The images below were taken in Poland in 2017. They are part of an on-going research project looking into the Jewish narrative in Poland and Ukraine, the area formerly known as Galicia. This project is also concerned with memory, how we both remember and forget the past, particularly when it relates to atrocity and immense loss. Though the Holocaust looms large, casting its shadow backwards and forwards, this is not specifically about the Shoah. My main concern is how memory is held within society and passed down through generations. However, I am also interested in how memories of trauma are inevitable buried by collective amnesia: Poland and Ukraine’s cities, towns and villages once had sizeable Jewish populations that were destroyed by anti-Semitic German policies 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 or in the few maintained Heritage & Atrocity Memorial Sites.
This is the first part an on-going project built up through photographs taken on site, archival images, ideas and conversations.
All images (except for the archival shots) were taken in Poland during 2017.
© Barry Falk 2017
‘When we look at images of mass graves, a meeting between memory and forgetfulness takes place, so that we see earth, wounds, death, we are overwhelmed by shock and bewilderment, but at the same time the bodies (sic) are buried, the traces are hidden and forgetfulness has begun.’ – Ludmila Birsan writing about Marianne Hirsch: ‘Hidden Traces, Family, Photography and the Holocaust.’
‘The central question for Lanzmann concerns what happened at the site. The site is the trigger of memory …. It is not that the landscape itself holds the memory but that memory itself is a landscape.’ – Brad Pager: ‘After the Fact’ (p139)
‘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’ (p17)
‘When the socio-political reality of borderlands ceases to exist, their memory still lingers in the mind, in photographs and writing, but also in the shape of tangible remnants on the ground – empty shells, collapsing ruins, converted buildings – echoes of civilisations whose living representatives are gone forever. Memory is not merely fading, it is also contested, not least through the erection of memorials, which try to recall and externalise one narrative of the past while forgetting and erasing another. In numerous towns throughout the borderlands, the memory of the slaughtered and expelled has been wiped clean; mass graves are unmarked; little, if any, information is provided about the fullness of prewar life and its wartime destruction. The few remaining edifices that still assert a forgotten past are rapidly collapsing or being demolished.’ – Omar Bartov and Eric D.Weitz: Shatterzones of empires – Introduction
The Memory of Absence
~ Birkenau / Auschwitz II
Disinfection Units, Processing Centre, Sauna Block ~ Auschwitz II Birkenau
Drainage Ditch, Birkenau
Archival image of political prisoners working on the drainage ditch at Birkenau. At this spot, on June 10th 1942, there was an attempted mass escape; seven prisoners managed to escape. As a consequence, though, the SS shot twenty prisoners and sent three hundred more to their deaths in the gas chambers. (This image forms part of the Auschwitz II Birkenau Museum, Oswiecim).
Various Landscapes ~ Possible & Impossible Escape Routes
Rivers and forests in south eastern Poland. This area, bordering Ukraine and Belarus, was the location for Operation Reinhardt: Jews from across Europe were brought to the three main death camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. The few prisoners that escaped the death camps had to traverse rivers and harsh terrain, to evade manhunts and rely upon an ambivalent local population that might give them food or might turn them in. The surrounding forests were often foreboding and impenetrable terrains. If they met local partisans they were as likely to be turned away, as liabilities, than embraced and saved.
Forest fascination also relates to German Romanticism and the sagas & fairy tales of Germany. German Romantic painters bestowed these forests with a mystical, transcendental presence; the Brothers Grimm were inspired by the forests when they wrote their macabre fairy tales. And the forest has always been the place of our darkest fantasies and represented a metaphor for entering the unknown.
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.”
The Concept of Remembrance in Places of Desecration
Przemyśl New Jewish Cemetery ~ despite it’s neglected state the Cemetery still retains it’s Matzevahs
Przemyśl Old Jewish Cemetry ~ like many Jewish Cemeteries in South Eastern Poland there are no visible remains of graves, however the Cemetery arch still remains, inviting entry to an empty site.
