Wladyslaw Strzeminski and His Artistic Document of the Holocaust

Katarzyna Bojarska
You can prepare for the worst, but not the unthinkable.
tharlone Delbo

And to them willi give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name.
Isaiah

As Griselda Pollock put it, "beyond the domain of historical knowledge, in the realm of cultural representation, the Holocaust is being thought of as an «effect» still carried by those few who have survived the attempted destruction of the Jewish people. More than half a century later, Western culture is belatedly recognising that it is also an event that not only has implications for, but continues to affect, if not define, the entire civilisation/culture in which it occurred as a history-defying and humanity-destroying rupture'". This belatedness seems to be
I

G. Pollock, Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum, Routledge, New York 2007, p. 180.

London,

he seemed to be deeply moved by this war which brought with it the end of humanism and the horror of industrial death. Strzemiriski's war experience is to a certain extent different from the experience of the artists mentioned above . I shall therefore insist on the use of this particular translation: "To My Friends. in my opinion. The Man In both post-war literature and visual arts one can find many artists who remained under the influence of the immediate and direct experience of the Holocaust. and other unimaginable atrocities described in detail by the authors of many memoirs and personal journals from that period. the jews". What seems crucial in the above context is the tension which has accumulated in the framework of the relationship between the victim and the witness. One could pose here the following questions: did he feel obliged to respond to the events he witnessed or just saw happening? Was he feeling the need to testify (artistically) in the face of such a historical enormity? Was the decision to continue his artistic pursuit after the war a decision which could have avoided addressing the issues of mass destruction of the European Jewry and/or its representation? Keeping these inquiries in mind. the Jews (Moim przyjaciolom Zydomj-' from 1945. He was an eye-witness of numerous deportations. johns Hopkins University 1999. Press. Moreover. at the spot. However.at least not to a greater extent than any other inhabitant of the occupied territories . I am interested in what I shall name here "an artistic document" of the Holocaust. has now to make up for what modernity missed. There were.1952) entitled To My Friends. as many claim. . however. I am referring in particular to Alina Szapocznikow. so to say. or shall one rather say.140 Katal1Yna Bojarska constitutive for the post-modernity which.if such an experience can be at all and in any way differentiated. Tadeusz Borowski. The by-standing witness is. I would like to discuss here an exceptional artistic response to what Hayden White famously called the "Modernist event'". White. in this particular case. repeatedly returning to this painful subject. and. executions. Studies in the Mimesis Effect. on the other stigmatised by it. Baltimore 3 The title of this series is sometimes translated as: "To My jewish Friends" which. transforming the Enlightened Western civilisation into a "civilisation of gas chambers". Iozef Szajna and [onasz Stern. Although Strzerninski himself was not a victim . and the events he observes or experiences leave an irremovable mark on his work. the by-stander.artistic document .seems very adequate in the context of this work which I shall describe in detail below. a few attempts undertaken by the representatives of this distorted civilisation. the author's (moral and political) task underlying it. Within the context of Polish post-war culture. What is particularly important is the position of those already mature artists whose debut and career belong to the time before World War II. It is to one of such attempts that I would like to devote some thoughts. Figural Realism. Strzerninski spent the years of the Nazi occupation in Lodz. namely the series of collages by Wladyslaw Strzernlnski (1893. rnis-recognised or even ignored. by which I understand a response in the form of artistic work by an artist of Polish (national) and modernist (artistic) descent. included in the picture. 2 See: H. as I shall argue. someone forced into the paradox of passive participation. does not correspond to its original status and meaning. in the immediate aftermath of the event. This oxymoronic term . the by-stander is an artist who does not seem to be used to the constraint of passivity. on the one hand.

in consequence. and. This coincided with the crisis of the avant-garde paradigm (Cubism. while serving as an officer of the engineering corps. which seem to have been created out of sense of obligation. and designer pioneered the Constructivist movement of the 1920S and 1930S which proved crucial for forming his concept of art. lost an arm and a leg. Strzeminski advocated for the idea of art's autonomy and the .Wfadysfaw Strzemiriski and His Artistic Document of the Holocaust 141 Moreover. W. as if he was broadcasting live his response to what was happening. in a series of semi-figural drawings. as well as sight in one eye. However. One should bear in mind that Strzeminski as a theoretician. it was not until the World War II. Purism. to My Friends the Jews. he reacted immediately to the unfolding events. 1945 It is important to stress that he had experienced the first great war in a very extreme and traumatic way~In 1916. Strzerninski. in which he did not participate as a fighter. Neoplasticism) in the framework of which his artistic attitude had been shaped and developed. he was severely wounded. painter. that the historical experience entered into his artistic oeuvre with unstoppable force.

