Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists
Chapter 13. Side by Side
By representing Poland in the context of the Shoah, antisemitism, and the death camp, photography and commentary help maintain cultural homeostasis. Such are the Poles (un)photographed by Gusky: they walk streets paved with Jewish gravestones; they deface synagogue walls; they paint swastikas; they build homes on Jewish cemeteries. They express contempt, appropriate Jewish material heritage, and contribute to the forgetting of Jewish fate. The portrayal is accurate: there are many such Poles. That said, there are many others. There exist images, both in Gusky’s album and otherwise (especially in that strand of Shoah literature which is concerned with discourse on help) that show Poles as sympathetic to Jews. There exists also a mode of looking which constructs Poland as an object of longing: an idyllic Jewish world from before the Shoah.
In the narrative layer of Gusky’s Silent Places there are two Poles who preserve Polish Jewish memory: his Polish tour guide Renata Zwodzijasz and a “Christian with a noble pastime” from Pinczów who returns to the former synagogue building in his town fragments of tombstones built into barn walls, and rebuilds those barns with “his own hands”278. Gusky does not photograph Zwodzijasz, this man, or his work. Like “an ancient artist [who] applies his drawing (…) onto some other picture without rubbing it out – as if the latter was not visible to the viewer”279, in his personal introduction to the album Gusky creates a sympathetic, tender portrayal of Zwodzijasz against a visual...
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