My father passed away in July 1982 in Toronto, Ontario Canada after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was only 62 years old.
Life and history of a Jewish Painter, written by his son, Eddie Bromberg (during 2010 – 2012)
My father life story is both a reflections of the 20th century European Jewish history and the Middle East.
My father was born in Poland in December 1920 in a small town called Piorekow Trybunalski, near Lodz. His ancestors had lived in Poland for at least 1000 years. His father business was bookbinding. My father family was small, he had a younger brother and a sister. Except his brother, all his family members and relatives perished during the German occupation of Poland. My father and his brother managed to escape from a concentration camp within a year of the beginning of the war and headed towards the USSR, where they spent the war years.
A few words about my mother, Berta Bromberg. Her maiden name is Aronov. She was born in 1917 in Russia. She had three sisters and four brother. Three of her brothers were killed during the second world war fighting the German while enlisted in the Red army. She married her first husband and had two daughters (Ruth and Tamara) who were born in the late 1930’s. She divorced her first husband after she met Moshe in 1942. I was born in 1945 and my sister Miriam was born in 1949.
My parents, my father’s brother and my mother’s sister left the USSR at the end of the war and return back to Poland. They were allowed to leave the USSR as my father kept his Polish citizenship.
We all spent about 5 years in Poland. There was nothing left of my father’s ancestors properties. During this time, my father managed to arrange 28 exhibitions of his art work, both oil paintings and sculptures. These exhibitions were taking place in major cities across Poland. He won a few prizes, as one of a few surviving holocaust artists. One such art work was a statue of a coal miner actually made out of coal. I was curious about this period in his life and decided to visit Poland in July 1991.
We emigrated from Poland to Israel in the summer of 1950. My father used to get the Russian magazine called ‘Ogoniok” during the 50’s and always keep the centerfolds. These were colour reproduction of paintings that were shown in museums and art exhibition in the former USSR. He used these coloured posters, which were not that common prints in Israel in the 50’s, as the cost was prohibitive, for two reasons, I believe. The first reason was to keep in touch with the art works behind the iron curtain. Secondly, these posters gave him inspiration to some of his composition, such as a large oil painting depicting the ‘Second World War partisans in the forest’.
I believe that this was the reason for me to learn from my father to collect beautiful art poster, photos of pictures which later on led to postage stamps.
I came to Canada in September 1972 after studying for my Mechanical Engineering degrees in the UK. There were a few reasons for this decision.
The first reason was to start and eventually settle into a new career as an Engineer, as I could not find work in Israel during all 1972.
The second reason, I felt that the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians regarding settling the land of Israel will not be resolved in my generation and the constant conflicts will continue for many years. This feeling I remember getting originally from my mother when I was about 6 or 7.
My mother was not happy with our life in Israel during the 50’s, mostly because it was tough settling again in a new country and a land that was semi arid when compared to Europe.
The third reason, which is related to my father future career was the fact that I will be closer to the American Jewish communities and will be able to carry out future art exhibition and promotion of my father art work.
Making a living was difficult for all new comers to Israel in the early 50’s. I took my father at 10 years to settle and pay out for a one bed room apartment in Ramat-Gan.
From 1972 onwards, Moshe Bromberg was visiting me in Canada every other year, until 1980 when he retired from his teaching position and join me in Canada with mother.
In the early 60’s Moshe Bromberg started having regular exhibitions of his art works, mostly oil paintings of Israeli sites, portraits and still life. The climax of these activities took place in 1963 when he exhibited the first set of his Biblical miniatures. This occurrence had set the pattern for the next 19 years, until his death in July 1982, during which he had his exhibitions inaugurated by VIPs such as Abba Eben, Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon and even Menachem Begin who later became the prime minister of Israel.
He left behind a versatile mix of paintings on several Jewish subjects, such as the Holocaust, life and sights of Israel, Jewish fighters and religious scholars. However, his most original work, which very few artists attempted to do, are a set of 20 Biblical miniatures. These are 7” by 9” paintings on paper done in tempera (gouache) paints. Each has a different and elaborate frame.
These notes were written as a result of my reflection and past recollections of my family history and how many life different incidents had contributed to some action that had been taken by my parents and later on by myself and my sister and formed the basis of this story.
• It is not easy to tell a story of a complex person character such as my father in just a few paragraphs.
• I meant to write this story for a long time, essentially thinking about it since the summer of 1982-just after Moshe Bromberg passed away-this is now 30 years later!
• My first vivid recollection starts about 1948-9 when I was about 3 ½ years old,
• It was Lodz, Poland after the devastated war, I hardly saw my father at home, I do not remember playing with him or spending time with him.
• However, I do remember having child’s toys that not every boy had, such as tricycles or a drum. Some black and white photographs show me neatly dressed in a Navy uniform playing with a little drum.
• December 25, 1949 I remember very clearly, it was the day my sister was born. Mum was taken to hospital and all the children from the building complex were gathered in on room to receive Charismas presents. Being probably the only Jewish child, I remember receiving a bag of sweets and being a bit upset as all the other children received proper play toys.
