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Jacques Gotko (Yakow Gotkowski)


Gotko was born in 1900 in Odessa. In 1905 his family emigrated to Paris, due to fear of pogroms. His father, a factory worker, died eight years later, leaving a widow and two small children. Despite the family's difficult financial position, Gotko was sent to study architecture and scenery design at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. On completing his studies he was employed as a film set designer. His paintings were well received and exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, the Salon des Indépendants and other prestigious galleries. Despite financial and artistic success, Gotko left Paris in 1935, moving to the small town of Charente, where he devoted all his time and energies to painting. He was very close to his mother and sister and they came to live near Gotko and his French wife. On 26 April 1939 an exhibition of his Charente watercolors was held at Galerie Jeanne Castelle in Paris. This was his last exhibition.

In July 1941 Gotko was arrested as a Russian subject, released after a few days, and then re-arrested, this time as a Jew. He was sent to Compiègne and all the "degenerate" paintings in his studio in Charente were destroyed by the Nazis. While in Compiègne, and later in Drancy, he continued his artistic activities, producing woodcuts, drawings and watercolors. But his reputation was first and foremost as a portrait painter. Whatever income he made from commissions was sent to his wife. Some time after he was sent to Drancy, Gotko's mother and sister were also interned in the camp and he witnessed their deportation to Auschwitz in November 1942. He never got over this tragic event. On 31 July 1943 Gotko too was sent to Auschwitz where he soon died of typhus.

Some of the works Gotko produced in the camps came into the possession of fellow internees, such as the artist Isis Kischka or the scientist and historian Georges Wellers. They later donated them to the art collection of Beit Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters' House Museum). Others works by Gotko are in the collection of the Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine in Paris.

(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)

Photo: Fenster


Memorial in Honour of Jewish Artists, Victims of Nazism. The Oscar Ghez Foundation, University of Haifa, no date.

Hirsh Fenster. Undzere Farpainikte Kinstler (Nos artistes martyrs). Published by the author, Paris, 1951.

Georges Wellers. Un juif sous Vichy. Editions Thirésias, Michel Reunaud, Paris, 1991 (re-edition of du L'Etoile jaune &qgrave; l'heure de Vichy. Fayard, Paris, 1973 and De Drancy à Auschwitz. Centre de Documentation Juive contemporaine, Paris, 1946.)

Miriam Novitch. Spiritual Resistance – 120 Drawings from Concentration Camps and Ghettos 1940-1945. The Commune of Milan, Milan, 1979.

Miriam Novitch. Spiritual Resistance: Art from Concentration Camps 1940-1945 - A selection of drawings and paintings from the collection of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot. Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981.

Kenneth E. Silver and Romy Golan. The Circle of Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris 1905-1945. The Jewish Museum, Universe Books, New York, 1985.

Résistance-Déportation: Création dans le bruit des armes. Chancelerie de l'Ordre de la Libération. Paris, 1980.

Seize peintres de Paris. Petit Palais, Gen"ve, 1971.

L'Internement des juifs sous Vichy. Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, Paris, 1996.