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Mordecai Ardon

I came to Berlin from Poland with a few friends and went with my friends to the museum. It was the first time that I had seen a museum. I was born in a very small town, a village. I saw modern paintings for the first time, and I was very enthusiastic and explained to my friends what I am seeing. And suddenly a woman with a black veil was standing and listening. Isn't it the police? And she approached and said, "Who are you? Are you a student?" "Yes, yes, I'm a student." "Are you a student of art?" She gave me her card, Schlomann, Dahlem, Park Strasse 96, and said, "Come to me." After about a month I came to Dahlem. It was a very rich district, and I went in, and she came and said, "It's a long time that you let me wait for you. What are you doing?" "I am drawing." "I want to see your drawings." Another day I came with drawings, and Stefan came from the cellar and said, "Schlomann told me about you." To make it short, she wrote a letter to the Bauhaus, I think to Paul Klee, and I became a student of the Bauhaus. It was the beginning of the friendship with Stefan. He was years in the cellar by Schlomann. The cellar became like another home. Schlomann was a wonderful woman. She was interested in homeless people and went in search for such people. We were both her children. She had a son, but we were much closer to her.

Stefan several times came with me to the Bauhaus, because there was a group of Viennese students that were very, very close to him. It was Friedl Dicker, Franz Singer, T&nbspry-Ary-Adler Buschmann. If I am not mistaken he had more than amicable relations with Friedl Dicker. When he was visiting Weimar, he was staying with Friedl. She was a genius, sans doute, she was great. So we became three young friends, Stefan, and Friedl, and I. And then Ben Sion, a writer, publisher of Hölderlin. Stefan was very influenced by the poetry of Hölderlin. Stefan wasn't a student, he was like a guest there, he was with us. Because at the Bauhaus they didn't want to be professors, but masters. We were not students, we were Lehrlinge, Gesellen. Stefan was one of the most important points in their group.

And he came to the Bauhaus and tried to paint, to make some drawings. I don't remember if they were really good. It was like an amusement. It wasn't really his way of expression. His way of expression was music. He was a musician and tried to make music at the Bauhaus too, especially because Klee was a wonderful violinist and very interested in modern music. But I'm not sure if they came together. We had another connection, it was Johannes Itten. I became a pupil of Itten in 1920. Stefan was very influenced by him, by his way of teaching. He was a genius as a teacher, much more than as a painter. He had not only a philosophical viewpoint, but his viewpoint appealed to us very much, the way he makes something near you. Itten wanted the expression very powerful. I will give you an example. He came one day and said, "We want to draw a tiger, and you will begin it this way. You know what a tiger is, first, you have to growl like a tiger. And then suddenly, he say, "Now!" In a minute we make a tiger. His way was to shock us and to make us to forget all things we have seen, to bring out the fast feelings. And this way was very near to Stefan too. He got that. Itten was for us this magician that makes us free. He frees something in us. All of the other masters, even Klee, and Klee was a good man, was suspicious about Itten's method. For us it was something very wonderful. Stefan attended a few [of Itten's classes], enough to get an idea. Itten was a very strange person. He became Mazdaznan. All of us became Mazdaznan, and vegetarian, Stefan too. Stefan also had discussions with Gertrude Grunow, a psychological teacher. I didn't understand her well. One day she said to me, "Bronstein, come in. I am fearing you have to take care of you. The green color will be very dangerous for you. And the water too."