Kock Jewish Cemetery
Kazimierz Dolny Jewish Cemetery
Jozefow Jewish Cemetery
Quarry behind Jozefow Jewish Cemetery
The Concept of Remembrance in Places of Decimation
Treblinka Memorial Site ~ between July 1942 and August 1943 it is estimated that 900,000 Jewish people were put to death at Treblinka. After the camp was dismantled and emptied, as the Germans retreated, the fleeing SS planted a pine forest to erase the evidence.
Plaszow Memorial Site, Krakow. The Jewish graveyard, with view towards Krakow city, is on the edge of where the former Paszow Concentration Camp used to be.
View towards Krakow
Memory Framed by Narrative
11 Heltmana Street, bordering the former Plaszow Concentration Camp; Headquarters for Camp Commanders (photo taken January 2017)
11 Heltmana Street, bordering the former Plaszow Concentration Camp; Headquarters for Camp Commanders (photo taken July 2017)
22 Heltmana Street, formerly Amon Göth’s home, Commandant for Plaszow Concentration Camp (photo taken January 2017)
22 Heltmana Street, formerly Amon Göth’s home, Commandant for Plaszow Concentration Camp (photo taken July 2017)
German Tour Party looking at Images of Amon Göth’s House outside 22 Heltmana Street
Plaszow Concentration Camp ~ the ruined camp is 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 quarry.
Stills from Steven Spielberg’s Film ‘Schindler’s List’ ~ Amon Goth, played by Ranulph Fiennes, is shown shooting Jewish captives from the balcony of his home; however his home, located on 22 Heltmana Street, did not overlook the concentration camp.
Archival Images of German Nazi officers relaxing ~ on display at Oscar Schindler’s Factory Museum, Krakow
Oscar Schindler’s Desk, Oscar Schindler Factory Museum ~ with original paraphernalia
Display Case, Tykocin Synagogue ~ now a museum
Synagogues ~ Sacred, Abandoned, Replica & Re-imagined
‘The spiritual life of this community was rich and varied. It produced spiritual movements that were all-encompassing, as if they sought to compensate for material poverty with richness in spirit and thought, knowledge and learning. Hasidism and Haskalah, like streams of living water, nurtured this joyous creativity with mystical experience and sober rationalism. The young intelligentsia, whose roots lay deep in the soil of popular experience but branched out to an alien culture, inclined to assimilation on the one hand and Zionist aspiration on the other.’ ~ D.Horowitz, Ha’etmol sheli (Jerusalem, 1970), 12
‘The vibrant culture in former Galicia, with the cherished memories of its respected scholars, pious mitnagdim and mystic Hasidim, its rebellious counterculture of maskilim and their more recently assimilated successors, was no more. The synagogues, whether austere or grandiose, were gone. The heated debates about big and small issues had fallen silent. What was left there were overgrown cemeteries, with row upon row of crooked or broken headstones.’ ~ Andrew Zalewski: Galician Portraits – In Search of Jewish Roots (p 252)
Orla Synagogue ~ abandoned
Bilgoraj Synagogue ~ a replica of the Great Wooden Synagogue in Wolpa, Belarus. There once were 241 wooden synagogues in Poland; the Germans burnt down every single one.
Szczebrzeszyn Synagogue ~ the interior is used for display and performances
Josejow Synagogue ~ now a Library
Remuh Synagogue, Krakow ~ still in use for religious services
Remuh Cemetery Memorial Wall, Krakow
Chevra Nosim Synagogue, Lublin ~ despite the very small congregation the Synagogue is still in use
Pawel Matraszek with Sefer Torah, Chevra Nosim Synagogue, Lublin
Cabinet, Chevra Nosim Synagogue, Lublin
Kazmierz Dolny Synagogue ~ the Synagogue is now a Museum displaying local Jewish history
Daniel & Eli, Custodians at Zamosc Synagogue ~ Eli is handing out Yarmulkes (skullcaps) to visitors
Jozefow Synagogue ~ the synagogue is now the local library
Various Portraits ~ Past & Present
Polish Man outside his home in Kock ~ formerly the home of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787-1859) the Hassidic Tzadic of Kock. The town of Kock was once one of the most important centres for Hasidic Judaism in Poland.
