Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Ámos, Imre

(1907–1945), painter. Imre Ámos’s birthplace, Nagykálló, was the first center of Hungarian Hasidism, and the memory and legend of its famous rabbi, Yitsḥak Isaak Taub and his remarkable song, “Szól a kakas már” (Hear the Sound of the Rooster), persist today. Because of his father’s early death, Ámos was raised by his maternal grandfather, the town’s melamed. He completed his studies at the School of the Arts in Budapest, and his initial experiments with style followed the decorative manner of the Nabi group.

Ámos adopted themes and a style that he called associative expressionism. He based his art on the tales of his grandfather and the world of the Jews of Nagykálló, led not by nostalgia but by his identification with the Jewish spirit and messianic tidings. Along with two symbols—the ohel (mausoleum) raised above the grave of the rebbe, and the rooster in the song—Ámos’s recurring motifs include fire and a burning clock as signs of redemption preceding the apocalypse, as well as a ladder (Jacob’s ladder) and the angels, the beings who mediate between two levels of existence.

Ámos spent two months in Paris in 1937. Marc Chagall liked his work and encouraged him to stay in that city. During this visit, Ámos saw Picasso’s Guernica, which made a powerful impression on him. He then spent a few summers in Szentendre, a small town near Budapest, with his wife Margit Anna and friends, including Lajos Vajda and Endre Bálint.

During World War II, Ámos experienced, painted, and drew images of the Holocaust not as representing the horror of war, but as revealing the age of apocalypse, thus turning his own and his generation’s “fatelessness” (to use the word coined by Imre Kertész) into a consciously sensible fate. Between 1939 and 1944, he was conscripted several times to do forced labor service. This uniquely Hungarian institution (rather than permanent internment in camps, as elsewhere) allowed Jewish artists to return home from time to time to carry on a “normal” existence.

Ámos’s works, done in haste and with great concentration, with the knowledge of certain death behind them, represent the pinnacle of Hungarian Jewish art. He created mainly drawings and watercolors, as he could not afford oils. His series of drawings Zsidó ünnepek (Jewish Holidays), representing the Jewish holidays in the shadow of annihilation, became emblematic for Hungarian Jewry. (The series appeared in 150 copies published in 1940 by the Országos Magyar Zsidó Segitő Akció [National Hungarian Jewish Aid Action].)

Until 1944, the Országos Magyar Izraelita Közművelődési Egylet (National Hungarian Israelite Cultural Society) held regular exhibitions in which Ámos and his wife, also a painter, participated. His final work was the illustration of the New Testament’s last book, Revelation. Of the planned 23 drawings, he completed only 14 because in May 1944 he was again conscripted. Although Ámos did not survive the war, his sketchbook titled Szolnoki vázlatkönyv (Szolnok Sketchbook) exists and is considered to be a great document of both the Holocaust and the prism of apocalypse through which Ámos saw it. The circumstances of his death—in a concentration camp in Germany—are unknown. The majority of his other surviving works are housed in the Imre Ámos Museum, in Szentendre.

Suggested Reading

Mária Egri, ed., Ámos Imre szolnoki vázlatkönyve (Budapest, 1973); Mária Egri, ed. Ámos Imre: Napló, versek, vázlatkönyvek, levelezőlapok (Budapest, 2003); János Kőbányai, János apostolnak mennyei jelenésekrol való könyve: Ámos Imre rajzaival, 1944. május, pt. 2, Ámos jelenései (Budapest, 2002); János Kőbányai, Az Apokalipszis képkölőtje: Ámos Imre (Budapest, 2005); Krisztina Passuth, “Ámos Imre szimbólumrendszere [Imre Ámos’s System of Symbols],” Múlt és Jövő 3 (1999): 33–58, with an English summary.



Translated from Hungarian by Imre Goldstein