We Are What We Remember
The Holocaust provokes us to state, “Do not forget,” “I will remember.” In these pronouncements we confirm the horrors of Nazi mass murders and declare that we won’t let it happen again. Yet, what does this mean?
Before World War II, about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland; approximately 380,00 survived the Holocaust. Lodz was one major center of Jewish life in Poland with the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. Over 160,00 people are buried in the Bracka Street Cemetery which was built in 1892; it covers about 97 acres. The Cemetery’s tombstones reflect a prosperous Jewish community. Further, 43,000 victims murdered by Nazis from the Lodz Ghetto are buried in an area of the cemetery known as the “Ghetto Field.”
Today, this treasure of Jewish Polish culture and life lays mostly overgrown and in ruins. Unbelievably, this disrepair is not the result of Nazi destruction or post-war vandalism. The cemetery survived the Holocaust only to fall victim to the anti-Semitism of neglect. While there have been significant private efforts at restoration, even these efforts leave most of the cemetery seemingly untouched. In seventy-one years since the end of the Holocaust, Poland seems to have left Lodz Cemetery untouched. How do we explain this?
What does it mean not to forget and to remember? Do specific steps to remember mean full restoration of the Lodz Cemetery and all existing artifacts of Jewish life in Poland and throughout Europe?
Remembering and forgetting are essential features of human existence. My photographs of the Lodz Cemetery in 2016 confront history and memory. On one level these images are social documents. On another level, they challenge and explore human actions, memory, and intentions. Do we really remember? Do we really honor the memory of all who were murdered? My photographs of the Lodz Cemetery ask all of us these questions. Do we have answers?