Polish Lady, Krasnik ~ Jewish families numbered fifty per cent of the town’s population just before the outbreak of the Second World war.
Polish Man with twenty eggs ~ behind the Synagogue, Krasnik
Yard, Lubartowska Street, Lublin ~ formerly the edge of the Jewish Ghetto, previously the Jewish Quarter.
Kazimierz Dolny ~ Archival image of Jewish life in Kazimierz Dolny before the Second World War
Wooden houses, Kock ~ once homes for Jewish families; most now run down and derelict.
Portraits Related to Varied Ways of Remembering & Forgetting
Judy Josephs and Rose Lipszyc, Survivors of the Lublin Ghetto ~ between March and April 1942 over 30,000 Jewish people were transported from the Lublin Ghetto to their deaths at Belzec
Polish people greeting the Jews (with home-made Cholah) ~ Belzec Memorial Museum
Krzysztof Banach, Exhibition Curator, Majdanek Museum
Szymon, Artist standing in his Studio, formerly the edge of the Jewish Ghetto in Lublin
Joanna Zetar, Grodzka Gate NN Theatre Centre, Lublin ~ talking about Memory of Place
Emil Majuk, Brama Grodzka Teatr NN ~ co-founder of the Shtetl Routes Guidebook & On-line Map
Valentyna Bahriy, Waitress at Mandragora, Lublin Old Town ~ a Jewish ‘styled’ Restaurant
Kawel at Jozefow Synagogue ~ the former Synagogue is now a Library
Jehovahs Witnesses ~ outside Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Rose Lipszyc, Survivor of the Lublin Ghetto at Belzec Museum (former Death Camp)
Judy, Survivor, being interviewed at Belzec Museum
Collective Memory at Sites of Atrocity & Loss
Plaszow ~ Memorial Site
Majdenek Concentration Camp ~ Mass Burial Memorial Site
Krepiec Forest ~ Mass Burial Memorial Site
Rememberance Walk to Umschlagplatz from Lublin Old Town (formerly the Jewish Ghetto) ~ from Umschlagplatz Jews were transported to the Belzec Death Camp
Memory as Forensic Evidence
Jewish cemeteries, like forests on the edges of towns, were often places of mass shootings. Jews who escaped deportation but were subsequently rounded up would have been brought to the cemeteries and shot. Many Jewish Cemeteries in Poland were destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War, the sites cleared of their Matzevahs (Jewish Memorial Stones). Restoration work has begun in a few cemeteries and tombstones recovered, some still in relatively good condition, and stood upright in rows; placement numbers scribed onto the back corresponding to placement maps, however there are no corresponding bodies below. Likewise, archeological work has been carried out in some cemeteries, but this is non-invasive archeology. Jewish tradition has it that the soul remains where the body dies and is not to be disturbed, even in a mass grave or desecrated cemetry. Bodies are not being dug up here but they are being revealed with forensic detail.
Fragment of broken Matzevah (Memorial Jewish Headstone) ~ Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Matzevah Fragment being Scanned at Oswiecim Jewish Museum ~ as part of the Staffordshire Forensic Science Archeological Survey Team
Computerised Image of Scanned Matzevah Fragment
Photographing recovered & re-placed Matzevahs in Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Measuring the ground for a topographic map ~ Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
Steven D Reece, Baptist Minister, founder of the Matzevah Foundation, clearing weeds at the Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery ~ working in partnership with the Staffordshire University, the Auschwitz Jewish Centre and a local scout group.
Katie with Geophysical Survey Ground Scanner
Ohel (Tomb) ~ Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery
© Barry Falk 2017