Bruno Schulz (1892 - 1942) was a small-town teacher who produced with a pencil both beautiful drawings and beautiful prose - a major figure in Polish literature whose output, cut short by the Holocaust, might be described as a kind of melding of Kafka and Chagall.
Born in 1892 in the small Polish town of Drohobycz, in which he would spend most of his life, Schulz earned his keep teaching art to young students. His short stories were first sent out only to his close friends. His talent, however, was soon recognized and his writings began circulating in Polish literary circles and were eventually published to international acclaim. In his story collections, The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, Schulz employs a baroque poetic style with a stunning, surrealistic edge, portraying a world torn between the traditions of the shtetl and the harsh realities imposed by modern society. As his fame grew, Schulz struggled to write The Messiah, the novel that was to be his masterwork. Schulz did not live to complete that work. The Nazis occupied Poland in the fall of 1939. Schulz, driven into the ghetto, was first placed under the protection of a Nazi officer who obliged him to paint fairy tale figures on the walls of his son's bedroom. Caught in an escalating feud between his protector and another German Nazi official, Schulz was shot on November 19th, 1942.
The tragic disappearance of The Messiah, his final work (which Jerzy Ficowski discusses in Regions of the Great Heresy in considerable detail), has seized the literary imagination of a generation of writers and is still the subject of intense speculation. Though for a long time he was more widely known and admired in Europe, writers like Cynthia Ozick and Philip Roth stirred further interest in Bruno Schulz through their portrayals of this inscrutable author. When Israeli officials removed his artwork from Ukraine in 2001 and transported it to Israel, Schulz became the subject of front-page controversy in newspapers around the world.
The renowned short-story writer Isaac Beshivis Singer wrote of Bruno Schulz: Schulz cannot be easily classified. He can be called a surrealist, a symbolist, an expressionist, a modernist. He wrote sometimes like Kafka, "sometimes like Proust, and at times he succeeded in reaching depths that neither of them reached."