As a boy in a part of Poland that is now part of Ukraine, Bruno fed sugar granules to houseflies so they’d have enough strength to survive the winters. Later, he wanted to be an artist. He went to college, but he was shy and thought little of himself, so he had nothing. Some friends pitied him and found him a job as a school teacher. He didn’t like teaching, but his students remembered him as an awkward man who nevertheless transfixed them with stories every day from bell to bell.
He wrote stories as well, but he didn’t think they were good enough to publish. Nonetheless, in 1933, at age 41, he traveled to Warsaw with the hope that Madame Nalkowska would help him. As a favor to a friend, she agreed to give him ten minutes of her time and let him read a few pages of his collection to her. She kept the manuscript for the day and phoned him that evening to say she would be honored to help him publish his collection, The Cinnamon Shops. Five short years later, he received the Golden Laurel Award from the Polish Academy of Literature.
In 1941, the Germans forced the Jews of Drohobycz into the Ghetto. Schulz escaped the camps, however, when an SS Officer, Felix Landau, admired his work and retained him to paint murals in his home. Landau had a violent rivalry with another SS Officer, Karl Gunther ; one day, Gunther walked up and shot Shulz dead, saying, “There, I’ve shot your personal Jew.”
[This is a distillation of David Grossman’s fine “The Age of Genius” from the June 8 2009 issue of The New Yorker]