TRACES OF MEMORY (continued)
“How long does it take for evil to disappear from the landscape? When does nature finally take over and erase the human record? Where does history end and archaeology begin? What is allowed to disappear, what is preserved? And when we hear some echoes and see some shadows, are they bearable? "
“These are the questions that provoked the late photographer Chris Schwarz as he wandered the landscape of Poland,” describes Hillel Director, Rabbi Joseph Polak. “Nothing more than a depression in a field turns out to be a mass grave of Jewish children. What to Americans looks like an abandoned school house, is a synagogue not used since its inhabitants disappeared into the fog of the Holocaust. Schwarz’s pictures make you look twice to find their secrets; a door flapping in the breeze draws attention to where a mezuzah [a religious artifact] once hung.”
The strength of this exhibit lies within the dialogue that the images hold with each other, speaking from across the intimate space of the gallery, on the complexities of evil, the ephemeral nature of history and the ongoing battle in nature. These photographs hold both beauty and brutality within the same landscape and unfold in front of the viewer. It is a lament to the destroyed Jewish civilization that once flourished in Poland, a documentation of the locations where the annihilation took place, and an exploration of the commemorative efforts that are now taking place in the country.
Over a period of 12 years, Schwarz, founder and director of the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, traveled with British anthropology Professor Jonathan Webber around Poland’s villages and towns in search of the country’s Jewish past. Schwarz’s striking images, accompanied by Webber’s texts, became the Galicia Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibition in 2004.
This exhibit was introduced to the Rubin-Frankel Gallery by Wayne Zuckerman (SMG’79), a member of Boston University Hillel’s Board. In 2006, Wayne travelled to Poland with his sons and parents to explore their family history. While in Krakow, he stumbled upon Schwarz’s museum. An amateur photographer himself, Wayne had never seen such striking pictures. He realized that his family is deeply rooted in the landscape that Chris Schwarz’s photographs captured. When asked what he wanted to happen with his work, Schwarz’s response was simple: To get it on the road and out into the world. With that, Wayne and Boston University Hillel Director Rabbi Joseph Polak, together with his colleague Lilka Elbaum – a specialist in managing cultural exhibits—set out to make it happen.
The son of a Polish Jew who escaped to England in 1939, Chris Schwarz first arrived in Krakow in the 1990s. In 2004, after more than a decade of working with Webber, Schwarz opened the Galicia Jewish Museum in a renovated pre-war mill building. Today, in addition to Traces of Memory, the museum houses three temporary exhibition galleries, and operates one of Poland’s most extensive Jewish cultural and education programs. Since opening, more than 125,000 people have visited the museum. Schwarz passed away from cancer in 2007. He was 59 years old.
Jonathan Webber is a social anthropologist who taught for many years at Oxford University before moving in 2002 to the University of Birmingham, where he holds the UNESCO Chair in Jewish and Interfaith Studies. He has a strong research interest in Polish–Jewish studies: he has been a member of the International Council of the Auschwitz Museum since it was founded in 1990, and is vice-chairman of the Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies (established in Oxford in 1984). Prof. Webber is the co-author of the permanent exhibition ‘Traces of Memory’ at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków (established in 2004) and author of its companion volume, RediscoveringTraces of Memory:The Jewish Heritage of PolishGalicia (2009). In 1999 he was awarded the Gold Cross of the Order of Merit by the President of the Republic of Poland for services to Polish–Jewish dialogue; and in 2009 he was awarded an honor medal of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland for services to Polish culture.