Tag Archives: Europe

The Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland

While I was in Warsaw earlier this spring, I set out to photograph the world’s largest Jewish cemetery. With my Rolleiflex 2.8F, Holga 120N, and Fujifilm X-T2, I knew what I carried in my arsenal exactly what I would need to create the images I wanted to make.

© hannah kozak

I generally photograph my documentary work in black and white because the images appear less distracting and more timeless, but from past experiences in Buenos Aires, Argentina; La Paz, Bolivia; and Berlin, Germany; I knew I loved the look of cemeteries photographed in color. Color photography adds dimension and context to a scene. Green leaves, for example, can show a picture was taken in spring.

© hannah kozak

I prefer to shoot in film because it offers depth and layers to my photos.That being said, I still use my Fujifilm X-T2 for low light situations where I cannot achieve what I need with film. Most of all, I love shooting with film for the same reason I did as a ten-year-old girl: magic.

© hannah kozak

The moment I pushed open the renovated gate on Okopowa Street, I knew I was in for that kind of magic. Founded in 1806, the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw has 250,000 marked tombs set in 82 acres (33 hectares) of green grass with winding, uneven paths shaded by tall, slender trees. The cemetery is divided into separate areas for women and men, and Orthodox Jews are buried apart from reformed Jews. I was especially moved by the burial plots and graves of thousands of Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII and the partisans killed in the Warsaw Uprising.

© hannah kozak

I wandered for hours alone through the cemetery, noting how the trees seemed to have picked up on the sadness in the air. I was reminded of how I love the peace and meditative atmosphere of cemeteries, and was moved by the Jewish graves.

© hannah kozak

As a young girl, I hadn’t completely formulated what I was doing with photography, but I now understand that being in Jewish cemeteries helps me connect with my father’s side of the family—the family I never got to meet. The Jews buried in the Warsaw cemetery, unlike my father’s family, were given the decency of actual tombs and gravestones. His family; mother, father, both grandparents, and his seven siblings were all killed in the Holocaust.

© hannah kozak

Being in Poland and retracing my father’s steps through his hometown and the forced labor camps he survived surfaced emotions that are hard to put into words. I experienced waves of sadness and sorrow, but found balance and meaning through the blessings I have in my life, including being able to travel to Poland time and time again. I find meaning and peace in those sojourns to Poland. Every time I go, it feels as if I am piecing my life together one step at a time.

© hannah kozak

These photos are constant reminders that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and will continue to change with each breath. There’s something about walking through a cemetery alone, experiencing and internalizing the silence, that makes me reflect on how life is fragile and temporary. As I travel alone, it’s true, there are moments of profound loneliness, but they help put me in touch with my feelings, which help me create these photos. I went into the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw seeking spiritual, artistic, and emotional grounding, and I attempted to capture the emotions and images I took away from that experience through my photographs.

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

The tall, skinny trees in Poland.

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

Symbolic graves for the Holocaust victims

© hannah kozak

“I don’t take photos, I make them.” – Hannah Kozak, 2017

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Warsaw in Winter

Warsaw in Winter

Traveling to Poland for Christmas was a decision I made for a few distinct reasons. One, it was a postmortem readjustment to my father’s death. I had been to Poland before, both times in the spring, in May but I wanted to have the winter light in my photos on this trip. I wanted to feel the deathly cold winter of Poland, like my father did.

I went to Poland to continue my documentary on my father, a survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps. Because my father passed away on Christmas, I wanted to awaken in his country, on the third anniversary of his death, to help me deal with a grief too deep for tears while simultaneously feeling a near-umbilical attachment to this country I love, a country with a past filled with too much sadness to ever understand.

