Boston University Hillel House Hosts A Photographic Exhibition:”And I Still See Their Faces: The Vanished World of Polish Jewry”

in Arts, News Releases
September 15th, 1999

Contact: Sarah Godbout, 617-358-1240 | sgodbout@bu.edu

(Boston, Mass.) — When the German army invaded Poland in September 1939, the Jews of Poland were faced with a deadly threat to their existence. By the end of World War II, more than 90 percent of Poland’s prewar Jewish population were dead.

Now, 60 years after the invasion that touched off the Holocaust, the Hillel House at Boston University, in cooperation with the Shalom Foundation, Facing History and Ourselves and Boston University, presents a dramatic photographic exhibition, “And I Still See Their Faces: The Vanished World of Polish Jewry”, beginning September 8th.

By documenting the richness of Jewish life in pre-World War II Poland, this photographic exhibition stands as a mute testimony to the human as well as cultural loss suffered as a result of the Holocaust. The photographs included in the exhibition are scenes of what was once the everyday life of Polish Jews. Unlike the stark photos of Holocaust victims in the camps, these images depict a full range of people unaware that they are on the brink of destruction.

The exhibition will be on display from September 8 through October 6, 1999, at the Boston University 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. Gallery hours are from 1 p.m. through 9 p.m., seven days a week.

The Shalom Foundation of Warsaw, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Polish-Jewish heritage, recognized the need to find and protect the few remaining pieces of tangible evidence of what once existed. In 1994, its president, Golda Tencer, a leading actress and singer in the Jewish State Theater, issued an appeal to people throughout Poland: she felt certain that many Jews faced with deportation to the ghettos had entrusted family albums to friends and family neighbors — would anyone with such photos still in their possession send them to the Foundation.

The response was overwhelming. Photos poured in from all over Poland, as well as from Israel, Canada, Italy, the United States, and Argentina. More than 8,000 photographs were received, and 456 of them will be featured in the exhibition.

All of the photos in the exhibition have been collected in book form. In an introduction to the book, Tencer wrote: “The photographs of the Polish Jews recall the names; the names of those burnt in the ruins of the Ghetto, shot in the streets, sent to the death camps, turned in for profit, those who chose to commit suicide when people turned out to be weak and Heaven let them down. In the photographs, the light falls on the faces still free of terror and fear. You can see on them quiet reflection, the joy of family life, a smile that manifests belief in a friendly world. Those in the photographs do not know yet that soon their houses will be deserted, the streets of their towns covered with black snow. All that will remain after them could be put in a drawer, hidden in the attic buried in junk. In this way, these photographs that intended to seize the moment, are now the only evidence of this era.”

Rabbi Joseph Polak, director of Hillel House at Boston University and an organizer of the exhibition, said, “These photographs do not portray the horrors of the Holocaust directly. But in their silence, they are a tribute to the world that has been lost and testimony to the martyrdom of the victims – ordinary people from every walk of life whose only shared characteristic was their Polish-Jewish nationality.”

From its first opening in Warsaw in 1995, the exhibition has been shown internationally, receiving enthusiastic reviews and attracting vast audiences in Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Jerusalem, and Mexico City. In the United States, the exhibition was shown in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Petersburg, Florida. The Boston University exhibition is the first Northeast showing; it will then travel to New York, Cleveland, Toronto, Canada and London, England.

The significance of the exhibition is best summed up by the Polish-Jewish writer, Hanna Krall, who remarked after seeing the photographs: “You cannot have compassion for millions, for those zeros. The best thing we can do is give back individual faces to all these people.”

The Boston exhibition will be accompanied by a series of special events, including lectures, film screenings and roundtable discussions.

The exhibition and the accompanying events are free and open to the general public. The exhibition place is wheelchair accessible. For further information, call 617-353-1105.

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