“Traces of memory”, Chris Schwarz

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
12 March 2007


Jewish cemetery in Czarny Dunajec. Many such cemeteries lie in remote villages with pre-war populations that were sometimes entirely Jewish. All photographs are © Chris Schwarz, for more details see www.galiciajewishmuseum.org

1 field

Stary Dzikow. This grove of trees grows on the site of a former Jewish cemetery. Since it was discovered, local farmers have worked around the site, leaving these isolated trees to grow.


Lamentation wall in the Remuh Jewish Cemetery in Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter of Krakow. The Rema was a famous Talmudic sage whose headstone was the only one untouched by Nazi vandalism. It is said that the local Nazi commander was visited by his mother in a dream. She warned him that if he wishes to survive the war, the Rema's grave was to be left untouched. After the war, shattered pieces of head stones were assembled into such walls.


Formerly a synagogue and now a furniture shop in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. A whole section of Schwarz's exhibit is dedicated to how the communities are remembered today. Most are very positive in their symbolism. Schwartz feels however, that this is one example of insensitivity to commemoration.


Graffiti on the wall of the Miodowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Krakow. The adjacent synagogue was built before 1925 by an affluent progressive community. Although it has been restored beautifully, it is unused today.

2 lion

Detail of the fading paintwork in the Dabrowa Tarnowska synagogue

The British photojournalist, Chris Schwarz has been working in Poland since the 1980s. In 2004, he founded the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow - an educational centre and exhibition space devoted to Jewish culture and civilization in Polish Galicia.

It is currently home to Chris's photo project, Traces of Memory, containing twelve years worth of work on the Jewish past in Poland. Its aim is to both inspire curious Poles and challenge the thousands of yearly commemorators at the concentration camps in Galician Poland.

On the evening I visited, orthodox Jews gathered for prayer in the café area, sharing the space with readers relaxing with books and ipods. Nearby some employees were chatting, quite accustomed to the peaceful scene of contrasts. Poland might have seen its Jewish population of 3 million vanish, but those that return today find a generally curious generation, quite detached. Young Poles can only remember so much history: most are simply glad about the fall of communism, forget fascism.

Schwartz's photography is meticulous in the sense that he toured even the remotest villages in search of clues to Poland's Jewish cultural past, decimated by Nazi Germany. At the museum's opening, he remarked, "We can either compare everything to the prewar glory, or we can realize that it's amazing that anything survived at all after the ferocity of the Nazi destruction".

The museum also houses an exhibition of Polish non-Jewish heroes who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust at great personal risk. Each photo is a recent portrait of an elderly man or woman with a clear conscience and a profound story.

Quite aside from his artistic talent, I found Chris sensitive, ambitious and extremely industrious. When asked "What next?", he listed a new exhibition, two or three book collaborations, and international missions. "That's enough for this year I think", he added. During our short tour, he mixed questions, thought experiments and humble moralisations in perfect proportion.

Among the highlights was a picture of a golden farm with a bright blue sky pierced by a grove of tall, straight trees. They grow on a forgotten Jewish cemetery, and the farmers sow around the grove. Modern street signs contrast fading Yiddish in the street. Particular ruins and tombstones are photographed for their symbolism, delicately captured by Schwartz.

His objective is clear: to develop inter-communal dialogue and understanding. It's a simple aim, easily obstructed but one that resonates strongly.

- Rafael Broch

Expose the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics

US Christian ‘fundamentalists’, some linked to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, have poured at least $50m of ‘dark money’ into Europe over the past decade – boosting the far right.

That's just the tip of the iceberg: we've got many more leads to chase down. Find out more and support our work here.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram