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Describing Who?

Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists


Joanna Auron-Gorska

«Describing Who?» reveals the significance of photographs taken in contemporary Poland by professional American, French and Israeli Jewish photographers. Writing critically from the vantage point of her Polish and Jewish background, Joanna Auron-Górska argues that while visual representations of Poland and the Poles may appear atemporal, they are neither ahistorical nor apolitical. They are, instead, influenced by the culturally conditioned construct within which Poland serves to maintain the memory of the Shoah, by war trauma, and by post-war politics. The attitudes of foreign Western Jewry to non-Jewish Poles and Poland have so far received limited scholarship; this analysis is a contribution towards enlightening the conversation between Poles and Jews from outside of Poland.
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Chapter 11. The Inside Story



Bar-Am’s “Auschwitz camp ‘victims’ visit camp” comprises four photographs. Three were taken indoors; one, from the campgrounds, shows two mourning women with covered heads. “Auschwitz K.2 Camp, a display of remnants of victims of the Holocaust, thousands of spectacles that were confiscated from the victims” and “Groups of Jewish ‘twins’ treated by the dreaded camp doctor Mengele, revisiting the Auschwitz camp” are both constructed along the pattern which juxtaposes museum archival material with survivor portrayal. “Groups of Jewish ‘twins’” consists in survivors’ reflections in glass windows behind which there is an archival photograph from the camp, presumably hanging on a museum wall in the Auschwitz camp. The photograph behind glass shows the camp ramp: diagonal lines of train tracks converge in the distance, and in the grayish triangle of snow-covered ground between them one sees the silhouettes of uniformed Hitlerites marching along the ramp. The pane of glass in the display window shows the archival photograph and reflects the faces and silhouettes of camp survivors visiting the museum: the photographer obtains an image which fuses two testimonies: that of the past and that of the present.

Artistic “seams” that connect Bar-Am’s photograph with the reproduction on the museum wall are barely visible. In the similarly constructed “Auschwitz K.2 Camp, a display of remnants…”, only with difficulty can one differentiate between the contents of the display case and the reflections of Bar-Am’s models’ faces. While it seems that, since the construction of the two photographs used is...

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