Rediscovering Traces of Memory

BookRediscovering Traces of Memory

Rediscovering Traces of Memory

The Jewish Heritage of Polish Galicia [Second edition]

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


June 20th, 2018

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'Polish-Jewish relations have long suffered from stereotypes and false accusations on both sides, and this book is a major step in the attempt to right the wrongs of the past ... A courageous and honest work, imbued with spirituality and feeling for the places and the subject, rarely matched.'
- Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland
'Chris Schwarz and Jonathan Webber have poignantly captured the ruins of memory. Tradition, religion, culture, language, architecture, homes, places of worship, and cemeteries, all beautifully photographed, clearly explained. Their work is a fitting memorial to the Jews of Galicia, who survive only through these whispered traces.'
- Stephen Smith, Chair, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, UK
'Galicia was home to a vibrant Jewish society, which over many generations shaped the scope and direction of Jewish culture and added to its intensity. Hasidism, the enlightenment of the Haskalah, and Zionism were all movements that took root in Galicia and grew in ways that changed the course of Jewish history and energized Jewish society. This exceptional book conveys the physical and the metaphysical world of Galician Jewry, both at its peak and in its destruction by the Germans ... Chris Schwarz's photos draw the eye and stir the heart; Jonathan Webber's texts are informative, moving, and written with much wisdom. Altogether, it took a rare combination of brain, of heart, and of an intelligent and penetrating eye to produce a book that adds new layers to memory and inspires a yearning for what was lost. It will be a source of pride for every Jew-whether or not they have Galician roots.'
- Shevach Weiss, former Israeli Ambassador to Poland
'A remarkable tribute to the Jewish heritage of Polish Galicia ... immortalized in this exquisite photographic record and erudite commentary. A treasure for future generations.'
- Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University and Museum of the History of Polish Jews
'Poignant and beautiful ... a panoramic picture not only of what is left of Jewish life in Poland but of what it was like in its heyday in all its aspects, both good and bad. It documents where and how it was destroyed and gives a moving account of what is being done to preserve the memory of what was lost and of the people, both Poles and Jews, involved in this important undertaking.'
- Antony Polonsky, Editor-in-Chief of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry
'Jonathan Webber has a depth of knowledge about Jewish culture and the Jewish experience in Polish Galicia that few can equal. His captions to Chris Schwarz's stunning photos are deliberately brief, allowing the pictures to 'speak'on their own, but his wonderfully detailed-and highly readable-notes in the back section of the book evoke a rich texture of memory and tradition and loss and even hope.'
- Ruth Ellen Gruber, author of National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe
'Travelling with Jonathan Webber in Galicia was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Now every reader can participate in that journey through this extraordinary book, revisiting a past that has tragically vanished but continues to move and inspire.'
- Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, host of TLC's Shalom in the Home and founder of This World: The Values Network

The present-day traces of the Jewish past in Poland are complex. Jewish life lay in ruins after the Holocaust. Much evidence of ruin remains, but there are also widespread traces that bear witness to the elaborate Jewish culture that once flourished there, even in villages and small towns. One also sees places where Jews were murdered by the Germans in the war: not only in death camps and ghettos, but also in fields, forests, rivers, and cemeteries. After the war forty years of communism suppressed even the memory of the destroyed Jewish heritage. Today, by contrast, the historic Jewish culture of Poland is increasingly being memorialized, by local Poles as well as by foreign Jews. Synagogues and cemeteries are being renovated, monuments and museums are being set up. There are festivals of Jewish culture, hasidic pilgrims, and Jewish tourists; and local people who rescued Jews during the war are being honoured. In rediscovering the traces of memory one also finds clear signs of a local Jewish revival. This extensively revised second edition includes forty-five new photographs and updated explanatory texts. Together they suggest how to make sense of the past and discover its relevance for the present. This innovative, multi-layered book will appeal to everyone concerned with questions of history, memory, and identity.


'This is a story in photographs—lush, beautiful, and haunted . . . Webber is doing a great service to those looking for a more sophisticated approach to contemporary Jewish Poland and the uncomfortable co-existence of past and present in the landscape.'
- David Shneer, East European Jewish Affairs
'Interaction between image and analysis often tells a different story than the photograph alone would . . . Even more than written documents, perhaps, photographs underscore the challenges of accessing history beyond memory. Webber's analysis and Schwarz's photographs accomplish more than finding traces. Rediscovering Traces of Memory tries to reach beyond a Jewish memory of Poland that is at once nostalgic and skewed by the Holocaust’s shadow. They trace the shaping of memory, progress in overcoming barriers to dialogue, and the limits of remembering.'
- Karen Auerbach, H-Judaic
'Astonishing book . . . The photography is outstanding, adding much to the poignancy of what the images portray . . . A complex subject has been imaginatively handled by dividing the book into five sections suggesting different ways of approaching it . . . Webber, whose narrative is thoughtful and understated, deals sensitively with relations between Poles and their Jewish past, pointing out that much of the history of the war is still contested and remembered differently . . . This is a beautiful and informative book that provides an inspiring introduction to Poland's Jewish heritage.'
- Carla King, Irish Times
'Schwarz's photos are striking, incisive, and heartbreaking.'
- Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent
'Beautifully produced . . . gives many more people access to this remarkable record of what remains of the rich history of the Jews in Poland after the devastation of the Holocaust. Most striking is the freshness of the images, and the lack of clichés. The tragedy stares directly from the pictures but not in the form we are familiar with . . . buy the book, study the images and read the text. It gives a remarkable and moving insight into what Poland—and the world—has lost.'
- Julia Bard, Jewish Socialist

Author Information

Jonathan Webber is a British social anthropologist. He taught Jewish studies at the universities of Oxford and Birmingham before taking up a professorship at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He retired in 2016. He currently serves on the board of the Galicia Jewish Museum and is founding chair of the European Association for Holocaust Studies. Chris Schwarz was a much-travelled British photojournalist who in Poland teamed up with Jonathan Webber to work on the Traces of Memory project and in 2004 opened the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków to showcase his photographs as a way of bringing the story of the Jewish heritage in Polish Galicia to Poland and to the world. He died in 2007. Jason Francisco is an acclaimed American photographer, artist, essayist, and activist employed at Emory University, Atlanta, as an associate professor in photography studies in the Department of Film and Media Studies. Widely exhibited nationally and internationally, he is the author of several books and numerous photographic exhibits. His work is inspired by a deep concern for the Jewish heritage of eastern Europe.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Preface to the Second Edition10
A Posthumous Collaboration: A Photographer's Perspective16
Map of Polish Galicia21
1. Jewish Life in Ruins37
2. Glimpses of the Jewish Culture That Once Was62
3. The Holocaust: Sites of Massacre98
4. How the Past is Being Remembered132
5. The Revival of Jewish Life171
A Note on Galicia and Place Names199
A Note on the Standard Reference Works and Suggestions For Further Reading201
Photo Credits211