“Terrible things can happen when evil people make the decisions and decent people remain silent. And this is what happened to us”. – Sabina Baral

          The starting point for the exhibition God-Honour-Fatherland was a work of art by Dariusz Fodczuk under the same title. It was a three-channel video installation that relayed interviews with three Polish Jews living in Israel. The people were – Baruch Dorfman, one of the few Jews who survived the Kielce pogrom – Halina Ashkenazy a writer and – Israela Hargil, an artist. Over each video screen a painting was hung – the paintings used a mixture of white, red and grey paint and on each of them was a sign in Hebrew meaning – God, Honour and Fatherland. In the interviews the elderly people talked about Poland before WW2 when anti-Semitism was, according to them, somewhat abstract, not aimed directly at the neighbours. They recalled how they survived the Holocaust and reveal that it was the anti-Semitism after the war that forced them to emigrate. That anti-Semitism had many faces. It was extreme in the case of Baruch, who was first beaten on the street and then beaten again by the male nurses in Kielce, and as a result he lost an eye and had all his hair torn out. He spent 10 months in hospital in Łódź to recover. More “subtle” was the anti-Semitism experienced by Halina Ashkenazy. The writer was first provoked by the communist secret services and then, after a traumatic interrogation was not able to continue living in Poland. Israela Hargil was still a child after the war, unaware of her situation. The title of the work by Fodczuk criticised the usurpation of values and the morality of right wing political options to “protect” these changed values. The heroes of that installation may have a different God than Catholic Poles but they have the same honour and wanted to have the same fatherland.  

Kalisz is proud of not having a history of pogroms and that the Germans, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews and Poles lived here in peace. However the people who could confirm or negate that opinion are no longer alive. The flag made by the Jewish women of Kalisz for the soldiers of the January uprising was embroidered with the sentence: “TO OUR BRAVE BROTHERS POLISH ISRAELI WOMEN DEVOTE KALISZ 1863” and a sign of shaking hands was proof of this idyllic coexistence. Contemporarily however, the former presence of Jews in Kalisz has become blurred in our common consciousness. For example, in the well known history about the channel of Babinka filled in with books during the Nazi occupation, the fact that most of the books came from the closed down Talmud school and that there were also items from the destroyed synagogue is omitted. The commemorative plate placed on the “Tęcza” shopping centre marks the taking of 20 thousand people to the concentrations camps but it doesn’t say that the people were Kalisz Jews. In the oldest town in Poland we can still walk on the street paved with matzevas, 70 years after WW2 and after 26 years of freedom since the fall of communism.   

While preparing the exhibition for the City Art Gallery in Kalisz, Dariusz Fodczuk once again went to Israel, this time searching for people originating from Kalisz and other people who would tell him about their experience of being expelled. People who would tell him about Poland and about all of the issues that as a nation we absolutely cannot cope with. That Poles were getting rid of Jews using violence (as smiling Yossi says – “they were giving me tar to eat, they were saying: A Jewish boy can eat tar”) tell him about provocation and insults. That today’s homogenous Poland did not only stem from the Holocaust, but that Poland was also “cleaned” by Polish hands themselves. Cleaned from all “strangers” or rather – people who were arbitrarily considered strangers by Catholic Poles.

Dariusz Fodczuk’s exhibition consists of interviews recorded in Israel and a readymade installation which illustrates the moment of hesitation and decision – what to take to a foreign country. It goes together with an important all-European discussion about refugees and may be one of the essential voices in the debate. It talks about individual experiences that are often very difficult to express. About packing oneself into nine boxes and the gradual reduction of the community (“every day the class was less numerous” – says Yossi). Maybe listening to the voices of the people interviewed by Fodczuk will allow us to think about who makes up the grey mass of people under the common name “refugees”. And whom these people will be in their new fatherlands in the next 50 years.   

Małgorzata Kaźmierczak

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