospitals" series. The first cycle is represented by two drawings: Staging point and Chaimek Sztarkman, the second one by one drawing: Hospital “on the other side”. I assume that the other two drawings, Funeral Fund and Funeral for the Hawker’s Wife, may have been created with the idea of ​​a third cycle.

 

Sources:

"Rozenfeld" entry, ed. U. Makowska, in: Słownik artystów polskich i obcych w Polsce działających (zmarłych przed 1966 r.): malarze, rzeźbiarze, graficy, t. 9: Ro-Rz, ed. Małgorzata Biernacka; Warsaw 2013., vol. IX, p. 159.

Archive of the Information and Searching Office of the Polish Red Cross, search card of Beniamin Rozenfeld.

JHI Archive, testimony of Stanisław Sierpiński, signature 302_332.

Ghetto Fighters House Archives, Berman Adolf - Abraham Collection, no 29120, List of people using the help of the ŻKN.

Konkurs na plakat, „Gazeta Żydowska“ 1942, no 2, p. 2.

Problem jutra młodzieży – wybór zawodu. Wielkie zebranie odczytowe w Gminie żydowskiej w Warszawie, „Gazeta Żydowska” 1941, no 79, p. 3.

Skrypty dla uczestników kursów zawodowych, „Gazeta Żydowska” 1941, nr 79, s. 3.

ARG II 1, [Menachem Mendel Kohn], The cash book of the „Oneg Shabbat” group. Lists of revenues and expenditures, salaries (lists of persons), addresses, notes (9.11.1940-7.08.1942); printed in.: Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 11: Ludzie i prace  „Oneg Szabat”, ed. A. Bańkowska, T. Epsztein, Warsaw 2013.

Podziemne Archiwum Getta Warszawskiego, vol. 2, Dziecitajne nauczanie w getcie warszawskim, ed. R. Sakowska, Warsaw 2000.

B. Temkin-Bermanowa, Dziennik z podziemia, ed. A. Grupińska, P. Szapiro, Warsaw 2000.

AŻIH, S/352,  Spuścizna: Ernestyna i Józef Sandel (unordered set).

B. Meirtchak, Żydzi żołnierze wojsk polskich polegli na frontach II wojny światowej, Warsaw, 2001.

J. Sandel, Warszewer jidisze kinstlers unter der hitleristisze okupacje, w: Pinkes Warsze, Buenos-Aires 1955, vol. 1, p. 1151.

E. Podhorizer-Sandel, Artysta i budowniczy bunkrów, „Fołks-Sztyme” 1971, no 27, p. 2.

M. Tarnowska, Sztuka w getcie warszawskim. Funkcje, ikonografia, postawy wobec rzeczywistości, in: Adlojada: biografia i świadectwo, ed. J. Brejdak, D. Kacprzak, J. Madejski, B. M. Wolska, Szczecin 2017.