by Emily Jacobs
In commemoration of Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Washington DC Jewish Community Center will present Traces of Memory, a photo exhibition on loan from the Galicia Jewish Museum in Poland.
On exhibition from today through May 21 in the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, Traces of Memory is a compilation of more than 40 photographs taken by the late British photojournalist Chris Schwarz. Schwarz worked with Professor Jonathan Weber, UNESCO chair of Jewish and interfaith studies at the University of Birmingham, U.K., gathering photos and texts over a 12-year period, resulting in a compilation that gives visitors a brief glimpse of the Jewish community of Poland, both pre- and post-Holocaust.
Jakub Nowakowski, director of the Galicia Jewish Museum which houses the permanent edition of Traces of Memory, explained that the photographs are divided into five categories, ranging from destruction to hope for the future.
The first section is called "Jewish Life in Ruins" and is compiled of photos of Jewish communities destroyed by the Holocaust.
"In the first section we are showing the ruins, this is what has been destroyed," said Nowakowski. "Abandoned synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and mezuzah's on destroyed buildings."
Moving on, the second section entitled, "Jewish Culture as it Once Was", provides viewers evidence that Jewish culture still exists in Poland today.
"This section focuses on Jewish life that somehow survived history. It's telling the story of the Jewish communities that have existed for hundreds of years in Jewish Poland," said Nowakowski.
The third and potentially most difficult section is called "Sites of Massacre and Destruction," where viewers will see photos of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
"We're showing places such as empty fields, forests or small villages where the Holocaust took place that are very often forgotten by the population," said Nowakowski. "There are also photographs of Auschwitz and Birkenau, which were created by the Nazis here in occupied Poland."
Fourth in the sections is "How the Past is Being Remembered", which recognizes the efforts to preserve the memory of those that perished in the Holocaust.
"In this section you'll see efforts undertaken by both Jewish survivors and non-Jews to commemorate the Holocaust. There are photos of the monuments and buildings erected in former ghettos - you can actually see how the past is being remembered," Nowakowski said. "On the other hand, there is a photo of a former synagogue that is now used as a furniture store, so it shows both ways, how the past is being preserved, but also how the past is being erased by the present-day population."
Finally, the fifth section, entitled "People Making Memory Today," allows the exhibit to end on a positive note, with photos of the people of today's Poland recreating Jewish culture and allowing the Jewish community to grow and thrive.
"The final section is the smallest, but it's the most important. It's about people, and without the people there will be no memory," said Nowakowski. "Seeing all five sections of the exhibition is so important because it shows five parts of one story and without each one of those parts, this story isn't full. To fully understand all that exists in Poland today, you need to be aware of the five sections."
Carole R. Zawatsky, chief executive officer at the DCJCC, explained that officials jumped at the opportunity to have Traces of Memory at their center, because it was an opportunity to form a connection between Washington and Poland.
Zawatsky, who has seen the full exhibit at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Poland, added that she hopes visitors will "see that there is an attempt to revive Jewish life in Poland, and that the very beautiful photos of what was help us conjure up an image of a Poland that was for so many Eastern European Jews, the center and where we came from. It's very poignant to look at this exhibit and see that Jews have been living in Poland for hundreds of years."
Traces of Memory was brought to the DCJCC with the help of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, and is co-sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland.
The opening ceremony for Traces of Memory will take place on April 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Witold Dzielski, first secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland offering remarks, along with Shana Penn, executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, Jakub Nowakowski, and Chuck Weiss, uncle of the late photojournalist Chris Schwarz. The opening reception and exhibition are free.