GEORGE IVERS (JERZY IWASZKIEWICZ)
Prolific Polish artist in New Jersey
George Ivers (1922-2001) was an extraordinarily gifted and prolific Polish artist resident in New Jersey.
He is noteworthy for his expertise in a wide variety of media - oil, watercolor, sculpture (metal, wire, papier-mache, porcelain and paper), porcelain miniatures and graphics.
He came to U.S.A in 1945, after a dangerous wartime experience in prison camps and as a sailor in Atlantic convoys.
He was a designer for Lenox China and later art director at Cybis Porcelains.
Unfortunately his career was cut short by Parkinson's disease.
George Ivers' original name was
Jerzy (Jurek) Iwaszkiewicz [eevash-KYE-vytsh]. He was born 1922-07-05 in Zielęcin, in western Poland.
George grew up in the peaceful, pastoral village Bogdanowo, near Poznan in western Poland, in the early 1920s. His father, Jan Witold Iwaszkiewicz (1891-1957) was the school principal of a small elementary school of about 40 children, as well as teacher to the older children; his mother, Zofia née Leżanski (1889-1964), taught the younger ones. The family’s living quarters as well as the school’s class rooms shared a large brick building. The building sat on a large piece of property that also contained an orchard, vegetable garden and barn.
At an early age George demonstrated a talent for drawing and was ecouraged by a friend of the family, Feliks Zawirski, a prominent professional artist. He would often visit this man with his parents, soaking up the atmosphere of an art studio. Though a bright child, George was less interested in academics than in the beauty of nature around him. This rebelliousness often incurred the wrath of his father, a strict disciplinarian.
Upon graduation from high school, George was given the choice of either attending art school or joining Poland’s Merchant Marine Academy. Being an adventurer at heart, he chose the latter, knowing he would always have his art. Subsequently, he was chosen to take part in a training trip to South America on the ocean liner Chrobry
. In July 1939 the ship departed on its maiden voyage.
During the ship’s return voyage in September 1939, while it was in Rio de Janeiro, German troops swept into Poland. The ship made it safely to England, where 17-year-old Jurek promptly enrolled in the lst Polish Grenadiers Division that was being formed at Coetquidan in northern France.
Subquently, his unit was placed on the Maginot Line in northern France. During the German sweep through France, his unit was surrounded, and on June 21, 1940. Jurek was taken prisoner to the Weissenburg POW camp—Stalag 5D—just inside Germany.
Once a prisoner, he began plotting his escape. Several months later, he managed to squeeze himself through a high bathroom window and ran for the woods. But after a few days he was recaptured, placed in a cold solitary cell and severely beaten. Later he was sent to a penal camp near Strassbourg. Once again, he thought about escape. This time, however, he reviewed what had gone wrong before and decided it would be better to have a buddy along. Another Polish prisoner, Yousek, had confided to him that he would be willing to go along if Jurek ever planned to escape again.
So Jurek meticulously made a plan, allowing for every contingency, and told Yousek.
On October 25, 1941, while he and Yousek were digging ditches, they managed their escape—this time successfully—and with the aid of a small compass another prisoner had given Jurek, they hid in the vineyards of Lorraine by day and walked only at night toward neutral Switzerland, a journey that took nine days, eating only what they could find in the fields, mostly berries or cabbages. He describes this escape beautifully in his book, giving details of surreptitiously being given a loaf of bread by a farmer’s little daughter and of being taken in overnight by two brave French sisters who fed them and allowed them their first hot bath in several days.
Finally reaching Switzerland, they were debriefed by Swiss Intelligence and were offered safety for the duration of the war. But Jurek was intent on continuing to fight for his beloved Poland, and Yousek went along with whatever Jurek wanted, so arrangements were made with British Intelligence to smuggle the two men, along with a group of other Polish escapees, across occupied France to Spain, and ultimately to Gibraltar, where they would join the Allies.
But halfway through this journey, the Spanish guides robbed them and then abandoned them. Franco’s Guardia Civil caught them and they spent over a year in several Spanish prisons and the infamous concentration camp for political prisoners, Miranda de Ebro
, before finally being released, after a group hunger strike, with the help of the Red Cross. They eventually reached England, via Gibraltar, in May 1943. After a brief stint with the Polish army in Scotland, he joined the Polish Merchant Marines as a seaman, spending the rest of the war sailing the dangerous Atlantic Ocean delivering iron ore.
After the end of the war, he was assigned to the cargo ship Bialystok
. In May 1946, the ship arrived at the Polish port Gdansk with a load of cement.
While repairs were being made, the crew was granted leave and Jurek immediately set off to visit his family. It had been six years since he had seen them, and a lot had changed. They had spent the years of Nazi occupation at his aunt's house in the small town Grójec, south of Warsaw. Now they were back at their old jobs in Bogdanowo
, but living under Communist rule. Soviet troops were everywhere, patrolling the cities and countryside, often killing anyone not complying with their orders. Jurek’s mother told him she had to start every school day with a salute to Stalin.
