Thursday 4 January 2018


MORTKHE NARKIS (M. NARKISS) (December 28, 1898-March 26, 1957)
            He was born in Skale (Skała), near Oytsov (Ojców), Kielce district, Poland.  His father, Yikusiel-Dovid Potash, wrote correspondence pieces on Jewish life in Kielce for Unzer leben (Our life) and for M. Spektor’s Di naye velt (The new world) in Warsaw.  Until age ten Narkis studied in religious elementary schools, later with itinerant school teachers and tutors in Volbram (Wolbrom).  Deemed a prodigy at age thirteen, he became interested at the same time in matters involving art.  From the early years of his youth, he was an active leader in the Zionist labor movement in Kielce and Zaglembye (Zagłębie) districts.  Over the years 1915-1918, during WWI, he was a cofounder of Hashomer (The guard) and “Tseire Tsiyon" (Young Zionists) in the areas in which the Austrian military settled.  In 1919 he departed for Cracow, where he studied philosophy, art history, and archeology at the local university.  In the late summer of 1920 he went as a pioneer to the land of Israel and went on to become a student at the Betzalel art school in Jerusalem, later secretary and organizer of its exhibitions abroad.  From 1925 he was connected with the Jewish Museum and on its behalf on several occasions visited Europe and the United States.  After WWII he traveled through Europe and salvaged thousands of works by murdered Jewish artists, put on shows of these works, compiled catalogues of them, and provided them with biographical sketches.  His entire life, he did research on Jewish archeology, old Jewish coins, and old Jewish ritual objects, and he wrote essays about them in various languages.  His writing activities began with children’s stories and poetry in Y. Katsenelson’s children’s magazine Tsafririm (Zephyrs) in Lodz.  In Yiddish he debuted in print with an article “Yidishe kunst” (Jewish art) in the daily newspaper Di tsayt (The times) in Cracow (1919-1920), later publishing as well in the Polish Jewish Nowy dziennik (New daily) in Cracow, and in Lemberg’s Togblat (Daily newspaper); he also contributed to Altnayland (Old new land) and Haynt (Today) in Warsaw, Lodzer tageblat (Lodz daily newspaper), Tsukunft (Future) and Forverts (Forward) in New York, and Haolam (The world) in London, among others.  From 1925 he was writing for: Davar (Word), Kriyat sefer (Republic of letters), Tarbits (Academy), Ketuvim (Writings), Moznaim (Scales), Afikim (Streams), Moledet (Homeland), Haisha (Woman), Ḥagim-vezemanim (Holidays and seasons), Teatron veomanut (Theater and art), Reshumot (Records), Mizraḥ umaariv (East and West), Doar hayom (Today’s mail), Haarets (The land), Kuntres (Pamphlet), Hapoel hatsair (The young worker), Yalkut (Collection), Itonenu (Our future), and Hatsiyoni hakelali (The general Zionist), among others, in the state of Israel.  He also contributed to: the German Jewish Encyclopedia Judaica (Berlin), Entsiklopediya kelalit (General encyclopedia), Entsiklopediya haivrit (Hebrew encyclopedia), and Entsiklopediya neurim (Youth encyclopedia).  He was one of the main contributors to the five collections of research on Israel: Erets yisrael (The land of Israel).  In Sefer rashi (Volume on Rashi) (Jerusalem, 1941), he published on metalwork in the era of Rashi.  He authored a Hebrew terminological dictionary for graphic terms: Milon lemunḥe hagrafika (Dictionary of graphic terms) (Jerusalem, 1937), 294 pp., with drawings.  Other works in book form include: Haḥalutsim, leket tselaliyot (The pioneers, a collection of silhouettes), written with Meir Gur-Aryeh (Jerusalem, 1925), 20 pp.; Matbeot erets-yisrael (Coins of the land of Israel) (Jerusalem, 1936), 139 pp.; part two of previous work, Matbeot zarot al adamat erets-yisrael (Foreign coins in the land of Israel), in manuscript; Menorat haḥanuka (The Hanukkah menorah) (Jerusalem, 1939), 122 pp.; Melekhet haomanut shel yehude teman (The art work of Yemenite Jews) (Jerusalem, 1941), 40 pp.  He edited and prepared for publication Professor Boris Schatz’s Di geboyte yerusholaim, a kholem afn vor (Jerusalem constructed, a dream of reality) (New York, 1925), 2 volumes, which Narkis also translated from Yiddish into Hebrew from Schatz’s Al omanut, omanim umevakrehem (On art, artists, and critics) (Jerusalem, 1924).  From German into Hebrew, he translated the biography of painter Max Liebermann and the latter’s book Al hadimyon batsiyur (On similarities in painting) (Jerusalem, 1944/1945), 79 pp.; from English, he translated Jozef Israëls’s Masot umasaot (Essays and journeys) (Jerusalem, 1953), 78 pp., and Jacob Epstein’s Yehi pisul, pirke avtobiyografya (Let there be sculpture, chapters of an autobiography) (Jerusalem, 1947/1948), 121 pp.; and from Polish, he translated Maurycy Gottlieb’s Igarot udivre yoman (Letters and journal entries) (Jerusalem, 1955/1956), 77 pp.  He also published under such pseudonyms as: M. Potash, R. Mordekhai, M. Eshlag, M. Avi Nefesh, M. Avi-Tselili, and Muzeos.  He was continually ill over the last years of his life, but he did not stop working until his last days.  He died in Jerusalem.  He was the brother of the poetess Rikuda Potash.  To perpetuate his memory, one of the main streets in Jerusalem was named for him, and the sixth volume of the Erets-yisrael encyclopedia (Jerusalem, 1960) was dedicated to his memory, with an introduction by Marc Chagall.  In that volume was also published Narkis’s last work, “Reshito shel hahadas livesamim” (The origin of the spice box known as the hadas), pp. 189-98, a short bibliographical listing with 846 entries, compiled by his son B. Narkis.  He left in manuscript a large number of works on Jewish art, folklore, Israeli art, Jewish archeology, and Passover Haggadahs (some of which were later published in Hebrew and Yiddish).

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4 (under the entry for Professor B. Schatz); A. Yerushalmi, in Der tog (New York) (November 17, 1934); Ḥ. Shorer, in Davar (Tel Aviv) (March 27, 1951); Rikuda Potash, in Heymish (Tel Aviv) (May 15, 1957); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958), p. 304; D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 9 (Tel Aviv, 1958), pp. 3378-79; Erets-yisrael, vol. 6 (Jerusalem, 1960); Yehoshua Brand, in Haarets (Tel Aviv) (February 10, 1961); A. M. Haberman, in Hapoel hatsair 19 (1961); obituary notices in the Hebrew and Yiddish press throughout the world (March 26, 27, and 28, 1957); Y. Rivkind, Hagadot pesaḥ beaspaklarya shel hadorot (Passover Haggadahs from the perspective of generations) (New York, 1961), p. 2; M. Sh. Geshuri, Volbrom irenu (Our city Volbrom) (Tel Aviv, 1962), pp. 549-53.
Khayim Leyb Fuks

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