Robert Guttmann, Kindling the Hanukkah Lights, 1941
oil on cardboard, 29 x 17.5 cm
inv. no. ŽMP 79.241
The eccentric, self-taught artist and unique figure in pre-war Prague Robert Guttmann was born on 20 April 1880 in the southern Bohemian town of Sušice. In 1895 he moved to Prague where he attended the private art school of Alois Kirnig and became introduced to the ideas of the nascent Jewish national movement. Zionism and art became his two great passions in life. As a keen hiker and traveller, he undertook regular journeys on foot to Zionist congresses between 1897-1925. He kept precise records of his journeys in travel diaries and albums, some of which have been preserved in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, as have a number of his drawings and paintings.
The intimate little picture Kindling of Hanukkah Lights is imbued with a tranquil family atmosphere on Sabbath Eve. Paradoxically, it was made in the bleak situation of World War II and is probably one of his last paintings. The date above the signature in the bottom right corner shows that it was completed in 1941. This year was a dramatic turning point for Jews living in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, as mass deportations were started by the Nazi occupational administration in the autumn of that year. Prague Jews were the first to be deported. During October and November 1941, five deportation trains were sent from Prague to the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland. Robert Guttman was put on the first of these – transport A, which left Prague on 16 October 1941. According to eye witness accounts, Guttmann arrived at the assembly point only with his artist’s folder and brushes. True to his principles as an artist, he assumed that he needed nothing else in life. After five months of incarceration in the Lodz ghetto, he died of hunger and exhaustion.