at times deformed or differently spaced. The Title The title given by Strzemiriski to his series of collages . Each work has its own metaphoric meaning. Turowski. Cracow 2000. with documentary black and white photographs depicting scenes from ghettos. Katarzyna Kobro. Instead.142 Katarzyna Bojarska right to "laboratory conditions" in artistic experimentation. would he not have placed their photographs instead of portraits of anonymous people? (three of the works from this series include photographs of faces) and would he not have entitled the series To My Jewish Friends? This juxtaposition or even clash of the intimacy and the anonymity/mass gains here an uncanny force. The collages are ink drawings on white. Some of the works from these series will provide a ground (or a background) for the series that is of interest here. Due to the scale of this experience. the Jews .seems worth analysing for several reasons by itself. Hands That Are Not With Us). First of all. Budowniczowie swiata. not only the victims but also 4 See: A. Faces. semi-figural compositions. Strzerninski completed several series of drawings. 7.To My Friends. the Jews and his prewar works. . and Strzerninski dedicated these collages to his real friends hitherto mourning their loss and death. so one can read them freely and construct one's own narrative in accordance with one's individual experiences and/or needs. In the period of the Nazi occupation of Poland. Cheap as Mud. extended through an elliptical title. concentration and death camps superimposed onto them. the moment of crisis related at least to some extent. It seems that the later war experience verified this attitude to a large extent. Neither is there an immediate or direct relationship between To My Friends. The same year his wife. he nevertheless perceived art as playing a dominant role in relation to other forms of human activity as such. Civil War. according to art critics and historians+ is crucial and unprecedented in the whole of Strzemiriski's oeuvre. Landscapes and Still Lives. and which. One could wonder if the artist dedicates his work to a particular group of his Jewish friends whose names he knows very well. nor does it provide a scheme which he would have pursued after the war. to the end of the war. it juxtaposes an intimate experience evoked by the phrase "my friends" with the mass death of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. If the first was the case. grey or brown paper culled from the artist's war drawings. nine of which were donated by the artist to the Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. It is. it is something truly exceptional and very strongly rooted in this particular historical moment. it is beyond any imagination or reflection to truly empathise with "such a number". or ifhe refers to the abstract number of six millions who met their cruel and atrocious end. both political and cultural in the broadest of meanings. one could assume. it is therefore a document of its time. an artistic response to a current situation. Deportations. The subsequent parts of the series were not numbered. As much as he acknowledged the need for including matters of social reality. depicting and reflecting upon the horrors of the second great war of the 20th century (Western Belarus. Just as it is impossible to befriend six millions. burnt her sculptures. transports. Strzerninski's series comprises ten collages. dziej6w radykalnego modernizmu w szruce polskie]. Strzerninski created the series of his collages in 1945.

all great canonical meditations on friendship .Wfadysfaw Sfrzemillski and HIs Artisti c Document of the Holocaust 143 the witnesses and by-standers of the event face depersonalisation. 1945 Who are those friends after all? Let us consider Strzeminski's complaint and grievance in relation to that of Aristotle: "0 my friends. . Pointing to the irreplaceable element of the name. Politics of Friendship. to name just a few . especially crucial for this particular reading of Strzeminski's gesture. they always advance into the testamentary shadow in order to entrust and refuse the death of the significant other to a universalisable discourses.belong to the tradition of mourning. Derrida. ToMy Frienrfs the Jews series. Blanchot's L'arnitie. while the rest of the works are gradually filled with piles of bones and skulls. As the author of Politics of Friendship stressed.Cicero's De arnicitia. afterwards). to the moment ofloss . there is no friend" (and many others.. Strzemiliski. in: "American Imago" SO:3 (1993: Fall). W. It can be observed in subsequent compositions of Strzerninski's series: it can be assumed that its beginning are the collages with photographic portraits. The question of scale seems crucial in this context. Streched by the Strings 01 Legs. 385.of a friend or of a friendship. Montaigne's De l'amitie. p. including Derrida. Derrida pointed to one more context. In the introduction to his own book on friendship he argues that the figure of a friend has 5 See: .

