Reviewed: “Traces of Memory” at the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery
In “Traces of Memory,” a photographer and a historian collaborate on an elegy to a once-thriving Jewish community and its destruction during the Holocaust. The late British photojournalist Chris Schwarz and professor Jonathan Weber of the University of Birmingham spent 12 years documenting Galicia, a region on the border of Poland and Ukraine. The exhibit, a combination of understated color images and smart, poignant captions, alternates between showing relics of the Jewish community, evidence of genocide, signs of remembrance, and even small elements of revival. The relics include a former synagogue in Rymanow, architecturally distinguished even in its state of roofless ruin (above), and an empty diagonal slash on a doorpost that once held a mezuzah. The evidence of genocide includes a mass grave marked only by “364,” for the number of victims, and an ordinary-looking field that once held a death camp where 450,000 people were slaughtered; it is preserved in a seemingly natural state because both the killing and the dismantling of the machinery of death was so efficient. The signs of revival are real, but limited; they include restorations of old Jewish buildings, often not for their original purpose. The most striking recurrent image in the exhibit is that of graveyard headstones. Some continue in their intended purpose, weather-beaten but still standing and sometimes even attracting overseas religious pilgrims. Others have more complicated histories. Some grave markers were expropriated and made into paving stones at the encouragement of the Nazis, their Yiddish lettering still plainly visible to anyone walking on them; others were gathered up by the survivors and pieced together into a jagged, disorienting remembrance wall (below), an apt metaphor for a society irretrievably shattered.
The exhibition is on view to May 21 at the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, 1529 16th St. NW.