Tag Archives: Jewish

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


Auschwitz – Remembering and Not Forgetting

Auschwitz – Remembering and Not Forgetting

@ hannah kozak

“Work Sets You Free”
Entrance to Auschwitz

I made my first sojourn to Auschwitz in 2013 and I have been haunted by the images I saw ever since. Yet I have also found Auschwitz to be a place of contemplation – an invitation to meditation. Photography has always kept me from forgetting, so camera in hand, I return to this place of killing of innocent souls hoping to honor the nameless and faceless. I can’t help but wonder if evil can’t be overcome by looking it square in the face.

Visiting Auschwitz required me to not forget the significance of its’ past, while simultaneously being forced to remember it. I read many books about the Holocaust throughout my entire life -beginning with Escape from Warsaw when I was in grade school and throughout my teens. I continued to devour similar culturally and historically relevant books when I started a project on my father’s journey from his hometown of Bedzin, Poland to many forced labor camps in Markstädt, Klettendorf, Hundsfeld , Hirschberg, Bad Warmbrunn and Ermannsdorf. He was sent to Hirschberg twice before he was liberated from Dernau on May 8, 1945. Even with such emotional proximity to this history, I still wasn’t prepared for seeing tools designed to kill people in person. Fences, barbed wire, barracks, crematorium. The controversial historian Ernst Nolte refers to the Holocaust as “a past that will not pass away.” Indeed, I have always felt the more I study the Holocaust, the less I understand about humanity.

I felt an existential delirium being in Auschwitz. Standing in line with people for the tour felt too confining, so as I have always done, I got out of line and went off on my own. Getting out of line is what saved my father’s life at the very end of his stay in those forced labor camps. He was told to get in line with all the other remaining inmates at Dernau. My father’s angels, (as he called them) or his intuition ( how I refer to his knowing), was always marvelous whether it came to people or situations. So when it told him to get out of line, he did and went immediately into the barracks. Had he not listened to that subconscious nudge, he would have ended upon a death walk with everyone else in that line. They were forced to dig their own graves before they were machine gunned down. Because my father broke the rules and got out of line, he was liberated by the Soviet armed forces one day later.

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz by hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz by hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz 24 block by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz by hannah kozak

In some places, the pulse beats more than others. Poland is one of those places for me. I’ve heard people say that they could never visit Auschwitz but perhaps if they had a father that survived eight forced labor camps they would feel differently. I can’t imagine not wanting to see the labor, concentration and killing centers ** in person. Duality; making others wrong, is always judgment. I needed to see this place to help me keep remembering.

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz block 15 by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz museum

The Talmud describes the difference between remembering and not forgetting. Forgetting first occurs in the heart. It’s not cognitive. It’s the natural course of events that dispossess us from the event and then tragically, we are left devoid of the reason it was ever important to us to begin with. Remembering, on the other hand, is to engage in activities that promote remembrance.

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz museum

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Auschwitz museum

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

My father found a way to make something out of nothing, so that he could survive. He created life out of a world of darkness. As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I feel it is my duty to not forget and to present the upside of my heavy heritage so it can be a catalyst, and not a yoke.

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz museum by hannah kozak

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz

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Auschwitz Krematorium

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Auschwitz Krematorium

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Auschwitz

@ hannah kozak

Trees – Auschwitz

I kept mostly to myself in school almost as if I was still hiding. One side of me was a happy girl that loved to laugh; the other side was a girl with sadness so overwhelming, I could never understand where it stemmed from. As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I understand that my father’s unprocessed grief and sadness was handed down, and it’s up to me, to transform that sadness into understanding the carefully orchestrated plan of genocide because the Jews believe, “He who saves one life, saves the entire world. ” I think it’s dangerous that the suffering and struggle of my ancestors will be forgotten with the passage of time. I must tell and retell the stories of our past, so that we will remain free, in the future.

** death camp is too vague, since taken literally it evokes the image of a place in which a large number of people died, such as the footage of dead bodies taken in Dachau and Buchenwald, which misleadingly, are often shown as backdrop in documentaries on the Holocaust. “Death camp” could in theory apply to most concentration camps, many labor camps, and, in the winter of 1941/1942, virtually all camps for Soviet POWs. We prefer killing center because it denotes exactly and explicitly what the facility was established to achieve–to kill human beings as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Auschwitz: Remembering and Not Forgetting


Jewish life in Buenos Aires, Argentina

It was 1938, during Kristallnact, or Night of Broken Glass when Jewish homes, shops, villages and towns were ransacked and set on fire. My father was 15 years old when he heard a knock at the door of the 1 bedroom apartment he shared with his 7 siblings, mother and father in Bedzin, Poland. The Germans were there to take my grandfather away but my father talked the men at the door into taking him instead. He never saw anyone in his family alive again. My father survived 8 concentration work camps, a year long stay in a hospital when the camps were liberated in May, 1945,  as he was down to 65 pounds, when he crossed a boat to arrive in New York, alone.  He was able to rebuild a life for himself in California and passed down the importance of being a Jew to me. I moved to Israel when I was 20 years old to work on a kibbutz and study Hebrew. Since then I have always had a life long love of Judaism. A large part of my attraction in wanting to discover and explore Buenos Aires was my understanding of a large Jewish population.

Argentina has one of the greatest communities of Jews in Central & South America, around 250,000; of that 200,000 live in Buenos Aires. The population is 85% Ashkenazi and 15% Sephardi Jews.  After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, many Jews settled in Argentina. At the end of the 19thcentury, Jews fled the pogroms and poverty in Russia and because the policy of immigration was an open door, another wave of Jews headed for Argentina. Jews were persecuted for political activities and from the original 500,000, we now have 200,000. Many left to Venezuela, U.S. and Israel.

A Jewish tour of Buenos Aires brought me to AMIA-which was founded to promote the individual, family and growth of Jewish life in Argentina. It’s truly an umbrella for the Jewish community. In 1992, AMIA was bombed and 29 people were killed.  On July 18, 1994, a car was driven into the center which killed 85 people including many children. This bomb imposed a new era where the community prioritized justice and preserved the legacy of a rich cultural tradition that honors life.  The new building has barriers in front so no car could drive through now. No justice has ever been served for the innocent men, women and children who died. Justice is a word that seems to provoke many emotions for me as no justice was ever served by the man who abused my mother. But I digress.

plaque at AMIA

I wish I could have seen all 80 synagogues in Buenos Aires in my time there. I  visited the Paso synagogue and the oldest synagogue in Buenos Aires; Libertad. Olivia managed to find a moment for her favorite past time; reading. Buenos Aires has one of the world’s four remaining Yiddish daily newspapers. Others are found in Paris, Tel Aviv and Birobidjan, in Siberia.

In spite of the ups and downs of antisemitism, especially, but not only, during military repressions, Jews have played an important role in industry, commerce, the arts, literature, journalism, and also in politics.

Paso Synagogue

Paso Synagogue

Paso Synagogue

Paso Synagogue

Paso Synagogue

Paso Synagogue

Olivia exhausted from lofty reading goals

Memorial for the Jews that died in 1994 car bombing

Libertad Synagogue

Interior of the ark- Libertad Synagogue

Libertad Synagogue

Libertad Synagogue

You can hire a lovely, older Jewish couple to do half and full day tours tailored to your interests.

http://www.jewishinbuenosaires.com.ar/


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