skip to content

New Research on Bruno Schulz under the Soviet Occupation


University Lecturer in Polish Studies Dr Stanley Bill has recently published new research on the survival strategies of Polish-Jewish writer and artist Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland of 1939-41.

Dr Bill's article – entitled "Propaganda on the Margins: Bruno Schulz's Soviet Illustrations, 1940–41" – was published in the July 2018 edition of The Slavonic and East European Review.

During the Second World War, Bruno Schulz’s hometown of Drohobycz – then located in eastern Poland – was occupied by two totalitarian regimes. First, in September 1939, the Red Army annexed the region under a secret clause of the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In June 1941, Hitler attacked his Soviet allies, and Drohobycz came under German control. Along with the rest of the town’s Jewish population, Schulz was imprisoned in a cramped ghetto, while the German authorities made preparations for the mass murder of the Holocaust. In November 1942, Schulz was shot dead on the street by an SS officer.

Dr Bill's research pertains to the earlier period of the Soviet occupation. In conditions of terror and deprivation, Schulz worked as an illustrator for a local Ukrainian-language propaganda newspaper entitled ‘Bolshevik Truth’. In 2016, the illustrations – many of them glorifying Stalin, Lenin and Soviet military power – finally emerged from archives in Ukraine. In his article, Dr Bill gives the first comprehensive interpretations of these important new materials in their historical, social and political contexts.

Schulz himself was not a communist. Dr Bill's research shows that Schulz's propaganda work formed part of a survival strategy of artistic and ideological mimicry under the occupation. The article also presents evidence to suggest that Schulz cleverly concealed politically subversive material in his illustrations, revealing his authentic views on Soviet ideology and the occupation of eastern Poland. His work – which might be described as a form of forced labour – exemplifies the dramatic choices faced by individuals under Soviet rule.


The leading image above features a detail from one of the newly rediscovered propaganda illustrations by Bruno Schulz.

Image courtesy of Lesya Khomych and Leonid Tymoshenko.