• Moshe Bromberg was busy painting, sculpturing and arranging exhibitions all across Poland during this time (1945-50). I even remember him planning and working on design and construction of scenery for a play with the main pair of Yiddish actors being the famous Dizigan and Shumacher.
• During this period my mother and myself spent a few lovely summers near a lake before my sister was born. I remember playing with small metal and wooden toy boats.
• I understood later on in life that father did very well financially during this period, while economical times were tough on the rest of the population of Poland the first few years after the war.
• Up to 1949, in our rented flat in Lodz, there were living 8 people at one time: besides my parents, there were my baby sister Miriam and half sister Ruth, my uncle Joseph (father’s brother), my aunt Dora (mother’s sister), who were married at the time, my mother’s mother, Chinnie.
• In 1949 my half sister, uncle, aunt and grandma all emigrated to Israel.
• There were always talks at home about emigrating abroad.
• At the end of what seemed a very hectic period, we emigrated to Israel in August 1950.
• It took Moshe Bromberg quite a while to arrange all the documents to leave Poland, as the country became Communist in that period and it was not easy to emigrate for anyone. I guess now that he managed to bribe a few officials. One of the most important aspect was to convert local currency to some tangible goods that can be taken out of Poland to the a new country. He managed to buy beautiful china, crystal and silverware. Some of which has survived and is still to this day in my family possession.
• During 1949 my parents were receiving letters from my uncle in Israel, urging them to leave Poland and join him. This fact my mother recalled many times years later with some bitterness while we were already living in Israel under tough and worst economical conditions, the fifties were austerity time in Israel, when everybody had to live very frugally, as jobs were scares and making a living was tough.
• Moshe Bromberg had managed to arrange a settlement visa to France in 1949, but at the urging of his brother in Israel, he later on changed the plan and we went to Israel instead. My mother expressed her feeling on this subject quite a few times how our tough time of the first 10 years in Israel could have been so different had we emigrated to France!
• Moshe Bromberg arranged for furniture, chinaware, crystal ware and silverware to be shipped to Israel ahead of our arrival in a large wooden crate. The object was to convert all the cash he managed to accumulate over 5 years (1945 to 1950) to goods that can be sold later on and form a new economical start in a new country. I understand that this was a common practice in those days by many immigrants, since transfer of cash from one currency to another was not allowed in Poland during the late 1940’s.
• Two incidents took place before we went to Israel that affected the family fortune for years to come:
First incident was to do with insurance. For some reason, Moshe Bromberg either could not arrange for content insurance for all the expensive items that were sent to Israel, I suspect it was not the practice to do so in Poland at the time.
Second incident was to do with the handling of the wooden crate at the shipping port. I was told by my parents that while transferring the crate from the shore to the ship, the crate fell into the sea and the whole content was lost. My father could not claim any compensation, which in turn, as mentioned earlier, affected negatively our family life style.
• Our family journey from Poland to Israel was via trains all the way to Italy and then via a ship to Haifa.
• We were taken by bus from Haifa to Tel Aviv and were given a small one room wooden cabin, about 3 by 6 meters in area with a communal detached kitchen for 4 families, located in Abu Kabir, a small area between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Naturally my parents were very disappointed, however, the lot of majority of other new immigrants was not much better. We spent 2 years living under these uncomfortable conditions.
• My mother stayed at home and looked after myself and my sister Miriam.
• Moshe Bromberg found teaching position in Jerusalem and was commuting to Tel Aviv on the weekends.
• I started my first elementary schooling in a new language that my parents had struggled to master during the first few years in Israel.
• In 1952, with a small deposit, my parents bought their first small, new one bedroom flat in Ramat Gan, right at the edge of the southern part of the town, adjacent to empty field. There my sister and me spent many happy hours with the community kids playing various children games. Four years later they bought a slightly larger flat in the same neighborhood, in which they stayed until 1980, they year they joined me in Canada.
• Moshe Bromberg had managed to find teaching position in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan and did not work in Jerusalem after 1954. Unfortunately, his art and craft teaching in both elementary and high school level were always contract work and not permanent position due to some strange government rules that restricted the number of permanent teaching positions. As a result, his contract was renewed annually but caused a lot of mental stress. With time, Moshe Bromberg had learnt to support the family with small additional income by painting at home at every spare moment he could master and sell these paintings, mostly to visitors from abroad. He managed to do it by word of mouth only, without a formal art agent.
• Moshe Bromberg started the project of painting the Biblical miniatures in 1956.
• Original inspiration for the subject was from the second Israeli President, Mr. Itzhak Ben Zvi after Moshe decorated the president reception hall with the seven types of fruits the land was blessed with and mentioned in the Bible.
• The choice of subjects was more often a well known story or occurrence, often to educate the young generation of Israelis who were not necessarily well versed with the Bible.
• By the mid sixties, after quite a few exhibitions in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv, numerous positive news paper articles, Moshe managed to enlist political VIPs to conduct opening speeches at his exhibitions, as he himself would not say much but would make a remark that ‘the paintings spoke on my behalf’