As the Polish government seems to be attempting to rewrite its role in World War II and the Holocaust, the Florida Holocaust Museum has announced the North American premiere of a photo exhibition that documents in black and white the lengths that have been taken to wipe out traces of Jewish history and culture in Poland.
Only weeks ago, the New York Times reported that, after nearly a decade of planning and five years of construction at a cost of $114 million, the new Polish government may be backing away from its commitment to fund the Museum of the Second World War. The museum was scheduled to open in January, but continued funding is now in question.
Following the same pattern, just last month the Algemeiner reported that the Polish government is threatening to prosecute Polish-born American historian Jan Gross for claiming that Poles killed more Jews than Germans during World War II. Gross, a renowned Holocaust scholar and professor at Princeton University who received the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for outstanding achievement in scholarship in 1996, is now accused of “publicly insulting a nation” and faces up to three years in prison if convicted.
The Florida Holocaust Museum exhibition, “Matzevot for Everyday Use” by photographer Åukasz Baksik, documents the ways in which Jewish gravestones in Poland have been stolen and re-appropriated. The tombstones are now parts of Polish fences, pavements, home tools, and cowsheds; they have been recycled into Catholic gravestones, and were used to patch roadways and walls. They even have been located in the wall of a basketball court in Poland and a Polish elementary school’s sandbox.
“The gravestones that were turned into everyday objects were still being used as such from 2008 to 2012 when I photographed them. There are still sidewalks and courtyards paved with matzevot; walls, buildings, and tools that were made of Jewish gravestones are still being used in public view,” said Baksik, a non-Jew, who traveled across his home country of Poland for four years to illuminate the ways “people have gone to wipe out traces of Jewish culture.”
“There was no shortage of ordinary stone in Poland,” said the FHM’s executive director, Elizabeth Gelman. “The sole goal of the Nazis during the war was to erase all traces of Jewish culture and Jewish history. The practice has been documented as continuing among the local populations for decades.”
“Matzevot for Everyday Use” has been shown in Warsaw and Krakow, and in Minsk, Belarus; this marks the first time North American audiences have had access to it. The exhibition is sponsored by the Gemunder Family Foundation, with additional support from the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties, and is on display at the FHM until January 29, 2017.
For additional information on this exhibition and to see some of the photographs, please visit www.TheFHM.org/learn/matzevot-study-guide.
One of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, and one of three nationally accredited Holocaust museums, the Florida Holocaust Museum honors the memory of millions of men, women, and children who suffered or died in the Holocaust. The FHM is dedicated to teaching members of all races and cultures the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides. The Florida Holocaust Museum is located at 55 Fifth Street South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.