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 Eli Jacobi  (1898 - 1984)

About: Eli Jacobi


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Lived/Active: New York / Ukraine/Russian Federation      Known for: prints, illustration-cartoons

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Ad Code: 4
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is submitted by the artist's nephew, Jake Jacobi:

He passed away in 1984, while living in New York.
An exhibition celebrating many of his works was held at the Mary Ryan Gallery in 1986. At intervals, as time permits, I would like to add items of interest regarding mu uncle, Eli Jacobi. I would like to start with an article about him from 1918. He was featured in an article in The World Magazine, January 13, 1918. The following is the text of that article:
"Boy Artist Captive of Jerusalem Turks," by Charles W. Wood.

Nowhere was the fall of Jerusalem celebrated with more genuine emotion than in New York City. And no one in New York could have felt more poignantly happy over the great world event than Elias Jacobi. Elias is 19 years old. Two years ago he was a prisoner of the Turks in a Jerusalem jail, in about the most forlorn situation that any young Jew could be. True, he was only "interned for the war," but his jailers were the hated Moslems, despoilers of the Holy City, who cared far less for the life of a Jew than they did for a broken-down horse or mule. Horses and mules can be killed and eaten in a pinch, and food was so scarce in Jerusalem that even the Turkish soldiers were half starved. Boys, even if they are artists, cannot be killed and eaten. They can only be killed. Elias Jacobi was well aware from day to day how these principles of economics were working out. As for art, such fool things as paper and pencils were not allowed in the Turkish jails.

Every day, Elias says, some prisoners were taken out of the jail. Taken out to die. No, not to be shot. They were taken out to die of starvation--those who were already starved in the prison and could not be expected to live more than another day or two. The Turkish officials were very solicitous--about the record of the prison. It would be a disgrace, they felt, for many prisoners to die while in confinement. For 6 months, Elias Jacobi languished in this atmosphere of utter hopelessness and death.

Elias had taken first prize in the art school before the war, and there wasn't a day that his old teacher, Professor Schatz, forgot the boy. He knew there was no use of appealing directly to the Turkish Government. He went instead to the American Consul. He showed him some of Elias Jacobi's work.

America was then at peace with all the world, and the American Consul was granted a respectful hearing.

"What harm can this boy do?" he asked. "What good can come of wasting his life? There's an American cruiser at __________, why not let us take him aboard?"

"Pictures?" said the dignified officials. "We must examine them." One by one the pictures were scrutinized by these strange judges. His life was saved, because he hadn't drawn a single one of the pictures he had most wanted to draw!

Young Jacobi, from the outbreak of the War until his imprisonment, had worked feverishly at his art. One or two compositions he hid or destroyed, preserving nothing but the simplest portraits. No, they were not all pictures of despair--those inspirations he so wanted to work out. Some of them were humorous, savagely humorous, but humorous just the same. They would have expressed contempt, sublime contempt, for his lords and masters; the contempt of a free soul rising above all this starvation and stupidity and holding them up to the ridicule of a better day to come. But Elias stored all of those pictures in his memory, where even the Turkish authorities couldn't find them, and went on drawing and painting the pathos and mysticism in the faces of those about him.

And so the Turkish Government let its future satirist go free and Elias was taken aboard the American cruiser.

He is in New York now, sometimes studying at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, sometimes earning his living at anything a nineteen-year-old foreigner can do. And always planning, just as soon as Mr. Economic Detereminism will give him enough time off, to work out those hidden inspirations.

One of them is already done and is reproduced on page 9. It is a street scene in Jerusalem as Elias Jacobi used to see it every day. The Turkish troops are sweeping past, but the artist has not covered them with a great deal of martial glory. Most of them are unfed, even to the horse. Such an army may commit atrocities upon individuals, but the artist seems to hint that it cannot be expected to shape the history of the world. Two of the motley band have dined excessively. They have dined regularly. One of them is a general; a "Turkish" general but not so all-fired Turkish that you don't recognize where his style in mustaches has been manufactured....
The article was accompanied by a photo of Elias, with the caption, "Elias Jacobi, the young Jewish artist, rescued after two years captivity in the Holy City," and 4 of his drawings, including the one described above of a motley Turkish army.

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