In Search of Amnesia

The images below were taken in Poland & Ukraine during 2017 and 2018. They are part of an on-going research project looking into the Jewish narrative in south east Poland and north west Ukraine. This project is concerned with memory, how we both remember the past and how it is reinterpreted through the telling of history or buried by collective amnesia. Specifically it is concerned with how Jewish memory is held within places that suffered atrocity and immense loss. The title of this project refers to a state of trauma: amnesia refers to suppressed memories; searching for amnesia is akin to the process of being inexorably drawn to this deep sense of loss whilst at the same time unable to fully revisit the site of original trauma. The images I present occupy this psychological space: the push-pull between the horror and the wish to rectify history.

Though the Holocaust looms large, casting its shadow backwards and forwards, this is not specifically about the Shoah. Within Poland and Ukraine, there is a rich historical narrative of a vibrant Jewish culture that developed within Galicia, an area of the Habsburg Empire of Austria established in 1772, nestled between Poland and The Russian Empire; a region that had for centuries been a haven for Judaism and the centre for European Jewish settlement. Poland’s & Ukraine’s cities, towns and villages once held sizeable Jewish populations active in trade, commerce and politics. Within this narrative is the birth of Hassidism, a spiritual reform of the orthodox tradition, and the rise of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, an intellectual reform of Jewish tradition. This was destroyed during tne Esond World War by the German policies and aktions designed to deal with the ‘Jewish problem’ and clear the way for the German Volk. Today it is difficult to find traces of these once vibrant communities in the small towns and villages where Jews comprised a large percentage of the population. This project, therefore, seeks to find traces of this narrative through a variety of methods: by seeking remnants of these once vibrant communities in the form of still extant synagogues and beit midrash, often derelict or repurposed; by looking for the physical objects, the relics, stored in museums or sold as tourist trinkets, sometimes a strange mixture of anti-semitism and philo-semitism; and by meeting the various custodians of memory: the historians, conservationists, archivists, forensic archeologists, tour guides, artists and academics.

This is an on-going project built up through images taken on site, ideas, conversations and collective memories.

All images (except for the archival shots) were taken in Poland & Ukraine during 2017 and 2018.

© Barry Falk 2018

 

 

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Lancut Chapel, former Jewish Cemetery.

 

‘The language of trauma is the language of this absolute erasure, not imaginable in the past or present but, always, as something missed, and about to return, a possibility of a trauma in the future.’     ~ Cathy Caruth: Literature in the Ashes of History

 

‘Freud taught us that memory and forgetting are indissolubly linked to each other, that memory is but another form of forgetting, and forgetting a form of hidden memory.’     Andreas Huyssen: Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory

 

‘Yet even before Freud, we knew how fragmentary, evasive, unreliable, and even full of fantasy memory is – especially memory that is formed, and deformed, by trauma.’     ~ The Cruel Radiance, Susie Linfield

 

 

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Birkenau

 

 

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Drainage Ditch, Birkenau

 

 

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Archival image of drainage ditch dug by prisoners. At this site thirty prisoners escaped; as punishment two hundred were sent to their deaths in the gas chamber.

 

 

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Disinfection Units, Birkenau

 

In Search of Amnesia - Decontamination Units (diptych)

 

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Various rivers and forests, south east Poland. The rivers and forests in south eastern Poland, bordering Ukraine and Belarus, were the location for Operation Reinhardt: Jews from across Europe were brought in to the three main death camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.

 

 

The Nazis were likewise obsessed with the forest, mythologising it as a symbol of the ‘Eternal Nation.’ Hermann Goring: “We have become used to seeing the German nation as eternal. There is no better symbol for us than the forest, which has and always will be eternal.”​

 

 

 

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‘True kavanah required the abandonment of bodily sensations, for the body should be treated as a mere ‘bundle of straw’ dragged behind the praying soul.’   ~ Simon Schama, Belonging

 

 

 

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Judy Josephs and Rose Lipszyc, Survivors of the Lublin Ghetto

 

 

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Krzysztof Banach, Exhibition Curator, Majdanek Museum

 

 

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Emil Majuk, Brama Grodzka Theatre ~ co-founder of the Shtetl Routes Guidebook & On-line Map

 

 

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Joanna Zetar, Brama Grodzka Theatre, Lublin ~ talking about Memory of Place

 

 

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Jacek Zzwic, Przemysl. Jacek has photographed Jewish life in Lviv & the Jewish cemetery Przemysl

 

 

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Szymon, in his studio on Lubertowska Street, the edge of the former Jewish Quarter, Lublin.

 

 

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Vova, Brody – renovating the former bank on Stusa Street, next to the former Jewish sweet shop.

 

 

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Yard, Lubertowska Street, Lublin – formerly the edge of the Jewish Quarter

 

 

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View towards Krakow

 

 

Kock wooden houses x 4 (b&w)

Wooden houses, Kock, formerly Jewish homes

 

 

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Oscar Schindler’s Desk, Schindler Enamel Factory Museum

 

 

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11 Heltmana Street, formerly the administration block for the Plaszow Concentration Camp (Jan 2017)

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11 Heltmana Street, formerly the administration block for the Plaszow Concentration Camp (July 2017)

 

 

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22 Heltmana Street, Krakow – former home of Amon Goth, camp Commandant, Plaszow Concentration Camp (Jan 2017)

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22 Heltmana Street, Krakow – former home of Amon Goth, camp Commandant, Plaszow Concentration Camp – (July 2017)

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22 Heltmana Street, Krakow – former home of Amon Goth, camp Commandant, Plaszow Concentration Camp - fully renovated (Nov 2018)

 

 

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Photographs of the interior of 22 Heltmana Street.