G. London. [anion. This un-likeness and separation may belong to the troubled friendship. that "If people in Poland were willing to acknowledge what the «ultimate Jewish identity» meant. as the research proves. 9 M. to a large extent did not perceive it while it was committed. Of course. Derrida. the blood of the victim is an impulse for memory.Jewish relations. Blonski. 10. J. [.. Verso. Biedni Po/acy potrzq Spar 0 ria geuo. Cracow 1994. and then later on they were not concerned with the disappearance of 10% of the population of the prewar Poland'P. The critic goes on to saying that "only somebody else's blood can stain. beyond kinship. Poles and Jews were not brothers. one needs to acknowledge the troubling past and work it trough. as a matter of fact. Politics oj Friendship. [.neither through abandoning one's religion or culture nor through emigration or ransom. or at least attempt at such a process.pl/kontrapunkt/4S/ S Ibidem. grief. in a sense.html. beyond the least natural of kinships. 5. x. Strzerninski seems to have understood this lesson immediately. for understanding that there was no escape from this "ultimate identity" .. Maria [anion argued.It seems that beyond the principle of fraternity. For Bloriski. 6 See. I am calling. p. Collins. New York 1997. on the name which is a double mirror of such a couple'v. Therefore. .tygodnik. "Tygodnik Powszechny" http://www. Such a framework gains its very topical content in the war context of Polish. He stresses the centrality of memory in the formation of any individual or collective identity. very distant .and. they were neighbours and sometimes friends. No matter how painful or unpleasant this gift of memory could be. whereas one's own blood. however. they also felt distant from these Jews. as Milosz's poetry or other literary works "save the honour" of Polish literature but are not the last words to be said in the discussion about the common history. but not to brotherhood. trans. antysemityzm. lanion. in the closest possible manner. There was only death. which leaves its signature from the outset. violated and burdened".com. such immediate responses to the Holocaust. The events of World War II exposed this difference most clearly. it is inconceivable. but it is true that in their own country the Polish people lived together with the Jews for the longest period of time . p. In the introduction to the book he points to the core issue of the problem: "Today it may seem strange.. in order to call for a Polish identity. maybe the most dtstant'f'. J However. there exists and awaits a political and ethical dimension of friendship. This is the task of purifying the homeland which is (quote from Milosz) "stained with blood. p.144 Katarzyna Bojarska been infused in Western culture with features of the brother.. I am not calling for the amount of suffering on both sides to be measured. the narrative of blood ties and dominant fratriarchy. J Polish people witnessed inconceivable crimes but. It is extremely difficult to understand.. In the opening lines of his memorable essay "Biedni Polacy patrza na getto" (Poor Poles look at the ghetto) Jan Blonski refers to Czeslaw Milosz's words about the necessity and obligation to purify which is present in Polish poetry. they would not devise insincere comparisons and apparent similarities. pity and respect'T. Writing about the lack of symmetry between Polish and Jewish fate during this time of contempt. thankfully. it remains a gift. and asks: why would the friend be like a brother? "Let us dream of a friendship which goes beyond this proximity of the congeneric double. 7 [.. The question of purification keeps bothering Blonski when he claims that one's homeland is not a hotel where it would be sufficient to clean up after some accidental guests (that now are. gone).

