Before Birth



Arthur Szyk, 1932 The Statute of Kalisz: Dedication Page to Casimir the Great of Poland. Paris

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).


Arthur Szyk, 1923. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (1 of 3). Paris

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.


Noël Le Mire (Engraver), 1773 Allegory of the First Partition of Poland.

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).


Arthur Szyk, 1939 Tadeusz Koscuiszko from The Glorious Days of the Polish – American Fraternity. Krakow
The Second Partition of Poland.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746–1817), a member of the Polish nobility, traveled to America and became an engineer and military officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Arthur Szyk celebrated Kosciuszko’s heroic efforts in his work The Glorious Days of the Polish-American Fraternity.

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.




Map showing the Partitions 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.





Arthur Szyk, 1939. Mermaid and Sword: Symbol of Warsaw. London

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.




Map showing absorption of Poland by Russia.

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.




Arthur Szyk, 1923. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (3 of 3). Paris

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.

Explore Arthur Szyk's life and times through his art