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Jewish Writer Comes Home To Ukraine

Bruno Schulz, a self-portrait
Bruno Schulz, a self-portrait
The streets of the western Ukrainian city of Drohobych are buzzing this week with the spirit of Jewish writer Bruno Schulz.

Schulz was both a Polish and Jewish writer and happened to be born in what is historically Ukrainian territory, but was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then interwar Poland. He was killed by the Gestapo during World War II.

Every two years since 2004, the International Bruno Schulz Festival has attracted writers, artists, musicians, actors, and academics from many countries to this sleepy Ukrainian town. This year's festival, "The Ark of Bruno Schulz's Imagination," examines the artistic, linguistic, literary, cultural, and national diversity of the artist. It ends on May 30.

Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish cultures claim Schulz in some way, but his small native city encapsulates his work more than anything else. Everything Schulz produced is rooted in Drohobych (formerly Drohobycz).

This year's festival will focus on those places in Drohobych that formed Schulz: the gymnasium where he studied; Market Square 10, where his family home was located; and the villa whose nursery Schulz was forced to illustrate for the children of Felix Landau, the Gestapo sergeant in charge of Jewish laborers.

Writers and literary critics from France, Hungary, Belgium, the United States, and Poland will present papers this week on the extended life Schulz had in the writings of others; he features as a character in the works of Philip Roth, David Grossman, and Cynthia Ozick. Polish filmmakers are screening films based on Schulz's stories, both Ukrainian and Polish theater troops are presenting works based on Schulz and his life.

Although he published few works -- "The Cinnamon Shops" (Sklepy cynamonnowe), "Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass" (Sanatorium pod klepsydra) -- Schulz was widely admired by the Polish creative elite.

While painting the nursery walls provided him with a year's salvation from the Nazis' Jewish policies, he was ultimately shot by another Gestapo sergeant, who was angry at Landau for having killed his Jewish dentist. "You killed my Jew -- I killed yours," he reportedly boasted to Landau.

-- Irena Chalupa

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