Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. Former Beit Midrash. Wall painting attributed to Perec Willenberg (1874-1947). Photo courtesy of Tomasz Cebulski.

The Burlington mural is the only known synagogue work by Ben Zion Black, but of course it was part and parcel of a widespread and, until the Holocaust, an ongoing tradition. Sadly, just as most other synagogue murals are destroyed, so too is the memory of the artists who painted them.

One exception is Perec Willenberg (1874-1947), an accomplished and prolific decorator of Polish synagogues in the first part of the 20th century. Willenberg decorated the synagogue is his home town of Częstochowa, and also in 1934 began redecoration of the synagogue of Opatow (Apt).

Willenburg probably also painted in Piotrków Trybunalski, where a fragment is attributed to him and survives in the former Beith Midrash, now a children’s library. This was probably painted in the 1920s or 1930s. You can see certain similarities to the curtains, tablets and lions in Burlington. Willenberg loved to paint a faux-Baroque architecture, of which a small part survives here. The fragment is riddled with bullet holes, apparently made when Jews were executed in this place.

Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. Former Beit Midrash. Wall painting attributed to Perec Willenberg (1874-1947). Photo courtesy of Tomasz Cebulski.

Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. Former Beit Midrash. Wall painting attributed to Perec Willenberg (1874-1947). Photo courtesy of Tomasz Cebulski.