Journey to the East

I traveled to Eastern Europe in 1994 with my then wife and, for a short time, her parents, both Holocaust survivors. It was partly a pilgrimage to Poland, the land of my father and my mothers parents. But it was also a chance to see what was at that time only four years after the collapse of the iron curtain, a storied corner of the Old World. My maternal grandfather had fled shtetl pogroms, piety and poverty for Australia in the early 1920’s: he warned me that “For us, Poland is just a big cemetery. Don’t go”. I ignored his pleading only to find how accurate his words were. Almost all evidence of the nations pre-war Jewish (and Roma) heritage not destroyed by the Nazis had been obliterated by the communists. Most Jewish cemeteries were vandalized and un-signposted. Even at Auschwitz lists of the nationalities of victims elided identifying the ethnicity of its largest group. And ancient prejudices remained: anti-semitic mutterings were frequent At that time it was still a poor country. But there was building everywhere. It wasn’t houses or factories or roads. On almost every hilltop and town centre new or remodeled chapels, churches and cathedrals were appearing. Poland’s pre-war religosity dormant for half a century, was being reasserted.

I had a Rollieflex twin lens camera with a sharp Planar lens and a dozen rolls of 400 ISO Kodak T-Max film.