If all goes well, my friend Dora will be accompanying us on this trip. Dora is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Radom. She was 15 years old when the war broke out. A remarkable woman, she has been kind enough to share her recollections with me as well as commenting on the imagery that I am capturing from the 1937 film of Radom. She has many photos and documents from before the war and during the time of the ghetto. When her brother and mother left to be deported, her brother grabbed random photographs. He kept them in his shoes throughout the war. Even in Dachau his shoes were never taken from him so the photographs survived.
While my paintings seek to capture the community that once existed, Dora brings a unique perspective to this effort. In addition to showing my artwork we hope to put together imagery that tells her story and puts a real face on the former Jewish community that seems to be a subject of fascination in Poland.
It is interesting to me that the reaction of the Poles today is so different than that of the Lithuanians, my other series of Eastern European artwork. In Lithuania there is often silence and a rewriting of history. In Poland there is considerable interest in the former Jewish community. A virtual Jewish community has developed without Jews, although one aspect of this is that some Poles are discovering they have long hidden Jewish ancestry. The Nazis followed by the Soviets was certainly enough to make any surviving Jew obscure their religious heritage.
Dora reminded me that the Poles as a government never collaborated with the Nazis as occurred in other countries. Still the story is not always a pretty one. I accessed a new website recently called the Historical Jewish Press. I typed in Radom and up popped an article from September 1945 that related the murder of returning Jews to Radom. Having survived the death camps, many didn't survive their return home. These outbreaks were attributed to the Polish Fascist Underground and were sufficient for most returning Jews to abandon Poland. A generation later, perhaps enough time has passed to feel comfortable learning about the community that lived in their midst.
And so I continue to work on my series of paintings and scan Dora's documents and photos. Our effort will be to build bridges and understanding with the community that exists today.