 

 

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Memorial Site, KL Plaszow, Krakow

 

 

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Plaszow Concentration Camp, former film-set for Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, a fake construct of a real atrocity site.

 

 

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In Search of Amnesia - Schindlers List film shots

Stock images from Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List.

 

 

‘Spielberg used black and white, or particular multi-tonal variants of black & white with lots of silvers and greys, not only because he was trying to make his images appear like those seen in newsreels, which are memories for some, and memories of memories for most, but also because he was citing cinema history …. Yosefa Loshitzky adds: ‘the memory recaptured and relived through Schindler’s List is not an authentic re-experienced memory but a cinema memory produced and recycled by the movie industry.’   ~ Brad Pager: After The Fact

 

 

 

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Boys at the Lublin Quarry, in front of film set ruins, preparing to make a film.

 

 

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German Tour Group, KL Plaszow Memorial Park

 

 

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The walk to the Umschlagplatz in Lublin, following the route that the Jews were marched out of the ghetto, the last stage before their deportation to the death camps.

 

 

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Bilgoraj Wooden Synagogue, a reconstruction of the Great synagogue of Wolna

 

 

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Orla Synagogue

 

 

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Remuh Synagogue, Krakow

 

 

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Izaak Synagogue, Krakow

 

 

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Synagogue, Dynow, pilgrimage centre for Hassidic Jews visiting the Ohel of the famous Tzadik, or righteous one, Tzvi Elemenich ben Pesach, creator of the Dynow Jewish dynasty

 

 

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Kupa Synagogue, Krakow

 

 

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Wolf Popper Synagogue, Krakow

 

 

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Synagogue, Kazimierz-Dolny

 

 

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Synagogue, Przemysl

 

 

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Val Vihula Shul, L’viv

 

 

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Jozefow Synagogue

 

 

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Synagogue, Sataniv, Ukraine. This is an impressive example of a fortress synagogue, originally built in 1565 to fend off Tatar and Muscovite raiders, renovated by visiting Hassidic Jews

 

 

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Dmitro, local historian, Sataniv, wearing Ukrainian Army Volunteers t.shirt

 

 

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Synagogue, Szczebrzeszyn

 

 

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Prayer Hall, Lublin

 

 

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Pawel, custodian of the small prayer room on Lubertowska Street, Lublin

 

 

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Shabbat table, replica Jewish home, part of the Museum of Folk Architecture, Sanok, Poland.

 

 

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Old Man, Kock – outside the former home of the last of Kock tzadikim: Izrael Lejba, and Abraham Josek Morgenstern, the great-grandchildren of Menachem Mendel

 

 

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Old Lady, Krasnik, formerly a Jewish area

 

 

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Old Man, Krasnik, at the market behind the Synagogue

 

 

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Archival image, Kazimierz Dolny

 

 

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Old Synagogue, Chortkiv, Ukraine

 

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Former Jewish Home, Sataniv, Ukraine

 

 

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Former Yeshiva, L’viv

 

 

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Gymnasia (former Jewish school), Brody, Ukraine

 

 

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Former Beit Midrash (prayer house), Busk, Ukraine.

 

 

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Market, L’viv, formerly the Jewish cemetery

 

 

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Andriy, outside the Maternity Hospital, L’viv, formerly the Israelite Jewish Hospital

 

 

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Cow-herders, Jewish Cemetery, Busk, Ukraine

 

 

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Pharmacy, Chortkiv, Ukraine, where Marta Goren Vinter’s mother worked. During the Nazi occupation of the city Marta’s mother was allowed to leave the Jewish ghetto to work in the pharmacy. She was thus able to smuggle Marta out & hide her with neighbours. Marta was raised as a Catholic, survived the war and currently lives in Israel

 

 

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Former Jewish Tailors, now coffee shop, L’viv

 

 

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Valentyna at the Mandragora Restaurant, Lublin.

 

 

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Bohdan, waiter at the Golden Rose Jewish themed restaurant, Lviv

 

 

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Ariel Restaurant, Krakow

 

 

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Fake Rabbi Tour, L’viv

 

 

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Wooden figurines, Kazimierz, Krakow.

 

 

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Matzevah fragment, Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery

 

 

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Steven D Reece, CEO Matzevah Foundation, clearing weeds at the Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery

 

 

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In Search of Amnesia _ Letters from Russia x 4

Scanned letters, Rzeszow State Archive. These letters were written by Russian Jews, to Polish authorities, seeking information both during and after the war regarding the fates of their families. These are samples from 987 scanned documents held at the Archive.

 

 

’In many museums, the ritual objects on display, beautiful in themselves, constitute treasures put together in an artificial context, objects “out of function”. In fact, though, the very presence of the objects, on display as out of context museum pieces, provides a powerful subtext, concealing “a hidden history of terror.”   ~  Ruth Ellen Gruber, Virtually Jewish

 

 

 

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Relics of the Jewish World of Galicia, State Museum of Ethnography & Artistic Crafts, Lviv.

 

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© Barry Falk 2018