Jechezkiel David Kirszenbaum was born in Staszow, Poland in 1900. He was the youngest son of a rabbinical scholar. At the age of twelve he began to draw and paint; primarily signboards and portraits of people he admired including I.L. Perez, Mendele Mocher Sfarim,Theodor Herzl and Karl Marx.
Kirszenbaum immigrated to Germany in 1920 and began his official artistic studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1923. There he studied under Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger. In the mid 1920s he moved to Berlin where he worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for a number of Berlin newspapers under the pseudonym of Duvdivani. During the same period he participated in several local exhibitions, including those organized at the avant-garde Der Sturm gallery.
Due to his association with those artists designated "Degenerate" by the Nazis, most of the works of this period were destroyed. The few that survived, primarily inspired by his memories of the Jewish world left behind in the Polish shtetl, indicate the strong influence of Cubism. In 1933 he fled Germany and moved to Paris with his wife. This period marks a new beginning in Kirszenbaum's life. There he discovered French Impressionism and the emphasis on everyday life in artistic expression. Immediately absorbed into the Jewish circle of artists there, part of the well-known “School of Paris", he began to explore his own natural inclination toward Expressionism and its application to his very personal form of mysticism, Jewish belief and folklore. Like most of his colleagues, he was poor and lived with the eternal sadness of what he'd left behind in his native Poland as well as the evil encroaching on all Europe. During these years he became acquainted with George Rouault and a mutual appreciation and a friendship developed between the two.
The Second World War put an end to all his new-found dreams as he was imprisoned in a number of work camps in Southern France and his wife was arrested and deported. At the end of the war he discovered that his wife, and most of the members of his family from Staszow, had perished in various concentration camps and that his studio in Paris had been ransacked and looted during the German occupation. More than 600 of his paintings and drawings, nearly all his work dating from before his arrest, were destroyed.
Alix de Rothschild, one of his more prominent post-War students, saved him from depression and did much to restore both his artistic career and personal life. Gifted with an unusual pictorial memory, Kirszenbaum was able to reconstruct the scenes of his childhood, bringing back to life the village where he had lived and the men he had known there. Paintings of what had been left behind offered a form of healing for his tremendous loss. In the same manner, his exploration of the prophets of the Old Testament recaptured the mystery and mysticism of the vanished Eastern Europe Jewry.
In the late 1940s Kirszenbaum began to travel abroad to exotic destinations. In particular, his trip to Brazil, after the devastating experience of the war years, offered a new lease on life allowing him to rediscover the original sources of his inspiration. His later works are an homage to survival; his joy in painting effectively captures his passion for life. Although he succeeded in mounting several one man exhibitions in Paris in the early 1950s, his career was dramatically cut short in 1954, when he died from cancer.
Documentation of the Kirszenbaum exhibition at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, Tel Aviv, Israel