Michael M. Zagayski (b.1895), Papers.

  • Dates: 1934-1977
  • Size: .6 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 2
  • Languages:
    • English
    • French
    • German
    • Hebrew
    • Polish
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Eli Wilner
  • Date: 1995
  • Related Collections: Records of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Record Group 25, Jewish Museum, R.G. 11, Communications Department

JM, 2/98 ; EK 8/07

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Biographical Note

Michael (originally Mieczyslaw) M. Zagayski was a wealthy Warsaw industrialist and collector of art and Judaica who emigrated to the United States in 1940.

Born in 1895, Zagayski began amassing his collection in the 1920s while still a student. Eventually he housed the collection, which consisted of silver, textiles, books and manuscripts, as well as paintings, in six rooms of his Warsaw house.

In July 1939 Zagayski, who had been prominent in Warsaw's organized Jewish community, went to Geneva as a representative of the Jewish Agency. He subsequently went to England, joining the Polish government in exile there. In 1940 he came to New York as a consul for the exiled Polish government.

Zagayski's collection was looted by the Nazis in his absence; once in New York, he began to rebuild it. The Jewish Museum put on several loan exhibitions of the collection, and in 1963 Zagayski offered to sell it to the museum. When the Jewish Museum was unable to raise the money for the purchase, Zagayski auctioned the collection in 1964. At that time the Jewish Museum was able to purchase a few items.

Zagayski served on the board of the Jewish Museum from 1957 to 1961. In 1958 Zagayski joined with The Jewish Theological Seminary in a plan to erect a holocaust memorial. JTS agreed to donate the empty site it owned adjacent to the Jewish Museum at Fifth Avenue and 92nd St., Albert A. List agreed to fund the construction of a building, and Zagayski agreed to donate his collection, to be housed in the building. Further details of this plan, as well as Zagayski's involvement with other groups interested in constructing a holocaust memorial in New York, are in the collection.

In 1960 JTS officers concluded that only a portion of the building would be devoted to a holocaust memorial, and that the building would remain part of JTS rather than a separate institution. At this point, Zagayski withdrew from the project.

A building, funded by Albert List, was later built on the site. The List Wing of the Jewish Museum, which opened in 1963, was dedicated to a completely different purpose - contemporary art - thus reflecting the interests of its benefactors, Albert and Vera List.

Collection Description

This small group of Zagayski's papers was donated  to the Seminary by Eli Wilner in memory of his great aunt Doris Zagayski along with art books and religious objects.  The collection consists of correspondence documenting Zagayski's wartime involvement in Polish government affairs, Zionist affairs, and matters having to do with Polish Jewry; the proposed Holocaust memorial, 1960s; Zagayski's dealings with artists, notably Ossip Zadkine, from whom he made purchases, and Nathan Rapoport, and with art galleries and museum directors. The collection also contains correspondence with the Jewish Museum and minutes of committees of the Jewish Museum. The bulk of the material is in English, but some is in German, Hebrew, Polish, and a few other languages. Polish is the predominant foreign language. Clippings, auction catalogs, bills for purchases of art, photographs, and printed material are also included.

Zagayski's efforts to establish a holocaust memorial in New York, described above, are documented here with correspondence between Zagayski and representatives of JTS as well as with others concerned with establishing such a memorial, including Joachim Prinz. Gifts and loans to JTS are also documented in these files.

Zagayski's wartime involvement with Zionist, Jewish, and Polish affairs are documented by a group of miscellaneous letters and other papers, 1937-1946. Included among these are documents concerning Zagayski's Polish consulship; letters concerning his membership in the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress (on whose administrative and Polish affairs committees he served); letters of reference and requests for visas written on Zagayski's behalf; telegrams; letters concerning Zagayski's efforts to locate and assist other refugees; delegate's cards for meetings of the World Jewish Congress, 1942 and 1944, and tickets of admission to the twenty-first and twenty-second (1946) Zionist Congresses. Other tickets in Polish are included. Some of this material is in Polish, and there are also items in German and French.

Of particular note is Zagayski's extensive correspondence, 1961-1967, with the Vitebsk-born, Paris-based sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1880-1967). The correspondence concerns Zagayski's purchases of art from Zadkine, Zadkine's experiences with art dealers and other matters. Zadkine's letters and drafts of some of Zagayski's replies are included.

Zagayski's correspondence with sculptor Nathan Rapoport, 1959-1966, is about the possibility of Rapoport's making a sculpture for the New York holocaust memorial. Rapoport had already done holocaust memorial monuments in Warsaw and other cities. Some of this correspondence is in Polish. A copy of a letter of reference for Rapoport written by sculptor Jacques Lipchitz is included.

A group of additional letters includes: one from Karl Schwartz, director of the Tel Aviv Museum, in German, 1934; from Carnegie Book Shop, New York, 1958, concerning recovery of a haggada that belonged to Zagayski before the war; Columbia University concerning Zagayski's gifts; Nahum Goldmann, 1964, in German; and art galleries concerning purchases - including one from the Carlebach Gallery, New York, 1950, which includes Jacques Lipchitz's authentication of a Modigliani painting.

Box List

II. CORRESPONDENCE, 1934-1977; n.d.
13Menkes, Sigmund, 1943; 1944; 1959
14Narkiss, Mordecai, Bezalel National Museum, Jerusalem, 1955-1956
15Rapoport, Nathan, 1959-1966; n.d.
16Schapiro, Meyer (to Doris Zagayski), 1977
17Zadkine, Ossip, 1961-1967
18Correspondence, 1934-1966; n.d.
191947; 1949
114two cotton armbands
115Jewish Museum minutes, 1957; 1961-1962
116Correspondence, 1937-1940
117Correspondence, 1941-1942
118Correspondence, 1944-1958