March 17, 2010

Traces of Memory

                     Installing Traces of Memory

In the fall of 2005, I visited Krakow for the first time in nearly twenty years.  Poland occupied the chair of the International Task Force for Cooperation of Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, and I was a member of the US Delegation.  My previous trips to Krakow were in connection with my work at the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice, and I spent some time in the archives of the Auschwitz State Museum (about an hour away from Krakow) researching our cases.  I even spent several nights in the camp itself, sleeping in a section of one of the administrative buildings that served as a very modest hotel.  In connection with one of these visits in December 1981, I stayed in Krakow on the last night of my visit.  This was a tumultuous time in Poland with the Solidarity movement challenging the government, and soon after I left, marshal law was declared.

The Krakow that I visited in 2005 was far different than the one I left on that cold December morning in 1981.  The city, which is one of the most beautiful in the world, had become a popular tourist destination with a modern airport and was chock full of visitors.  The city seemed cleaner and brighter, which may have been the result of the closing of the Nova Hutte steel complex which had been located just out of town and which, because of topography and climatic conditions, spewed its corrosive pollution directly onto the beautiful facades of Krakow's buildings.  During my stay, I visited a new museum in Kasimierz a part of Krakow that had been the center of Jewish life there.  The Galicia Jewish Museum, which was then only a year and a half old, made a startling impression on me.  Located in a former warehouse, it featured an exhibition by a British photojournalist named Chris Schwarz documenting the Jewish past in Poland with contemporary photographs and text by Professor Jonathan Webber.

When I saw the exhibition, I immediately thought that we should bring it to New York.  It took more than four years and, sadly, Chris Schwarz died in 2007 and never got to see his photographs hanging on the wall of our Museum in New York City.  When we opened the exhibition on Monday night, members of Chris's family were present as were Jonathan Webber, who is Chairman of the Board of the Galicia Jewish Museum, Ian Montrose, a Trustee of that Museum, and Kate Craddy, its Director.  The exhibition will be on view through August 15th.