Coming in August at the Warsaw Jewish Historical Institute Emanuela Ringelblum, fortunate people will be able to see an exhibition of photos by the outstanding American photographer Chuck Fishman.
For over 40 years Fishman has taken pictures of the Polish Jewish community, creating an extraordinary record of the everyday life of four generations of Poles: from people struggling for the survival of Jewish tradition and culture in communist Poland of the 70s and 80s, to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren more and more aware of their identity in contemporary world.
Selected photographs by Fishman will be featured at the exhibition titled “RE-GENERATION. Życie żydowskie w Polsce / Jewish Life in Poland “
Chuck Fishman comes from a Jewish family – says curator Teresa Śmiechowska.
This subject, especially in the face of the Holocaust, was very close to him. As a young boy, he wanted to see what remained of the Jews in Poland, who were mostly murdered during the war.
The exhibition will consist of 73 black and white photographs, original gelatine and silver prints depicting the life of the Jewish community. The pictures were created in different periods and they form two interconnected parts: – The exhibition will be opened with a short biography of the artist and his portraits. One showing him as a young student and the second – contemporary, adds the curator.
The American photographer lives and works in New York every day. In his career, he focuses primarily on political and social issues, always putting people and their stories in the foreground. He has received the prestigious World Press Photo photography honor four times, and his photographs appeared on the covers of such magazines as “Life”, “Time”, “Fortune” and “Newsweek”.
The first part of his exhibition at the Jewish Historical Institute is a travel documentation that he made to communist Poland in 1975 as a student. He began his visit in Wrocław, where he arrived by train from eastern Germany. Photos from this period were later collected in the publication “Polish Jews: The Last Chapter”.
Fishman immortalized members of Jewish communities in various Polish cities struggling to survive the tradition and history of their nation. They were mainly older people, although children also appeared.
“I managed to reach some of them. These are very specific biographies,” says Teresa Śmiechowska. “Their fathers had a very strong conviction that Jewish values and traditions should be transferred. They told children that they were Jews. They were not afraid to speak it out loud.”
The curator relates the story of a girl who lost her mother before she was three years old and was brought up by her father. “He was deeply established in his identity. He kept telling her that she remembered being a Jew. Asked about memories related to Fishman’s photography, she said that it was a very difficult period in her life. She was constantly surrounded by older people.”
She remembers the “Ty Żydko!” – cries directed to her, which she heard in the yard. Then the word sounded dangerous to her. It separated her from the rest of society, it marked her – she says. Then she found herself in New York. She lives there until today. She started a typically Jewish family. She has four children, three boys attend Yeshiva. She is a religious Jewish woman. Her picture will be in the first part of the exhibition.
The American artist also captured closed and decaying synagogues, and cemeteries in ruins. In addition, he photographed kosher kitchens, a Jewish club in Łódź (which was closed shortly after his departure), Friday evenings and Shabbat, a day of rest in the Jewish religion.
Not only he, but the protagonists of his photos themselves felt that it was a sad fall of the community that survived in this area for almost a thousand years.
Fishman was afraid that he would not be able to take pictures from Poland. However, by night train from Katowice he got to Czechoslovakia, and then further to Vienna, hiding cameras at the bottom of the bag. His first trip lasted six weeks. He returned to Poland in 1978 to photograph the country of the newly elected Pope, John Paul II.
He also secretly decided to visit the same places and the same characters whom he managed to capture in the pictures three years earlier. He continued his travels to Poland until 1983.
After his first visits to Poland in the 1970s, it seemed to him that nothing was left of the Jews. Only destroyed and devastated buildings of synagogues, destroyed cemeteries and old people.
He did not know how wrong he was.
The second part of the exhibition presents a completely different perspective on the next generations of the Jewish community in Poland.
Living in our country for almost a thousand years, the Jewish people survived the most difficult moments and is slowly reviving, which perfectly reflects the series of contemporary Fishman’s pictures.
He documented newly-formed Jewish communities and organizations, young, laughing people who, with full awareness and enormous zeal, engage in the renewal of Jewish religious and cultural life in the country.
The American photographed in schools and synagogues. He immortalized everyday life and significant moments in the lives of heroes, such as funerals and weddings, as well as Jewish culture festivals.
In the pictures he even managed to commemorate the conversion to Judaism of people who had discovered their Jewish roots – laughing characters, young people after conversion, who participate in the Sabbath blessing of candles.
All this creates an extraordinary contrast to what has been presented in old photographs and to some kind of sadness that surrounds them, comments the curator.
Fishman’s photos also portray the older generation that played a key role in maintaining this community. The artist returned to Poland in 2013, 2014, 2016 and in 2018.
The past and present at the exhibition meet in photographs commemorating the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We will find there three photos put together. Two from the 70s and 80s and one made this year – on the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Old photographs clearly show an empty square without the POLIN museum. The current photograph shows how much has changed since then.
Go see the exhibition “RE-GENERATION. Życie żydowskie w Polsce / Jewish Life in Poland “Chuck Fishman, where you can see the everyday life of four generations of the Polish Jewish community. It opens m August 7, 2018 at the Jewish Historical Institute Emanuela Ringelblum.
You can find out more about the exhibition at www.jhi.pl/wystawy .