The images below were taken in Poland & Ukraine between 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 history & memory, how we both remember the past and how it is reinterpreted or buried by collective amnesia. Specifically it is concerned with how Jewish memory is held within places that suffered atrocity and immense loss and framed through museums and tourism. 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 by anti-Semitic 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, outside of the major cities. 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 2017/2018
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
Drainage Ditch, Birkenau
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.
Disinfection Units, Birkenau
Maksymilian Kolbe, waxwork dummy, Polonia Wax Museum, Krakow. Maksymilian Kolbe was a Franciscan Friar who, according to museum description, ‘volunteered to die instead of a stranger in the German death camp Auschwitz on August 14th 1941.’
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. If a prisoner escaped the death camp they had to traverse rivers and harsh terrain, to evade manhunts and rely upon an ambivalent local population that might give them food & shelter or more likely turn them in for rewards. The surrounding forests were foreboding and impenetrable terrains. If they met local partisans they were as likely to be turned away, as liabilities, than embraced and saved.
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.”
Przemysl Old Cemetery
Przemysl Old Cemetery
Plaszow, edge of Jewish cemetery
Ohel for Tzadik Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, Kock Jewish Cemetery
‘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
Judy Josephs and Rose Lipszyc, Survivors of the Lublin Ghetto
Polish people greeting the Jews (with home-made Cholah) ~ Belzec Memorial Museum
Judy Josephs being interviewed at Belzec Memorial Museum
Remuh Cemetery, Memorial wall
Krzysztof Banach, Exhibition Curator, Majdanek Museum
Emil Majuk, Brama Grodzka Theatre ~ co-founder of the Shtetl Routes Guidebook & On-line Map
Joanna Zetar, Brama Grodzka Theatre, Lublin ~ talking about Memory of Place
Jacek Zzwic, Przemysl. Jacek has photographed Jewish life in Lviv & the Jewish cemetery Przemysl
Szymon, an artist whose studio is on Lubertowska Street, the edge of the former Jewish Quarter, Lublin. Szymon is working on a project titled ‘Forgetting the Holocaust in order to Remember.’
Vova, Brody – renovating the former bank on Stusa Street, next to the former Jewish sweet shop. Vova tells us this was formerly called Gold Street because of the many Jewish trades on the street.
Yard, Lubertowska Street, Lublin – formerly the edge of the Jewish Quarter
View towards Krakow
Wooden houses, Kock, formerly Jewish homes
Oscar Schindler’s Desk, Schindler Enamel Factory Museum
11 Heltmana Street, formerly the administration block for the Plaszow Concentration Camp (Jan 2017)
11 Heltmana Street, formerly the administration block for the Plaszow Concentration Camp (July 2017)
22 Heltmana Street, Krakow – former home of Amon Goth, camp Commandant, Plaszow Concentration Camp (Jan 2017)
22 Heltmana Street, Krakow – former home of Amon Goth, camp Commandant, Plaszow Concentration Camp – (July 2017)
22 Heltmana Street, Krakow – former home of Amon Goth, camp Commandant, Plaszow Concentration Camp - fully renovated (Nov 2018)
Photographs of the interior of 22 Heltmana Street. Tour parties are brought to this location, as part of the Schindler Tour, to look at the infamous abode where, according to film lore, Amon Goth shot Jews from his balcony. In actual fact, the house is too far from the Plaszow camp for him to have had a view of the barracks.
Memorial Site, KL Plaszow, Krakow
Plaszow Concentration Camp. The ruins of the Plaszow Concentration Camp are in fact the former film-set for Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, a fake construct of a real atrocity site built in the nearby Liban quarry. The Liban Quarry was used as a work site for prisoners but not the location for the camp. This, thus becomes a complicated mixture of fictionalised memory, Hollywood narrative, and real memory and brings into question what constitute authentic memory when historical events have been recreated and reframed. The irony and the potency of any movie narrative is that it then creates its own memories, which occupy the mind like implants.
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.
Boys hanging out at the Lublin Quarry, in front of film set ruins, preparing to make a film.
German Tour Group, KL Plaszow Memorial Park
The walk to the Umschlagplatz in Lublin follows the route that the Jews marched out of the ghetto, the last stage before their deportation to the death camps. This walk roughly follows the ghetto boundary before arriving at site of the former local slaughterhouse. The Umschlagplatz was the holding station before deportation; from here the Jews were loaded onto trains. This walk is a funeral wake. It is punctuated by stops and short speeches, explanations along the way: here is remembered where a Jewish woman was shot in the head and fell to the ground moaning, fatally wounded but not yet dead, and here a woman shot dead and left for two days until the men in black vans came to take the dead away.
