felix lembersky

Felix Samoilovich Lembersky (Russian: Феликс Самойлович Лемберский) (Lublin, Poland, November 11, 1913 – Leningrad, December 2, 1970) was a Russian/Soviet painter, artist, teacher, theater stage designer and community organizer of Jewish origin.

Lembersky was one of the founders of the dissident movement within the Leningrad Union of Soviet Artists and one of the very few who publicly criticized the style of socialist realism in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He painted subjects forbidden at the time, pertaining to religion, Judaism, the Holocaust as well as totalitarianism.

Lembersky was born in 1913 into the family of Samuil Lembersky of Lublin, on the eve of World War One. The Russians lost Lublin to Austro-Hungarian army in 1915. The family relocated to Berdyczów (now Berdychiv, Ukraine) however, the Soviet troops destroyed most of Berdyczów during the Polish–Soviet War of 1920, and the city was ceded by Poland to the USSR following Peace of Riga. His parents remained there. In 1927-1930 Lembersky relocated to Kiev where he attended the Jewish Arts’ and Trades’ School (known as “Kultur-Lige Art School”) In 1930–33 he worked as set designer for the Jewish Theater locally and in 1933–35 attended the Kiev Art Institute. In 1935 he moved to Leningrad to study at the Russian Academy of Arts.

Lembersky toured the Urals to collect material for his thesis, while the Soviet Union invaded Poland. He was in Leningrad when Nazi Germany launched their Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, and had witnessed the Siege of Leningrad (1941–44). Wounded during the summer of 1941, Lembersky completed his thesis in the besieged city, and graduated with honors for academic achievement. In the same year, his parents perished in Berdichev during the Holocaust in Ukraine.

The themes in Lembersky’s art focused the Siege of Leningrad, the Miners of the Urals, Staraya Ladoga, Russian Revolution (1917), industrial sites of Nizhny Tagil and the Holocaust. Three Babi Yar paintings (1944–52), which Lembersky painted following the death of his parents at the hands of the Nazis in Ukraine, are the earliest known artistic record of the massacre. The final painting of the Babi Yar cycle was created during Stalin’s vicious anti-Semitic campaign in 1952. The second painting Babi Yar painting was never exhibited in the Soviet Union, it was shown publicly for the first time at Brandeis University in 2011 marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre.