The Statute of Kalisz grants civil and religious privileges to Jews in Poland.
The General Charter of Jewish Liberties, known as the Statute of Kalisz was issued by Boleslaw the Pious, September 8, 1264 and was ratified by Casimir III the Great of Poland in 1334. The Statute granted wide-ranging and unprecedented legal rights to the Jews of Poland. Justice for all was the guiding principle behind the Statute; which covered all aspects of Jewish life. It gave Jews freedom of worship, and the right to trade and travel.
Arthur Szyk reminded both Poles and Jews in the 20th century of this historic precedent through his seminal work the Statute of Kalisz (published in 1932).
The Spanish Inquisition persecutes, expels or kills thousands based on their religious beliefs.
The Spanish Inquisition began in 1478, intensifying in 1492 after royal decrees ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Many Jews were persecuted, expelled, or killed for their maintaining their faith.
Part of a triptych, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (1 of 3) represents Szyk’s first examination of the persecution of the Jews through the ages. Painted more than a decade before the unimaginable nightmare of the Holocaust and World War II, the image depicts three medieval Jews about to be burnt at the stake, as part of the Spanish Inquisition.
The First Partition of Poland.
To understand Arthur Szyk devotion to Poland, it is necessary to call attention to its history. In February 1772 Prussia, Russia, and Austria sign an agreement to take over parts of Poland, 30% of its lands and over half its population are lost.
Noël Le Mire’s allegorical engraving shows Catherine II of Russia, Joseph II of Austria, and Frederick the Great of Prussia fighting over the division of Poland (image source).
In 1793, the Second Partition of Poland further divided the country between Prussia, Russia and Austria. When the Russian and Prussian governments moved to disband the Polish army, Koscuiszko returned to Poland and led an uprising. He mobilized the Polish population, whle simultaneously establishing the first Jewish Legion in modern times. He personally lead an infantry charge of peasant volunteers, while calling for better working conditions and civil rights for the peasants. After early victories, the uprising was soon crushed by the Prussian and Russian armies, resulting in the Third Partition of Poland.
The Third Partition of Poland.
In 1795, as part of the Third Partition, Poland was divided between Prussia, Russia and Austria. Lódź (Szyk’s birthplace) becomes part of Prussia.
Napoleon establishes the Duchy of Warsaw.
Napoleon Bonaparte brings about the end of the third partition of Poland with the establishment of the Duchy of Warsaw.
The Warsaw Mermaid, Syrenka, is usually depicted with a double tail and armed with a sword and shield. Her weapons emphasize the defensive character of the city and her fishtail symbolizes its location on the river, flowing to the sea and connecting Warsaw to the wider world.
While Mermaid and Sword: Symbol of Warsaw refers to the struggle to liberate Poland from the Nazi occupation during World War II, it demonstrates Szyk’s immense pride in his Polish heritage, and his deep awareness of his country’s ongoing fight for independence. He believed the Poles had been early champions of supporting the rights and equality of all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnic background. Here he portrays the Mermaid of Warsaw holding the Polish Eagle shield in one hand and a bloody sword in the other. Before her stands a Polish officer ready with bayonet and rifle.
Poland becomes part of Russia.
After Napoleon’s defeat and surrender in 1815, Russia absorbed Poland according to the terms of the Vienna Congress. Lódź (Szyk’s birthplace), located to the west of Warsaw, remains part of Russia until the end of World War I.
The word “pogrom” is coined in reference to anti-Jewish riots in Russia in the 19th century.
In this, the final image of the Ad Majorem triptych, Arthur Szyk continues the triptych’s portrayal of Jewish persecution. A small European village, with a synagogue in the background, is the scene of an all-too-common anti-Semitic atrocity. This image of a brutal pogrom depicts a religious Jew fleeing with the Torah while a Russian soldier tries to hack him with a saber. A bearded elder will soon be killed by a Cossack’s knife.