His older sister had contracted TB and died in a sanatorium in Otwock (near Warsaw) in January 1945. His younger sister Marysia had secretly married Jan Warnke, the commander of her resistance unit in March 1945. Jan had narrowly escaped in 1946, Marysia in 1947, first to England, from there they emigrated to Canada.
It quickly became apparent to Jurek that the situation in Poland was so bad that he could not return to live there.
Communist police were rounding up those who had fought the Nazis, whether in the Resistance or in Polish army units in exile (fighting in Italy and Normandy). Many died in prison or were executed. When his ship left Gdansk for the return voyage to New York, a UB (secret police) officer was on board to prevent any of the crew from leaving the ship when it arrived in foreign ports. Once again, Jurek carefully thought about another escape.
Becoming an American
After arriving in New York harbor, it took the crew several days to unload their cargo. One day a barge was passing close by and Jurek overheard the men speaking Polish. He asked them how he could become a citizen. They told him about a current law existing at that time that any qualified foreigner who enlisted in the U.S. Army would be granted American citizenship upon honorable discharge. Knowing that if he jumped ship it would never happen; he would have to do it legally. So he decided he would make himself sick!
And since the ship didn’t have proper medical facilities, he knew he would have to be taken to a hospital on American soil. Deliberately exposing himself to freezing drafts and standing in front of a large fan while smoking numerous cigarettes, he soon developed a high fever. Taking advantage of a time when the UB was asleep, the ship’s first officer signed a medical discharge for him and sent him over to the Staten Island Marine Hospital.
As soon as he recovered from pneumonia, he enlisted, and shortly after basic training he was assigned to a detachment occupying South Korea (not yet independent and a Japanese territory). Unfortunately, the law was repealed before Jurek’s discharge in 1947. However, he was granted a temporary residency and employment permit (today called a Green Card). Then, in 1950, Congress passed a special act to grant U.S. citizenship to Jurek and several others in a similar situation. Jurek proudly saved the letter that notified him, signed by President Truman.
On Labor Day weekend in 1946, before departure to Korea, a USO performer took Jurek to Camp Beacon, on the Hudson River. There he met Terri Schiff (b. 1930) and they became sweethearts. After serving in Korea for several months, he was discharged and returned to the Bronx. After the summer he found a job painting floral designs on porcelain lamps at 50 cents a lamp and rented a room in Bronx, N.Y. He and Terri were married on Jan. 3, 1949. He got a job with the Royal Jackson China Co. in Westchester, N.Y. and they had three children, Stacy, Karen and Jeremy (now deceased). In 1952 he changed his name to Ivers
before the birth of Stacy. He found it annoying to be continually explaining how to pronounce his name and he also needed a shorter signature for his art work.
The president of Commercial Decal, which provided decals to all the major china companies, thought highly of George’s work and told him he should be working for a major company such as Lenox China. With his support, George joined the pool of dinnerware designers at Lenox in 1958 and the family moved to Levittown, Pa.
In 1973 he went to Cybis Porcelains of Trenton to become their Art Director and remained there until his retirement in 1986. (Cybis was founded by a Polish artist, Boleslaw Cybis
, who in 1930 was a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland. In 1939 he was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Polish Pavillion at the New York 1939 World’s Fair. The war prevented him from returning home and he obtained U.S. citizenship.)
George and Terri separated in 1976 and later divorced. In 1980 he married Iris Diane Herman (née Frumkin), a copy editor at Sports Illustrated, and they bought a home in Monroe Twp. N.J. With her help, he wrote and published "Escape into Danger"
in 1993, the story of his early life and wartime adventures, which he also illustrated. (Copies are available at this website). George acknowledged her contribution by including an "iris flower" in his paintings and etchings.
A year after their marriage, George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
By the mid 1990s the worsening symptoms hampered his work, but he fought against the disease. In the last few years he would strap weights to his wrists to reduce the tremors, so that he could continue painting and drawing, until he became hospitalized in 2000.
He died May 8, 2001 from complications from that disease in Princeton, N.J.
George Ivers howed a talent for drawing at an early age. When in the merchant marine, in the army, in prison camps he continually drew sketches of everything he saw. He sent many watercolors of Korean life to his fiancée, Terri.
Later, in his home studio, he would turn those sketches into paintings, sculptures and graphics. After his death, Iris donated many of these pieces to an appropriate museum, i.e.,The U.S. WWII Museum in New Orleans, La. They accepted all 22 pieces Iris submitted, showing, for instance, hungry POWs using a makeshift scale to divide a loaf of bread for eight men, or prisoners squatting outdoors on slats of wood over an open trench to use as a bathroom, a long line behind them waiting to take their place.
After release from the U.S.Army, he studied at night at the Art Students League of New York, while painting china lamps to earn a living. He always had a home studio wherever he lived, even if it was only a closet, where he experimented with many different forms of art in many media. He once said the only medium he hadn’t tried was Philadelphia Cream Cheese!
