A Gift to Biro-Bidjan: Chicago, 1937
From Despair to New Hope

Alex Topchevsky (1911–1999)

Exodus from Germany

from the portfolio A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, 1937 Woodcut, 9 15/16 x 7 7/8 in.
Oakton Community College
Gift of Karol Verson
 

 

 
Preface and Acknowledments
Introduction
The Biro-Bidjan Project
Biro-Bidjan and American Support
The Woodcut as a Social 
Communicator
The Title Page
Alex Topchevsky
William Jacobs
Aaron Bohrod
David Bekker
Louis Weiner
Mitchell Siporin
Edward Millman
Fritzi Brod
Bernece Berkman
Moris Topchevsky
Abraham Weiner
Raymond Katz
Todros Geller
Ceil Rosenberg

 

Alex Topchevsky (later known as Alex Topp) was born in Chicago and studied at Hull House under the instruction of his brother Morris Topchevsky and Enella Benedict. He earned his M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his education degree from Loyola University in Chicago. 

He traveled and painted in Mexico, Central America and Europe. His works were exhibited at Art Institute of Chicago and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and they are included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
During the Depression, Topchevsky worked for the WPA as an easel painter and muralist for various government agencies and public institutions.

Exodus from Germany is the only image in the portfolio that directly portrays a specific political theme. Topchevsky was reacting to the historical events that were occurring in Nazi Germany. From 1933 to 1937, German Jews were gradually stripped of their rights and were under increasing legal and social restrictions. The artist’s  image suggests a solution of evacuating from the hostile country and moving to a safe homeland. In the context of the portfolio, one of the optional destinies is the Jewish autonomous region, Biro-Bidjan.

Topchevsky constructed a striking composition in Exodus from Germany. He used an explosive perspective where the escapees, carrying a pitchfork, a violin or a book, move in a procession between two geometric symbols: the Nazi swastika and the illuminated, round shape of a sack carried by one of them.

A circular object like a sack being carried by a human figure symbolizes the poor, the homeless and the refugee, or as used by the expressionist artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), the wanderer. Aaron Bohrod in West Side, used this symbol in dual meanings – as a victim of the Great Depression in Chicago or as the Jew who lacks a homeland.

Topchevsky employs the woodcut technique of white silhouette to intensify the drama. In the darkness, a flame emerges from the swastika, spreads into the circular element and turns it into a glowing object like the rising sun, symbolizing new hope.

Alex Topchevsky, Susie Q, ca. 1930s, 
Oil on board, 20 x 24 in., private Collection.
Alex Topchevsky's printing press, ca. 1930s