Cracow 2001. Thus.part ways. also the very possibility of friendship between Polish and Jewish neighbours). he deals with this issue from a very personal and self-conscious perspective . those who will respond with neither love nor recognition. D. Blanchet. The encounter with "the other" is central to the concept of bearing witness. Yet. Such a philosophical framing of Strzerninski's collages allows us to reconsider the originality and the strong political dimension of this artistic response. As Maurice Blanchot put it. what is crucial is "not the widening of the caesura but its levelling and the dissipation of that void between us where formerly there developed the frankness of a relation without history. ] We can. claims to be fulfilling his duty towards the lost ones. whether the gesture itself did not appear instead of something else. the title of this series raises the question of a specific kind of obligation on the part of the witness. in face of the victims. in a word. without thought.. not be to remembered nor represented-.that of life and that of art . Crises of Witnessing . namely instead of a more heroic gesture. which during the next sixty years did not achieve a satisfactory level for the following generations (to understand). Psychoanalysis. Let us yet again recall the year this series of collages came into being (1945). resigning from his own aspirations to be known or loved.Wfadysfaw Strzemiriski and His Artistic Document of the Holocaust 145 The artist paid tribute to the lost. One could hear an echo of complaint in the very title: it clearly cannot be a comfortable situation for the people on whose land such a monstrous crime has taken place and thus has remained an integral part of the peoples' history (not belonging to them fully. it already struggles in the invisible where everything sinks back into indifference. Here. addressing and meditating upon the problem of a relationship. In such a way that. Gross. He is there to testify and to remember a crime. in 1945 Strzerninski was already a mature. however. 11 See: Friendship. the "event" of death reveals and wipes out. this true sense of friendship. It must accompany friendship into oblivion'U''. [. At the death of a friend (here. London. To My Friends. T. One could find in this gesture a trace of doubt or concern. at the core of which lies the very paradox: it was designed to be a crime without witnesses. seems to be one of the first evidences of an encounter with the loss of "the other". and it struck an important note. New York 1992. But thought knows that one does not remember: without memory. there echoes the tragedy of the constraint inscribed in the role of a by-stander which seemed impossible to be avoided. 12 See: Sh. at the same time. Felman. but has lost even the truth of extreme distance. no matter whether one was helping the Jews or informing the Gestapo against them. Moreover. or at least estranging them to some extent)!'. a response of a representative of the culture where the event of the loss took place. is not the deepening of the separation but its erradication. For a witness to perform the 10 M. Strzerninski does not lecture on the complicated nature of Polish-Jewish relations. What happens here. who. a friendship with the dead seems to bring the idea of philia to the very limit of its possibility. or by-stander. Stanford 1994.As it has already been mentioned. what was close to us not only has ceased to ap~ proach. there is more to it.. trans. J. remember. renowned artist and a pedagogue. Testimony: Routledge. the two (moral and political) orders . The act of commemoration seems appropriate for the artistic vocation and practice. the Jews. and History. in Literature. E. Laub. whether it was enough. because of this very intimate dedication. when Strzeminski's voice had a lot of force. he continued to love the dead ones.assuming the position of a friend addressing his friends. This is profound grief. at present. Upiorna dekada. On the other hand. Rottenberg. Stanford University Press.

bare bones. visual images which resulted from description of the Holocaust were images of found skeleton-like bodies dispersed or piling in the camps while they had been liberated. Paved like heads with stones. The metonymic images of legs. New York 2007. London. 13 See: The Images and the Witness. 10. belated as we are. he/she must address "the other". p. Amlshai-Maisels. "One of the most striking. Their poetic character. Hereby I quote the order of titles after Andrzej Turowski: (in such a reading. eds. though aesthetically problematic. emaciated bodies. the tongue staggers on sounds and characters. or historical context. feet. a listener or a viewer who consequently functions as a witness to the original witness.all these seem awkward. we are bearing witness to one of the most disturbingly heroic gestures of Polish (avant-garde) art. Frances Guerin and Roger Hallas. obtrusive parallelisms. almost annoying. . Also by the artists who saw such images only on photographs or in films. the Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts. These corpses were portrayed both by the inmates themselves. Depiction and Interpretation: Pergamon Press. the collages will compose into a testimony and an accusation. Oxford. on combinations of sounds and syllables. complementing and reflecting it at the same time. as well as by those who survived this time. It occurs only in the framework of relationality. this series can be interpreted in any possible order. Thus. Wallflower Press. The linguistic dimension coexists with the visual one. piles of corpses. in the face of this testimony. Titles As it has already been said. 13 Here. 14 See: Z.simply a symbol of the Holocaust'J". where the testimonial act itself is witnessed by "the other". New York 1993. eye sockets. Trauma Memory and the Visual Culture. shinbones and veins represent what the human being has been reduced to in the era of gas chambers. the accumulation of rhetoric tropes. obscure. As Ziva Amishai -Maisels observed. however. textual. broken syntax . the first three works include photographic portraits) By trace of existence of feet that trod By trace of existence I accuse the crime of Cain and the sin of Ham Sticky stain of crime Ruins of demolished eye sockets. echoing at the same time the photographs and film images that already circulated in the world: depictions of skulls.146 Katarzyoa Bojarska act of bearing witness. and those who liberated the sites of the Holocaust. hands. just like the experience itself. Every time. This image has become one of the central themes . Stretched by strings oflegs Swear to the memory of hands (beings which no longer with us) Veins strained by shinbones Father's skull One should pay attention to the fact that the very attempt at reading these titles aloud proves difficult. The intrusion of overwhelming occurrences of violence leads to the inability to edit or place the event in a coherent mental. the act of bearing witness constitutes a specific form of addressing "the other" on more than one level. Crematories empty shinbones . like the trauma which marks the ultimate crisis of the representational model and imposes itself outside the grasp of cognition (and/or artistic transformation).