© hannah kozak

I arrived on Christmas Eve. After a Polish man kindly helped me figure out how to buy a bus ticket from the ticket booth (I’m not a fan of cabs) I sat on my bus seat, staring out of the windows for a familiar site. When I exited at Warsaw University, I had the surprise of seeing purple and white holiday decorations– instead of the customary red and green in Los Angeles– leading into Old Town, where I like to stay. The location opening on Castle Square overlooked the Vistula River and granted a stunning view of Old Town. I heard the bell chimes of the Royal Castle, which was rebuilt only thirty years ago after being destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. In my small, quiet hotel room, I have a desk to write at as well as two bay windows to look out of where I photographed the view of the Vistula River and the changing light, throughout the day and night.

© hannah kozak

Krakowskie Przedmiescie & Plac Pilsudskiego, Warsaw

© hannah kozak

View of Vistula River in Old Town
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

© hannah kozak

Old Town – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

I was in so much anguish on this third trip to Poland. My cat Jackson died suddenly three days after I arrived in Warsaw and I was alone in my hotel room. “No! No! No!” I screamed, in part because I was in shock and in part because I thought I could undue it all. I didn’t want to leave my hotel room yet I also needed the freezing cold air of Warsaw to help me breathe as I avoided making eye contact with strangers. I felt so useless to Jackson that all I could do was chant. I had left him at the vet and that was the last time I saw him. I was processing regret at leaving my companion with a specialist that I didn’t know but who said he would heal my little friend. My pain was profoundly humbling. The only thing I could come up with to self soothe was mantra so I played it nightly.

The state of grief continued as I traveled through Poland, seeing and experiencing Poland, in that emotional state. Something about the death of Jackson helped me get in touch with my father’s tremendous losses. Grief is grief and it colors everything.

© hannah kozak

Jackson – 3 days before he passed.

Jackson brought me infinite joy. I loved the sound of his paws hitting the hard wood floors in the morning as he and his brother ran to the kitchen, eager for breakfast. He used to plead with me to let him go outside and only liked being hugged on the futon in the television room. He’s gone but the memories of him will stay with me like a faded photograph.

@ hannah kozak

Michael & Jackson – 1 Nov 2011

@ hannah kozak

M & J – 17 Nov 2011

© hannah kozak

M & J – 16 April 2012

© hannah kozak

Michael and Jackson – 22 May 2012

© hannah kozak

Jackson & Michael – 4 Jan 2013

I experienced grief and joy simultaneously at retracing my father’s footsteps through war torn Poland as I mourned the loss of my friend and didn’t sleep well for eight nights.

Prior to World War II, Warsaw was the leading center of secular Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. At one time, only New York had a larger Jewish population. I could imagine the diverse vitality of Jewish life here. From Warsaw’s turbulent history to the beauty of the rebuilt city, I was inspired. From the hot bowls of soup served with fresh baguettes to the sound of the language I don’t understand but resonate with, to the architecture of Gothic buildings made of brick and to cathedrals made of stone and Romanesque architecture and the kindness from strangers I am repeatedly impressed with, Poland has a piece of my tired and hurting heart.

On a side note, I was able to put the Fuji XT1 to use. This is a photographer’s camera and one of many cool features, it is weather resistant, which helped a lot in the cold of Poland. It’s responsive and I’m impressed with this mirrorless camera. There was no giant learning curve, it’s as intuitive as my Nikon FM from back in the 1980’s. No more lugging around DSLR’s.

© hannah kozak

Old Town, Warsaw
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/16-55mmF2.8 LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

@ hannah kozak

My favorite restaurant for soup and bread.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

@ hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

 © hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

I love getting around Poland via buses & trains.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Dusk in Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Directly outside Old Town in Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

 © hannah kozak

Fantastic walking guides in Warsaw, Poland.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Children in Old Town; Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F 2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF16-55 mm
F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Self Portrait en route to Museum of the History of Polish Jews – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Old Town – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Warsaw, Poland.
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

@ hannah kozak

Self Portrait at my favorite place to stay in Warsaw: Dom Literatury.
Fuji XT 1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR

© hannah kozak

Old City – Warsaw, Poland
Fuji XT1 w/Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

It has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved, but here is the proof of her life and triumph.
Henryk Sienkiewicz

Warsaw in Winter


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