My travels roughly followed the Chassidic Route, that once linked key cities and towns with a rich culture of Hasidic Judaism. I travelled around the south-eastern region of Poland and the north western area of Ukraine, looking for signs of this once vibrant Jewish life. The Hasidic movement began in the middle of the eighteenth century in Galicia on the Polish-Romanian border and in the Volhynia region of the Ukraine. I visited some of the towns that once held sizeable Jewish populations, visiting what remained of the Jewish Cemeteries and the still extant Synagogues and Beit Midrash, a few still in use for religious prayer but most either derelict or transformed into exhibition spaces, libraries or storage spaces.
Bilgoraj Wooden Synagogue, a reconstruction of the Great synagogue of Wolna
Remuh Synagogue, Krakow
Adam, Custodian, Remuh Synagogue
Izaak Synagogue, Krakow
Izaak Synagogue, Kiddush Room
Synagogue, Dynow – part of the 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
Kupa Synagogue, Krakow
Wolf Popper Synagogue, Krakow
Val Vihula Shul, L’viv
Val Vihula Shul, interior
Jozefow Synagogue, interior
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
Dmitro, local historian, Sataniv, wearing Ukrainian Army Volunteers t.shirt
The distinctly salmon pink synagogue of Szczebrzeszyn
Prayer Hall, Lublin
Pawel, custodian of the small prayer room on Lubertowska Street, Lublin
Display Case, Tykocin Synagogue
Shabbat table, replica Jewish home, part of the Museum of Folk Architecture, Sanok, Poland.
Photographs have been sourced from the local region to add authenticity to the replica Jewish homes.
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
Old Lady, Krasnik, formerly a Jewish area
Old Man, Lazienna Street, Dynow, formerly a Jewish neighbourhood
Old Man, Krasnik, at the market behind the Synagogue
Archival image, Kazimierz Dolny
Old Synagogue, Chortkiv, Ukraine
Old Synagogue, Chortkiv, Ukraine
Former Jewish Home, Sataniv, Ukraine
Former Yeshiva, L’viv
Gymnasia (former Jewish school), Brody, Ukraine
Former Beit Midrash (prayer house), Busk, Ukraine. The Beit Midrash occupies the rear of the former Synagogue, which has been renovated and is now an Evangelical Church.
Market, L’viv – formerly the Jewish centery
Andriy with blue aeroplane outside the Maternity Hospital, L’viv, formerly the Israelite Jewish Hospital
Cow-herders, Jewish Cemetery, Busk, Ukraine
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
Hospital, adjacent to the Old Synagogue, Chortkiv, Ukraine
Former Jewish Tailors, now coffee shop, L’viv
Valentyna at the Mandragora Restaurant, Lublin. The Mandragora styles itself as an authentic Jewish restaurant serving kosher menu. It offers ‘an authentic trip inside the Jewish culture and tradition.’
Bohdan, waiter at the Golden Rose Jewish themed restaurant in Lviv
Ariel Restaurant, Krakow
Fake Rabbi Tour, L’viv
Wooden figurines, Kazimierz, Krakow. These tourist trinkets are on sale in tourist offices, restaurants and gift shops; they are ‘the old bearded stereotypical Jew from the Judenrat.’
The Jewish Cemetery in Oswiecim was established mid Eighteenth Century. Like most Jewish Cemeteries in Poland it was destroyed by the Nazi Germans during the Second World War. The Germans dug a pit dead centre of the cemetery, creating a small reservoir, and laid water pipes, displacing tombstones and bodies alike. They cleared the site of its Matzevahs but in the eighties restoration work was begun by Asher Sharf and many of the headstones that had been taken away were returned, still in relatively good condition. The Matzevah in the cemetery have now all been stood upright and placed in rows; the cemetery become a lapidarium of recovered stones. Placement numbers are scribed onto the back of some, corresponding to a placement map, however there are no corresponding bodies below.
Matzevah fragment, Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Chelsea documenting Matzevah, Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Steven D Reece, CEO Matzevah Foundation, clearing weeds at the Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery ~ working in partnership with Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls, Professor of Conflict Archaeology and Genocide Investigation, Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University and a small team of forensic science students.
Ohel, Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Scanned Matzevah fragment
’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.
Bullets collected in the Przemysl area
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.
Relics of the Jewish World of Galicia, State Museum of Ethnography & Artistic Crafts, Lviv. This collection of Jewish relics was previously stored at the Lviv Jewish Museum; however the Jewish Museum was liquidated by the communists in 1940 and its contents moved to other museums in Lviv, where they were kept hidden from both Nazis and then Communists, both of whom had political agendas to destroy them.
The Tale of Przemyśl Jews Exhibition at the National Gallery, Przemysl, a permanent exhibition devoted to the history and culture of Przemyśl. ‘The exhibition aims to bring back a picture of the old, culturally colourful city.’
© Barry Falk 2017/2018