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Max Bueno de Mesquita
1913-2001

BiographyWorks

Max (Meir) Bueno de Mesquita was born in Amsterdam on January 31, 1913, to a Jewish family of Portuguese origin. The five children in the family, three boys and two girls, studied Hebrew, received religious education and used to attend synagogue. Max spent his childhood in the Jewish quarter of the city, which was a colorful and lively place. His father worked in the Jewish community and his hobby was binding old books, one of which was given to the queen of Holland. His mother, Margaretha de Swarte, who was the central figure in the family, encouraged her children to show interest in art. At the age of seven Bueno de Mesquita received a kit with pencils and brushes from his mother, and began to draw. At the age of sixteen his father took him to visit the Rijksmuseum where he first saw works by Rembrandt, who had even drawn portraits of ancestors of the de Mesquita family that are displayed in the museum. At that time Max decided to become a painter.

In the years 1931-1934 Bueno de Mesquita studied at the State Academy of Arts, and for his excellence was awarded the prestigious Prix du Rome. He used the money from the prize to travel to Rome. The artist felt uncomfortable in the fascist atmosphere in Rome under the Mussolini regime, and returned home after a few weeks' stay. He began to study graphic design because he couldn't earn a living from painting.

In 1936 Bueno Mesquita had anti-Semitic statements cast at him by a Dutch youth, which awakened his desire to immigrate to Eretz-Israel. In order to receive an immigration certificate, he had to spend two years studying trades required in the country of his destination, such as metalworking and farming, which were alien to him as an artist and graphic person. He joined the Einzel-Hachshara Deventer group of the Jewish Youth Federation, and on the de Achterhok farm, located in a hilly area of Holland, he learned caring for horses, milking and other farming jobs which were supposed to train him for work in Eretz-Israel. His request for a certificate was deferred, because at that time priority in the quota of permits was given to young refugees who had fled from Germany.

At the Hachshara Deventer he met Elisabeth de Jong (Beppie), whom he married in Amsterdam in 1938. The couple resided in Heemstede and Max worked in a printing shop in Haarlem.

On May 10, 1940 the German armies invaded Holland. Holland surrendered five days later and became a German-occupied area. When the anti-Semitic policies grew worse, Max Bueno de Mesquita, his wife and her parents were forced to live in hiding. They were discovered after thirteen months, following the capture of a Dutch underground activist in whose notebook their hiding place was mentioned. The family was arrested and sent, via Westerbork transit camp, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which they reached on August 23, 1943.

The majority of the artist's family died in the concentration camps. His wife's parents were sent to the gas chambers, his father and one of his brothers (Joop) were beaten to death in Auschwitz, and his mother and his sister Kitty, who was pregnant, were sent to the gas chamber immediately after their arrival. His older sister Sarah was taken to Terezin with her husband, and from there they were taken to the gas chamber in Auschwitz. The artist, whose number in the camp was 123709, worked at slave labor in Auschwitz and was sent to several other camps: Koloshov, Swientochlowice, Mauthausen and Gusen. He was liberated when the Allies entered Gusen in April 1945, but because of his poor state of health he was sent to a hospital in Linz.

The artist returned to Amsterdam in November 1945, where he found his wife, who had had medical experiments carried out on her, and one of his brothers, Appie. Relations between Bueno de Mesquita and his wife deteriorated, so he left home in 1946 and from 1946-1948 he lived in France and Italy and then came to Israel. He was active in the Bricha[1] , the Aliya[2] , and fought in the Gachal unit of foreign fighters in the War of Independence, in the north of Israel.

In 1948 Bueno de Mesquita returned to Holland where he continued painting, incorporating his Holocaust experiences in his work. The artist remarried and his little daughter Kitty, named after his beloved sister, was born in 1966.

Following a serious mental breakdown, which included a suicide attempt, in 1972 he was hospitalized in the hospital of Dr. Bastians, a Dutch psychiatrist who developed an innovative treatment method using LSD for people suffering from post-concentration camp syndrome. During this period Bueno de Mesquita created many works of art based on events connected to him and his family during the Holocaust in a style completely different from his style prior to his treatment.

Max Bueno de Mesquita passed away at his home in Holland on February 5, 2001, shortly after his eighty-eighth birthday, which he celebrated with his friends and relatives.

Dr. Pnina Rosenberg

Footnote

[1]A Jewish organization that smuggled Jews from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, with the ultimate destination being Mandatory Palestine

[2]Organization for Jewish illegal immigration to Mandatory Palestine


References

Max Bueno de Mesquita. Rijks museum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1977.

Pnina Rosenberg. Butterflies in Auschwitz: Max (Meier) Bueno de Mesquita. Ghetto Fighters' House Museum, 1999.