After a while [in Berlin] Stefan told me, "You know, there is a meeting from the Communist Party." I say, "So that's fine, that's very near me." And he says, "To me too. How fine." And so we became friends from another viewpoint too, not only from the artistic viewpoint. I entered the Communist Party. I don't know if Stefan did. He was very close, but I'm not sure if he was really a member. I founded a group of designers in Berlin to make the Das Kapital of Marx more understandable to the workers, because they cannot understand it. We said we have to be more engagé, not to make now paintings. We have to help. Stefan was in this group too. We made films. Stefan was deeply involved with us, not in making the films, but every day he was there. How it is going on, how we are solving this question or another question. We were all of us in the Kulturfront der Arbeiterpartei. There were Bert Brecht, Alexander Granach, Eisler, Wangenheim. Granach was close to Stefan, and with Eisler I think there was some relations. But our group of designers were close but a separate group. We made art as a medium to help the workers to be good revolutionaries. Our group in visual art, Stefan in his music came with Wangenheim in the Mausefalle. He was in the way of a political musician. I'm not sure if this is great art today, but in this time, for me, for Stefan, for Friedl, for all of us, it was the only way to make something for the revolution and to make something for us. It is the only way then. We have to be modern, and what means modern? Modern means to serve the Communist Party. Our films they were to be sent to Moscow. I showed the film to a great gathering of about 500 or more workers in a school in Neuköln, a part of Berlin. It was two weeks before Hitler came. The films were not sent to Moscow, it was impossible.

His parents were petit-bourgeois. The mother was a very beautiful woman, the father a bit heavy. I don't think that the relations between Stefan and his parents were good. I had a feeling he is strange in his own home. He was much more open by Schlomann. She became more and more like a mother. Stefan wasn't at all Jewish in this time. He had not Jewish feelings. I became interested in the Kabbalah, the Zohar, and he asked me for this very small book [German translation of the Zohar]. I gave it to him. After a while he gave it back to me without any remarks. I don't think that he really had a Jewish feeling. All of us, I have to say, we wanted to escape the Jewishness. Really to escape. With me it is very strange, because I am from a very Hassidic family. I was in the Yeshiva, but nevertheless, I wanted to escape it. Stefan too, more than I.

In Palestine Stefan was in the way to become a musical leader, because he went in the kibbutzim. The kibbutz was the new human being that was born, and his feeling was, "This is my people." And he became more attached, not to Jewishness, but to the Israeli form of Jewishness, collectively. He thought this is the new Jewishness, this is the new society. This is the Jews, and they are making the new men in the new world.

Stefan was very eccentric, very. He was very stirnig, emphatic. He wanted all things that he sees, this is right, and what is other he has to make clear that isn't right. He was a special kind of a human being. In his behavior, in his kind of asking questions, of answering. He was very helpful, he had a lot of feelings for people. But he could change between hours. If it was a relation, suddenly tomorrow it can break up. If somebody, something happened, pouf. Philosophy with Stefan is mixed with personal feelings and personal things. But all of us, we loved him. I am not exaggerating, he had a special feeling for me, and I a special feeling for him. We were really like brothers. For years we saw each other sometimes every day. My wife found him a bisschen zuviel [a bit much].[When he left Palestine] for us, and for me personally, it was not only a shock, it was a disaster. I didn't become a Zionist, but I became an Israeli. I had the feeling that my friend Stefan is a bit of a traitor that he's going away. Because, where is the new man? He's here, not in Europe.

He was the only friend that I had. He was the only one. You see, the human being is not born alone. There is always a group of human beings who are thrown out. This group are real friends. You have colleagues--friends, but they are not with you together. Stefan was thrown with me together, so he was the only friend. The others, I have a lot of friends, I have admirers, I have people that are with me, but they not thrown with me together. He was from this group. As he was in Israel, something happened to him too. Not in a political way, and not in an artificial morality, not Zionist. It was something like destiny. He felt that there is something he belongs to. He was a Jew by description, but not a Jew. He became involved, not in Jewishness, but in some primary feelings. He was not brought up as a Jew, but he suddenly had a feeling for these strange roots. He felt that it is something for him too. After the war in '52 or '53 he came back, he was searching for this strange point. This was the purpose of coming back, nothing more. He didn't find it, and went away.

Mordechai Ardon (1896--1992), an Israeli artist of Polish birth, was born Max Bronstein. He studied at the Bauhaus, Weimar, under Klee, Kandinsky, Itten and Lyonel Feininger from 1920 to 1925. In 1926 he studied painting in Munich with Max Doerner. He immigrated to Palestine, where in 1935 he taught at the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem and was its director from 1940 to 1952. Interview: AC, Paris, 27 November 1979.


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