Nevertheless, Ginzburg’s father could not turn his back on his own people. Unbeknownst to even his own family, Itzhak worked unselfishly to help his fellow Jews. He worked with the Jewish underground, providing counseling and a forum for which Jewish families could turn and ask for legal advice since they could not rely on the laws of the communist state. Often, Itzhak would be gone days at a time helping other families.
Unfortunately, his activities aroused the suspicion of the authorities and one cold winter night, while the family slept, the police came to the Zhukov household. More than five officers wearing ominous dark leather coats barged into the house and dragged both of Ginzburg’s parents away. Ginzburg remembers peering out the window, trying to see, but not be seen. His parents, still in their pajamas with hands tied behind their backs were dragged down the steps and put into a police wagon.
For three days his parents did not return. Ginzburg, only six years old, was forced to take care of his two younger sisters. He had no idea what had happened. He could turn to no one for help. His neighbors would not open the door for him out of fear that they too would be taken away. The only person that came to his aid was a friend of his father’s. He brought food and assured him that his parents were all right and that his mother would be home soon. After three days his mother did return home. Lida did not know her son had witnessed the arrest, and upon her return she explained to Ginzburg and his sisters that their father was not well. They had taken him to the hospital to get better. It was a long stay in the “hospital”. Itzhak was jailed for almost two years because of his Zionistic activities, but Ginzburg never knew that his father was a political prisoner of the state. His mother shielded him well.
Post-World War II Poland was greatly influenced by the Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin. Ginzburg’s upbringing was similar to that of many people in Communist Europe. He lived by the rules of the totalitarian state. Stalin’s words were gospel. If one deviated from his ways it was considered heresy and punishable by prison, torture and even death, as Ginzburg’s father knew all too well. Ginzburg, knowing no other way of life, was convinced communism was good. Stalin was a hero and when he died in 1953, Ginzburg remembers mourning alongside thousands of citizens sobbing at the death of their hero, their savior.
The year following Stalin’s death brought political reform to Poland. What Ginzburg knew to be true was challenged by the new government. He recalls an incident in school when he was eight that left him wondering about the ways of the world.
One day in 1954, the stern and elusive headmaster of Ginzburg’s school entered his classroom. He ceremoniously walked to the front of the room where three framed pictures of Marx, Stalin and Lenin hung on the wall. The frightened class stood rigid with anticipation. The headmaster removed Stalin’s picture, turned towards the class and raised the portrait over his head. In a strong and authoritarian voice he explained, “This man is responsible for genocide of his own people. The atrocities he committed are unthinkable, they are unspeakable. He is not a hero, but a criminal of the greatest kind. You must not believe your history books. All that you have learned is not true. He is a terrible monster, the source of our misery and he must be despised.” Then with rage in his eyes and the power to kill in his hands, he crashed the picture on the floor and began to spit on the shattered pieces. The class was stunned, no one dared to move. Then he grabbed the child closest to him and made him repeat his actions. Every child in the class was then paraded by the picture and forced to spit. It was a time of turmoil for Ginzburg. He could not understand the changes and if the Stalin incident was not enough to create confusion in his young mind, later that year he learned for the first time of his Jewish heritage. One day he brought home a toy depicting a caricature of a praying Jew. This toy was produced and widely distributed throughout Europe by the German SS to promote anti-Semitism during the Nazi occupation. When Ginzburg showed it to his father, his father turned red with anger. Sadly, with tears in his eyes, the elder Ginzburg sat down and told his son of his true heritage. Ginzburg, who was then called Yuri, was still too young to comprehend the consequences of being Jewish. The news excited him, he thought it was wonderful, but when he shared the news with his friends, they turned on him. They abandoned him, he was no longer their comrade. This disturbed Ginzburg. He was young and confused. He wanted to flee that awful place, but there was no escape. Amongst many of his other major commissions in the U.S., one stands out. Located in Tampa, Florida, this monumental sculpture, “The Invisible Hand,” is an interpretive dimensional sculpture that dramatizes the words: “Creativity is the product of the invisible hand.” It is a static version of the amorphous forms that blend the illusion and sense of rhythm and movement so often reflected in his paintings.
Internationally, Yankel Ginzburg’s monumental works are well known and often sought after. His latest monumental piece was commissioned by President Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation. This monumental sculpture/park adjoins the Russian White House, and is to commemorate the August 1991 Democratic Revolution.
While some of Ginzburg’s monumental pieces of art are for pure pleasure, some are to invoke intense thought and human emotion. One of his most exciting public projects, currently under production, is one such piece of art. The work embodies an SS-20 Soviet missile, a symbol of war and destruction, and transforms it into an object of love and peace; a subject to which Ginzburg devotes his life.