To my brothers the Polish Jews

 I am an actress of the Jewish theatre. I was born after the War. However, the echo of the Holocaust accompanied my childhood.

452 Jankiel and Golda Tencer, Wisniowa Gra, 1955.
It would return in the cry of my father in the middle of the night who, in his dream, once again saw all that he had to go through in the Ghetto, in the death camp.

The photographs included in this album to me are the scenes of a tragic play written by history. Invading people's homes. Destroying what had once been the small busy life of generations of Polish Jews. Their images have remain imprinted on the plates of memory Artifacts and appurtenances have survived. What a philosopher once called "the tears of things." And it is not just tears shed for a mug with a broken handle, a crooked fence in a Galician town, wanderer's shoes, the cap of a village peddler.

This is a lament for a lost world which nowadays returns only in old photographs. Bringing to life those who were changed into the Great Statistic, making them present amongst us, asking: How was it possible?, waiting for an answer under the heavens that shine through the shingles of the roof. In this heaven there are motionless clouds. The wind, since it has also been photographed, brings with it the echo of voices. Voices that were silenced long, long ago.

In a poem by the Polish poetess Wislawa Szymborska, Jewish names travel in a cattle car through the night of the occupation, names no one will ever remember. They, too, have been doomed to perish. Together with those that bore them.

"The photographs sent after the 1994 appeal to save the memory 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 - at least in the majority of them (more than seven thousand have been sent) - the light falls on faces still free of terror and fear. We can see on them quiet reflection, the joy of family life, a smile that manifests belief in a friendly world. Everyday routine, ceremonial poses, glimpses of genre scenes - they all form a half- sentimental, half-dramatic story of past life, frozen in forms determined by tradition, the eternal rhythm of nature, the wisdom of the Book which says that "it is on the breath of our children going to school that our world is founded"; the planet grating among other planets on the outskirts of the Universe.

Those in the photographs do not know yet that soon their houses will be deserted, the streets of their towns covered with the black snow of fluff from slit eiderdowns, that the wisdom of the Book will be able to save no one. All that will remain after them, when the biblical names have left in cattle cars - could be put in a drawer, hidden in the attic, buried in junk.

In this way photographs, intended to seize the moment, are the evidence of the era. Apart from photographs, the Foundation has also received messages smuggled from the Ghetto, postcards issued on the occasion of religious holidays by Jewish printers, poems, diaries, and what is more - even glass plates sought by collectors of early photographic art. We also received a priceless color slide - the burning Warsaw Ghetto. From all over Poland, the smallest villages and towns, as well as from abroad: Israel, Canada, Italy, USA, Argentina, these gifts of the heart have been flowing in; hearts which could not accept that there are no longer Jewish neighbors, acquaintances and strangers. And even the most imaginative writer would not nowadays risk saying that "the Vistula river murmurs in Yiddish."

The oldest donor of photographs is ninety years old. The youngest - twelve: at this age rummaging the nooks and crannies of the house is a child's adventure. The motive of those who responded to our appeal?

The attached letters may provide some ideas:

"I thought: Let more people see those photographs. Maybe in Israel there is someone from Lezajsk? And these photographs will awaken good and tender memories from the times before 1939. Another reason I am sending these photographs is that I thought one ought to and you should"- Maria Fijalkowska.
"My mother and this family were friends. When the Germans were about to take them away from Opatw, they gave my mother these photographs for her to keep, perhaps someone will survive and this will be a keepsake" - Jzef Kaczmarczyk.
"let the young Jewish generations see what a street in Lubartw looked like before 1939" - Renata Zaykowska.
"I wish to inform you that I am in possession of several photographs found in the ruins of the former Jewish Ghetto" - Czeslaw Zygmunt Wunsch.
"I am in possession of a photograph of a woman of Jewish nationality with a small child. They both fled from the Ghetto in Lowicz, she stayed for the night with us and she left me this photograph" - Anna Maj. "Please accept from me memories from the past, from the world of my youth - to commemorate the Jews I knew in Bogucice in the former province of Krakw" - Janina Walaszek.

I cannot help looking at these photographs. I cannot forget about their fate. The righteous are not only those who save a single life. This name is also deserved by those who save memory. The remembrance of those who cannot talk, turned into ashes, drowned by the turmoil of contemporary events.

And this is what makes me wish, personally and on behalf of the Foundation, to express my sincere thanks for this invaluable gift. The publication of this album and the opening of the exhibition does not end anything: we are still receiving and undoubtedly will be receiving letters from the other side of the years. What was written long ago comes true: "The light of remembrance brings life back." Today it is we who are responsible for keeping this light shining.

Golda Tencer

Previous Section  Next Section