After joining Lenox China Company in 1958, he studied at night at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and started submitting work to local art shows and galleries in the Philadelphia and Trenton areas. He has won numerous awards in his lifetime. At one show in May 1968 he won First prize in each of three separate categories: painting, graphics and sculpture.
In May 1969, his painting "Sunday with Snow and Ice" was selected by UNICEF for their 1970 Christmas card collection. He was selected two more times by UNICEF, in 1984 and 1990. He was told by the director of the UNICEF card division that his 1984 card was their best seller to date.
Designs by George became very popular in the Lenox China selections. According to the trade publication "China, Glass and Tableware", April 1972 issue, his design "Moonspun" was the most popular of Lenox bridal designs two years in a row.
Mary Roebling, the first woman to become president of a major bank, Trenton Trust, recognized George's talent and sponsored several exhibitions of his work. In 1970 she commisioned George to create a birthday gift for her friend Pat Nixon. "Egg rolling on White House Lawn" a porcelain enameled triptyck, hung in the White House during the Nixon administration.
In 1990, while George was being honored by Daemon College in Buffalo, he was commissioned by the Chopin Singing Society of Buffalo to make a gift for Pope John Paul II (the Polish Pope) to present to him on their upcoming visit. They left the design up to him. Since this was the time when Solidarity was active in Communist Poland, he created a porcelain miniature of St. George carrying a Solidarity banner while slaying a Communist dragon.
Although raised as a Catholic, he ceased practising at a
young age. Having suffered himself under Nazi and Spanish captivity, he felt great empathy for the suffering of Jewish people during the Holocaust and was deeply impressed by his parents' affection for their Jewish friends in Poland. Both of his wives were Jewish and he contributed his talent to several Jewish organizations, designing the program covers for annual Yom Hashoah memorials and creating greeting cards for Second Generation to raise funds to buy books for schools about the Holocaust. In 1992 the Concordia Chapter of B’nai Brith named him Man of the Year in recognition of his contributions. His large oil painting of the Holocaust hangs on its own wall in the Cherry Hill (N.J.) Holocaust Museum and is used as a teaching tool for visiting school children.
He is recognized as one of the outstanding miniaturists in the N.J. area. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum in NYC, the N.J. State Museum, Ellarslie Museum of Trenton, Princeton University Museum, N.J. Holocaust Museum, U.S. WW II Museum (New Orleans), the Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, Tn.) , the Yeshiva University Museum (NYC), Worcester College Museum in England and the art museums of Torun, Bydgoszcz and Grudziadz, Poland.
For a review of examples of his work in each genre, go to http://biega.com/ivers-gallery.html
prove that the Iwaszkiewicz family was prominent in Poland since the 16th century. An old parchment scroll, treasured by Jurek’s father, with a painting of two fleur de lis
in the calligraphy along with a Coat of Arms attests to the family descending from nobility. Jan kept this document in his marble-top desk in the living room. However, in 1945 Jan burnt the parchment in a stove shortly before a local UB (political police) officer knocked on their door. The family included many high ranking military officers in several wars, as well as the well-known poet and writer Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz.
And by sheer coincidence during George’s adventures in WW II, he met for the first time a cousin of his with the same name who was an officer in the First Grenadier Division in France. His later job included smuggling many Polish soldiers from France and Switzerland into England while successfully avoiding his own capture by the Germans and Vichy French. George goes into some detail in his book recalling their meeting.
Jerzy Iwaszkiewicz : born 1922-07-05 in Zielęcin (south east of Poznan - Poland);
died 2001-05-08 in Princeton, New Jersey
Father: Jan, Witold Iwaszkiewicz: born 1891-06-11 in Kołbiel, (Count Zamoyski estate) near Otwock (south-east of Warsaw, - Poland). (Jurek's grandfather probably worked for Count Tomasz Zamoyski).
died 1957-06-17 in Stare Pole, (near Malbork, north Poland)
Mother: Zofia née Leżanski born 1889-05-12 in Grójec, (south of Warsaw-Poland);
died 1964-12-28 in Sarnia, Canada.
Sisters: Wiesia (Wieslawa) (1918 -- 1945-01) died in Otwock, near Warsaw;
Maria (1926-07-26) Married Jan Warnke Feb 21 1945-02-21 - emgrated to Canada via England, Presently lives in Quebec.;
First wife: Phyllis-Terri Schiff, (b.1930) - married 1949-01-03; divorced 1980; presently lives in Langhorne, PA.
- Stacy Andrea born 1952-08-21; presently lives in Los Angeles.
- Dr. Karen Joy born 1954-05-28; presently lives in Potomac, MD.
- Jeremy John born 1964-07-25, died 1999-04-05.
Second wife: Iris Diane Herman (née Frumkin), (b.1929-08-12) married 1980-06-16; she still lives in Monroe, NJ.
She has son from first marriage: Michael Herman (b. )
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