Born 1898, a descendant of an artisan family, was born in 1898 in Budapest, Hungary. Members of this illustrious family include the Bavarian king’s court painter Antal Zilzer, the sculptor Hajnalka Zilzer, and the modern painter Frigyes Frank. In his youth, Zilzer had a special interest in machines and spent time working on inventions. As a Jew, Zilzer was prevented from continuing his academic studies in mechanical engineering due to the implementation of Numerus Clausus. In 1919 he fled from Hungarian nationalists to Trieste, Italy. There, while involved in the leadership of a factory that he founded along with his business partners, he began to paint. After displaying much talent, from 1922-1923 Zilzer went to study painting at the school of the famous German painter Hans Hoffman in Munich.
In 1924, after acquiring a Triestian certificate which attested to his status as a Christian, Zilzer returned to Budapest and signed up for the Academy of the Arts. When his Jewish origins were revealed to the academic administration, he was dismissed from the Academy as “untalented.” Despite this humiliation, Zilzer pushed forward and published his collection of lithographs entitled, “Kaleidoskop,” in 1924. This publication was so successful that it enabled him to leave Hungary for good. After leaving Hungary in 1924, he lived in Paris until 1932 where he worked for the French magazine Clarté and the daily newspaper L’Humanité, both of which belonged to the Communist Party. It was during this time that he became friends with the French writer and publicist Henri Barbusse. Zilzer, the socialist artist who suffered at the hands of anti-Semitism from his youth, expressed his political and general worldview through his paintings. He was an artist ahead of his time, presenting the horrors of the First World War in the 1920s. When he published the collections “Kaleidoskop” and “Gaz” in 1924 and 1932 respectively, he hoped they would forewarn of a future war that the fascist authorities may inspire. Additionally, his paintings criticized the cruelty of the National Socialist Party, as portrayed in his drawings of concentration camps from the early 1930s. By 1932 Zilzer left Europe and moved to the United States, where he spent a year traveling throughout the country all the while continuing to draw and to paint. He moved to Hollywood in 1939 where he worked designing stage sets of famous films as an art director. Outside of his work in the film industry, Zilzer created more patents for items such as a toy book for children, a helical underground parking area with shelter and the “VISI-Recorder”. Throughout his tumultuous life, Zilzer rubbed shoulders with many well-known, contemporary personalities including American writer and publicist Upton Sinclair, the French director Jean Vigo, the Mexican painter Diego Rivera, the movie actor Gregory Peck, the writers Roman Roland and Ilya Ehrenburg, the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, the Hungarian poet József Attila, the author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Zilzer was also in close contact with the physicist Albert Einstein who received a collection of paintings gifted from Zilzer himself. This is certified by a letter of thanks sent from Einstein to Zilzer on March 26th 1933.