As part of the work The Together Plan in the development of a Jewish Cultural Heritage Trail, we are undertaking research on the Yiddish writers, poets and artists of Belarus. The rich Jewish life of this much-forgotten country will slowly come to life as we start to tell the story. In the coming weeks, we will share some of this research in our monthly newsletters. This week we meet Lazar Ran, who was born in Latvia but lived in Polotsk, Minsk and Moscow throughout different periods of his life.
Lazar Ran born Dvinsk (now Daugavpils ), Latvia, 1909 – died Ohio, USA, 1985
Lazar Ran was born in Dvinsk, Latvia, in 1909, and with his family moved to Polotsk, Belarus, when he was 6 years old. In 1928, Ran attended the Vitebsk Fine Arts School, where famous artists Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) were instructors. After graduation, Ran worked as an artist in Minsk, demonstrating his talent in multiple styles.
In 1941 he travelled to Moscow, where he was prevented from travelling back to Minsk for three fateful years. When Ran finally returned to Minsk in 1944, he learned that his wife and daughter were among the thousands of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis.
Deeply troubled by his personal and cultural loss, Ran contemplated the Holocaust for the rest of his life, and it began to infuse his work in the 1950s.
In 1952, he created a series of engravings inspired by Brest Fortress, a 19th-century Russian fortress in Brest, Belarus that became a symbol of Soviet resistance after a 1941 battle between Germany and the USSR. Aside from one print detailing the Fortress itself, the rest are dark, heavy images of forests primarily. During WWII, the forests of Belarus and Lithuania provided a safe refuge where partisan groups were able to survive and function. Ran has captured their secretive qualities perfectly.
In the 1960s, Ran began to produce lithographs, first with his “Minsk Ghetto” series, which was a return to the Holocaust themes that haunted him. Here Ran depicts portraits of some of those who were executed by the Nazis.
Between November 1941 and October 1942, the German government deported nearly 24,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to Minsk. SS and police authorities shot or gassed most of them upon arrival in Maly Trostenets. Originally a concentration camp for Soviet prisoners of war, Maly Trostinets became the site of a mass killing of Jews. The Minsk Ghetto was destroyed in the fall of 1943, with the remaining Jews deported to Sobibor or killed at Maly Trostinets.
Later, in his “Great Thinkers” series from the 1970s, Ran portrays the gravestones of Jewish artists and writers executed in Belarus from 1936 to 1938 as part of Stalin’s “Great Purge” and in Moscow in 1952 on “The Night of the Murdered Yiddish Poets.”
Images courtesy Holocaust Center of Pittsburg
Thank you to Arturo Kerbel-Shine for this Yiddish research
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