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Simon Karczmar

Simon Karczmar, my father, was born in Warsaw, Poland, November 1rst, 1903. At age five, his parents took little Smaja (Simon) to his grand-father, in Juvenishki, a shtetl near Vilnius. There, he discovered the hatas (little wooden houses), the water carrier, Toive the milkman, and the horses which he loved to ride bareback and already then to draw.

Later, he went to the Warsaw School of Fine Art. He painted nature and portraits. To pay for his studies, he went regularly to Russia to buy furs for a cousin who is a furrier. He developed a great experience as  a fur sorter

In 1929, he went to Paris to further his painting practice. He meet a young polish lady, Nechuma (Nadia) while taking french  evening courses and in 1931 he married her. In 1933, I was born, their only child. To provide for the family, Simon was a fur sorter. Soon Nadia opened a perfumery at les Lilas, in Paris  suburbs. When the second world war bursts out and the situation became unbearable for jews in Paris. In 1941, the family took refuge in Nice which was for a while non-occupied zone by the German. When the situation worsened, I was sent with some cousins in the countryside while my parents were hiding with other members of the family in a mountain village. They were denounced and Nadia's father is murdered by a french milician collaborating with the German. Nadia is deported to Auschwitz. Simon joins the resistance in the bush.

In 1945, at the end of the war, Nadia returns from deportation and recovers her store in the Lilas. In 1951, the family decides to emigrate to Israel where Simon enters in partnership with a brother in law in a small metallurgical factory. The business soon 
gets bad and he must close it. At the invitation of a friend, the family moved in 1955 to Canada, in Montreal, where my father found work as a fur sorter.

In 1959, he got an allergy which affected his eyes and he had to interrup his work. Seeing him depressed, Nadia bought him 3 canvas, brushs and tubes of paint and reminded him that when she met him he was a painter. At that moment, Simon was reading works by Shalom Alechem and spontaneously started to paint his memories from the shtetl in a naive manner, the way he looked at it as a child.

Encouraged by the reception to his new works, he painted, until he had enough paintings to organise an exhibition at the Montreal WMHA. Then, in 1960, with Nadia he went to Mexico where were I was organising the Mexican Museum of Film on Art. He made a second exhibition at the Centro Deportivo and was invited to show at two other mexican galeries.

Simon painted and Nadia organised exhibitions during ten tears in the US and Canada. In 1962, they returned to Israel where Simon took a studio in Safed and became member of the artist colony. For long, they alternated between Safed in summer and New-York in winter. Having so accomplished to be a painter during the last 22 years of his life, Simon died in 1982, at 79 years old. He is resting at the Safed cemetery. He has narrated tiressly the shtetl daily life, lovers, weddings, births, holidays, musicians, dansers, markets, prayers to the moon and various figures, all this touching universe that  he drew and painted with love. Then, in Safed, he found a new source of inspiration with its inhabitants ans its so picturesque alleyways, his second shtetl.

Natan Karczmar