In Search of Amnesia pt 1

The images below were taken in Poland in 2017. They are part of an on-going research project looking into the Jewish narrative in south east Poland and north west Ukraine, the area formerly known as Galicia. This project is concerned with memory, how we both remember the past and how it is also inevitably forgotten through collective amnesia. Specifically it is concerned with how Jewish memory is held within places that suffered atrocity and immense loss. 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 historical narrative of a vibrant Jewish culture that developed within Galicia, an area of the Habsburg Empire of Austria established in 1772, that nestled between Poland and The Russian Empire. 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. Poland had for centuries been a haven for Judaism and the centre for European Jewish settlement. Poland and Ukraine’s cities, towns and villages once had sizeable Jewish populations, active in trade, commerce and politics; 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, or to remember beyond the framed narratives of the tourism heritage & Atrocity Memorial Sites.

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

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

© Barry Falk 2017 / 2018





‘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)



The Memory of Absence

~ Birkenau / Auschwitz II























Disinfection Units, Processing Centre, Sauna Block ~ Auschwitz II Birkenau


In Search of Amnesia - Decontamination Units (diptych)






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




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.













415A0289 View towards Krakow




Memory Framed by Narrative

‘Post-memory describes the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before – to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviours among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Post-memory’s connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.’   ~   Marianne Hirsch: The Generation of Post-memory

‘Marianne Hirsch makes clear that post-memory is a condition not confined to actual children of survivors, but is a position that can be empathetically inhabited by further-flung ‘inheritors’ of mediated history.’   ~   Erica T.Lehrer: Jewish Poland Revisited – Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places



11 Heltmana Street, bordering the former Plaszow Concentration Camp; Headquarters for Camp Commanders (photo taken January 2017)


415A2340-1 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.










In Search of Amnesia - Schindlers List film shots

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.


In Search of Amnesia _ Archival Nazi Gallery (border)

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



415A2560-1 Remuh Synagogue, Krakow ~ still in use for religious services



415A2553-1 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




Portraits Related to Varied Ways of Remembering & Forgetting

In 2017 I travelled within the inverted triangle formed by the three death camps of Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, the epicentre of Operation Reinhardt. I visited some of the towns that once held sizeable Jewish populations, visiting what remained of the Jewish Cemeteries and the Synagogues, a few still in use for religious prayer but most either derelict or transformed into exhibition spaces or libraries. I generally followed the train lines, the transportation routes that linked the towns and cities, not just within Poland but further afield from the countries across Europe. My travels also roughly followed the Chassidic Route, that linked key cities and towns with a once rich culture of Judaism. I travelled around the region looking for signs of previous Jewish life. I saw dilapidated wooden houses in Kock that once housed Jewish families, attended genealogy events, met visiting Jewish people tracing their own family roots, talked to local tour guides that specialise in Shtetl tours, attended lectures about the Jewish past, met archivists & historians at Atrocity Museums, read the work of ethnographers and met forensic archeologists, accompanied local and international conservation groups working to clear and preserve Jewish cemeteries, talked to artists, watched performers, and photographed custodians of synagogues. This is a project built up through ideas but informed by on-going conversations.



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




Rose Lipszyc, Survivor of the Lublin Ghetto at Belzec Museum (former Death Camp)




Judy, Survivor of Lublin Ghetto, being interviewed at Belzec 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



415A5769-1-2Emil 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




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 Woman, Krasnik




Polish Man with eggs, behind the synagogue, Krasnik




Archival image of Jewish life in Kazimierz Dolny before the Second World War




Yard, Lubartowska Street, Lublin, formerly the edge of the Jewish Ghetto, previously the Jewish Quarter



Kock wooden houses x 4 (b&w)

Wooden houses, Kock







Collective Memory at Sites of Atrocity & Loss


Plaszow ~ Memorial Site




Majdenek Concentration Camp ~ Mass Burial Memorial Site



415A3285-1 Krepiec Forest ~ Mass Burial Memorial Site



415A3036-1Rememberance 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







415A3941-1 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




415A4083-1-2 Ohel (Tomb) ~ Oswiecim Jewish Cemetery








© Barry Falk 2017