This lovely, delicate drawing was the best way that Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) knew to kill his enemies.
After the Nazis invaded his native Poland in 1939, Szyk took refuge in the United States. There he learned that the Nazis had killed his brother, then turned their loving attention to his mother:
[M]y beloved seventy-year-old mother, Eugenia Szyk, was taken from the ghetto of Lodz to the Nazi furnaces of Maidanek. With her, voluntarily went her faithful servant the good Christian, Josefa, a Polish peasant. Together, hand in hand, they were burned alive.In anguish, Szyk followed the evidence smuggled out of Europe that the Nazis were methodically slaughtering helpless civilian populations:
A small, balding, bookish man with weak eyes, Szyk was not much of a threat to the Nazis as a soldier. His strongest weapon was his art, and it became his purpose in life to rouse the slumbering west to the genocide taking place in Europe. He worked obsessively, attacking the Nazis with hundreds of miniature drawings.
Those drawings soon gained the attention of the public. His work appeared on the cover of Time, Colliers and other popular magazines. It became an effective tool for fundraising for war bonds, training soldiers and rousing corporate awareness for the war effort. He even gained the attention of Hitler, who put a price on Szyk's head. Eleanor Roosevelt described him as a "one man army."
(There is an old Latin maxim: "The flea, too, has wrath.")
Szyk's drawings were small (this original is approximately 5" x 6") and combined subtle gradations in tone with delicate, lacy lines. His designs were consistently beautiful:
Many artists would have reacted to Szyk's experience with a howl of pain. They might thrash around with wild, emotional brush strokes; they might make dark, bitter paintings of corpses spattered with blood. But uncontrolled rage would not have been as effective for Szyk's purposes as this lovely, painstaking drawing.
Szyk used the ornate, beautiful techniques of illuminated manuscripts, a style which projected an aura of calm civilization. This approach gave Szyk instant credibility over his barbaric foes. The careful beauty of his work lured viewers who might normally disbelieve or avert their eyes from angry propaganda. It persuaded them to linger, and to believe.
Szyk's great artistic strength was his ability to harness his powers, channeling unbearable agony and despair into millions of precise, miniature lines.