The lost and regained Shtetl of Simon Karczmar


            To paint the regained time of a distant childhood and a lost, destroyed, exterminated world… and to retain only its past joy, its life preserved in the memory of a five or six year old child who spends his summers in his grand-father’s village. A Russian Shtetl, today in Lithuania, more precisely in a Lithuanian enclave surrounded by the barbed wire of the Belarusian border.


            Half deserted villages where neat and brightly coloured houses stand alongside those with collapsed wooden walls, abandoned since the war, since the Nazis wiped out the Jewish life that was still flourishing at the beginning of the 20th century when the little Simon spent his holidays there, leaving the big city of Warsaw to be immersed after a long journey in the colours, smells, flavours and songs of an unknown world.


            The little boy kept everything buried in his memory. Simon Karczmar studied in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and in Paris; he started a family and had to give up his art. During the war he joined the French Resistance, his wife deported to Auschwitz returned among the few survivors of the camps, whereas the sixty members of Simon’s family who remained in Poland disappeared in the Ghetto or in the extermination camps. His son Nathan hidden by villagers in the centre of France also survived. All three were reunited at the end of the war and went into exile several times.


At the age of fifty-nine, after a lifetime of work, suffering and a few happy moments, by a strange turn of fate, when an allergy due to the fur he worked on threatened to leave him blind, encouraged by his wife Nadia – Neshuma in Hebrew: breath, soul – who knew what it was to come back to life, Simon started to paint again… with the eyes and the hand of the child he was when he used to visit his grand-father at the very beginning of the 20th century. Thus in a naïve, almost innocent style, rejecting what he had learnt in the Academy of Fine Arts, he painted an explosion of Jewish festivities, swarming markets, carts jolting along muddy paths, silent lovers cradled in the moonlight, transfigured by memory, dream and the joy of a world remained intact in his childhood memory that tragedy had been unable to destroy.

Late but accomplished resilience. Simon Karczmar spends the last quarter of his life painting and showing this regained world, a lost world but which had left its trace in the happy memories of a man who had lived through the history of the 20th century.  After many travels and adventures he finally settled in Israel, in another shtetl, in Safed where Arabs and Jews tried to live side by side in peace.


Angueliki Garidis


November 2018, on the occasion of two exhibitions held in Lithuania, one in Dieveniskes (the Juvenishki shtetl where Simon’s grandfather lived, where a memorial in his honour has been recently created and his name Simon Karczmar will be given to the Regional Technical College) (October-November 2018) and one in the Gaon Museum in Vilnius (22nd November, 2018 to 21st January, 2019).

- Animation on Simon Karczmar'pictures :
Simon Karczmar' pictures: Le shtetl de Simon Karczmar

© Simon Karczmar, Night scene in the shtetl - acrylic on canvas


© Simon Karczmar, Tevie the milkman by night
acrylic on canvas

© Simon Karczmar, Simha Thora
acrylic on canvas

Simon Karczmar'Memorial, Juvenishki (Duveniskes, Lithuania)

Vilnius Gaon Museum

Vilnius Gaon Museum

Vilnius Gaon Museum

Vilnius Gaon Museum

- Exhibition opening at the Vilnius Gaon Museum :