Wednesday, August 28, 2013

History Students Interview older people in Chernivtsi vicinity about their memories from WWII

 Nepolokivtsi, Ukraine July 11 - Velykyi Kuchuriv, Ukraine July 12

The Jewish Museum asked me if I'd be willing to accompany two groups of history majors, who were assigned by their department to interview elederly people in nearby villages, about their memories of the war years and the fate of the many Jews who once were their neighbors. The conversations were conducted in Ukrainian, so I only understood very isolated words that indicated the gist of the conversation. But later the studentst tell me, Jews were mainly shot by Romanian and German soldiers, but there were also attacks by towns people who went with hatchets and hammers and even with their bare hands to murder people who were once their friendly neighbors. The rest were deported to Transnistria or managed to escape. Why? because (some) Jews were sympathetic to communists, because (some) Jews were rich, because when the propaganda machine cranked out it's venom it became easy to point fingers and believe that Jews were the root of everyone's problems. As we saw happening in recent history in Bosnia, Rwanda and other ethnic conflicts, where hate is used as a political tool.

Illia conducts interview with Stefania Antoniuk Konstianyvna

what might she be remembering

Portrait of Stefania as a young beauty. The ornament on her blouse looks to be some kind of Soviet medal.

Pavlina, Velykyi Kuchuriv, UK ©Sylvia de Swaan

Nastya videotaping the interview ©Sylvia de Swaan

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jewish Cemetery Summer Camp Volunteers, Czernowitz/Chernivtsi - 12 August 2013

I made these photos on 12 August 2013, the day before I was to to leave Chernivtsi after a six week stay, retracing my long and dizzying route back home. 

Depicted are eight out of fourteen young people, who came from Ukraine, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary, Holland and Japan - to learn about Jewish History while helping to clear segments of this long neglected overgrown cemetery in the summer heat.

Burial Chapel, Jewish Cemtery, Chernivtsi, Ukraine

Martin Rohani, Bulgarian - 20 years old, SVIT Ukraine Summer Work Camp volunteer, Jewish Cemetery, Chernivtsi, Ukraine
Christian Herrmann, German, 51 years old

Christian works for an NGO out of Germany that promotes mutual understanding among diverse ethnic youth groups.  He’s also a volunteer facilitator for the Summer Work Camps, that bring  in groups of young people to learn about Jewish culture while helping clear the vastly overgrown Jewish cemetery in Czernivtsi Ukraine.

When we met he told me, ““My father was part of the machinery that got you and your family deported to Transnistria.” Christian is the son of a former Nazi officer – my family are Holocaust survivors. He and I have been conversing online for over a year, exchanging life stories.
Anna Miashivova. 33 years old, Ukraine

Raphaƫl Stanzel.
I'm nineteen years old, and I'm French and German my father is German and my mother is French. I am bilingual and have dual citizenship. It was after a long personal reflection that I took the decision to come in Chernivtsi. First of all, I decided to come in order to clean the Jewish cemetery cause of my origins. As a German, I thought that I was absolutely necessary help the jewish community in Eastern Europe countries after what happened during the second world war. I also decided to come to Chernivtsi because Ukraine is a country which has been fascinating me for a very long time. I have the feeling to be "at home". When I arrived, I had the impression that I had already been there, even if I haven't.  And I also decided to attend this work camp in Chernivtsi, because it's seemed me a beautiful occasion to create contacts with people from all around the world. Many of us are still regularly in contact through facebook and hoping to see each other again.
Taka tells  me, "I am Kiyotaka Fukushima from Japan. I am 46 years old. I had worked for a trading company in Tokyo for 21 years. I lost my job in April this year.
I met one Israeli person in Tokyo in 1999. Until then, I did not have any knowledge of Israel and Jewish. I really learned Jewish history and culture and visited Jewish places including synagogues and cemeteries in European countries and US. Sometimes I attended services of Shabbat and high holidays. Then, I increased my interest in preservation of synagogues and cemeteries. 

Especially, about cemetery, I had an experience in Stuttgart, Germany in 2005. In the combined cemetery of Christian and Jewish in Stuttgart, I waited for stopping rainfall under a big tree in the cemetery. While I was waiting, I saw beautiful flowers & maintained section in the left and dark & overgrown section in the right. The fence of the right section was locked. I compared the difference under the tree for half hour. Finally, I found the reason and felt sad. I realized under the tree the reason were that the descendants of the tombstones on the right were disappeared by persecutions and emigrations. So, I decided it was necessary to maintain Jewish cemeteries.

Amanda Geenen, Dutch, 19 years old
Amanda writes to me..."Eager to explore a part of Europe I had never visited before, I decided to spend my summer in Ukraine to look for whatever traces of Jewish life were left there. During a five-week backpacking trip around Israel in the summer of 2012 I had met many Israelis with roots in Eastern Europe. This workcamp enabled me to visit the shtetls from their stories while making a meaningful contribution to the preservation of Jewish heritage. My three weeks in Ukraine were both immensely inspirational and very confrontational. It was great to welcome visitors from all over the world to ''our'' cemetery. One day, our group managed to locate the grave of a woman's grandmother. The woman had moved to Israel decades ago and this was the first time she returned to Ukraine - I will never forget her gratitude and appreciation for our work. It saddened me, however, to see how Chernivtsi's Jewish community is now very small. As most members are quite old, I fear that their heritage is on the verge of disappearing. The Jewish cemetery, in the meantime, is being neglected by local authorities. I realize one workcamp is not enough: it will take an ongoing effort to keep the terrain from turning into a jungle.
Aleksandr Kotik,  34 years old, Ukrainian

Jasmin Sohner, 28 years old, German

I’ve been interested in Jewish history since I was 12 years old, I do not exactly know why. Although I studied and study history, I am still torn between understanding and completely non-understanding of the Holocaust. I know that this is not the only point of German-Jewish history, but just all conversations connected to this issue come to this point in the end. What has happened, why has ithappened? Part of my identity is that it was people that have spoken my mother tongue, my ancestors, that perpetrated these crimes.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The War Game

The Burial Chapel, Jewish Cemetery, Chernowitz, Ukraine 2013 ©Sylvia de Swaan

The War Game, Sczesczin, Poland 1994 ©Sylvia de Swaan

The War Game #2, Chernivtsi, Ukraine 2013 ©Sylvia de Swaan

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Created for Stuart Pilkington's online project "Book/Film/Painting"

"The English Patient" based on both book & film ©Sylvia de Swaan

Originally when I chose "The English Patient" as my subject for this project, I'd neither read the book nor seen the film - what prompted me was having read about the process and intricacies of editing it in "The Conversations, Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film" by Michael Ondaatje - a book that has very much affirmed and abetted my own thinking about editing and juxtaposition to create a narrative flow...

Prix de la Photographie, Paris - 
Submission title: The Elusive Self

Who am I really, I ask myself as I watch my elongated shadow play across the railroad tracks along Lake Ontario; or my shattered reflection in a window of an abandoned gas station on route 49; or when I hold an I.D. picture from my childhood refugee papers against the background of a train journey through post communist Eastern Europe; or me with a long ago lover in a penny arcade photo booth in the 1990s.

My self-portraits are about intangible and fleeting moments of memory; mining the past, remembered dreams, interior spaces. They are about metaphor, poetry, vibration.

photo booth selfie 1992
Sylvan Beach 1992

Route 49, Marcy, NY 2007

Prague to Berlin, 1994

Oswego, NY 2005

Prague to Berlin 1994 ©Sylvia de Swaan