cited by Turowski. As Ulrich Baer writes. The background of the photographs. Baer. A trauma seems to block the routine mental processes from converting an experience into a memory or forgetting it. Spectral Evicence. it is an event that results in a deformation of memory. as Turowski pointed out. op. the whole world of duration. visible both in the series and in the above fragment of the novel. because longing is but staring for hours behind the wall of the broken. [ am referring here in particular of the eternal torment of crucifixion. amorphic shapes. Interviews wjth Francis Bacon.15 • What is characteristic for the language of this unfinished novel. as well as for the titles of the elements of the series discussed here is excess. . p. to the lack of consolation or relief which could be granted by the resurrection which shall not take place. When a man has been deprived of the rest of his defiled humanity. One of the most forceful motives. which Strzeminski was writing soon before his death in 1952: Biologism. Turowski. First of all. The evidence of this is provided by a fragment of a novel. MIT Press.Wladyslaw Strzemiriski and His Artistic Document of the Holocaust 147 Recurrent "traces" and "existences" lead to "stains of crimes". are "empty contours of non-existence": meandering lines sketch organic. the torment of duration. cit. The language used in these titles acts in a similar way: it contours but it actually names nothing. he becomes sheer biology of duration. in panes which so close in the eye stretched branches of pines' veins. The Photography of Trauma. it is the longing that forces the witness to !5 Quoted after: A. to "ruins" and "emptiness". which also traps an event during its occurrence while blocking its transformation into memory"16. the very same biology is in an eye which leaks blood and in the panes of the floor on which it leaks head struck down by rubbers of mindless strikes. The last blood offascism. a trauma occurs when an overwhelming reality leaves its mark on the mind. Strzeminski accepts violence in language. among others'". The Brutality (If Fact. because only Earth is the thing where the rest of legs squeezed in the paving stones for hours of futile waiting of gazing eyes. Oxford 1990. they aim nowhere and outline nothing. p. mindless and speechless lasts.. and at the same time. Such is the case of Strzeminski 's collages. The obsessive metaphors and parallelisms. What has its beginning in these titles will flourish fully in the post-war period. "it parallels the defining structure of photography. it only errs. Cambridge. struck. is the artist's longing for experience. Fascism. Sylvester. wounded head. reflect the cruelty and violence which keep bothering the artist and turn into a kind of psychosis or trauma.B. The images of torture and violence which obsessively recur in Strzemiriski's visual and verbal artistic practices are extremely expressive and can testify to the present condition of being sentenced to look. One can easily perceive here a kind of suspension in presence (or rather in the present tense). This particular historical trauma inflicts such physical devastation on human bodies. in Francis Bacon's paintings. Thames and Hudson. that visualising these consequences of enormous violence has become a principal and necessary component of any witnessing practices. 233 !6 U. This subject shall return several years later. Mass. the violence encompassed in words finds its reflection in images. 2002. According to the first theories. he expresses its inability and emptiness. wincing in a groan of curved nails. 17 See: D. it does not describe nor define. which appear both on the syntactic and on the semantic level.

148 Katarzyna Bojarska follow the trace of those who are no longer there. it is a tragic longing.it seems precious not because of its literary quality.. Vow and Oath to the Memory of Hands (The Existence Which We Do Not Know). humiliation or pain (also the pain of witnessing). ToMy Friends the Jews series. p. although . op. cit. assuming it was a matter of choice rather than anything else. and such images cannot simply be seen or understood. W. if enforces it and gives it a new dimension. 1945 The language Strzemiriski chose.it should be stressed . quite contrarily. Such experiences. for the end of the torment: the extreme hunger. rooted in the title of the series. 18 Baer. Secondly. . which was annulled and cancelled by the scale of the event. The series is an example of art striving to save the humanity in a world dominated by genocide. Its documentary value does not belittle the artistic one. they require a different response. 13. Such is the nature of the traumatic event that the on-looker "must respond to the fact that these experiences passed through their subjects as something real without coalescing into memories to be stored or forgotten. Slrzem illsKi. they have to be witnessed "18. Finally. is somewhat similar to Paul Ce1an's poetry. the longing. which is unable to respond to the monstrosity of emptiness. it is the longing for death.

the Jews. with the photographic and "iconographic" shock which was to follow. they become a mark of an essential loss. but. we deal with an immediate response of the artist-witness. Chicago 1998. 21 Sztuka po Holocauicie. In Strzerninski's case. I believe that one of its crucial features. untouched by the artistic intervention on the one hand. cit. op. in his To My Friends. what was characteristic of the late 1940S was the interest. any other representation of the Holocaust was formulated. The photography seems to have had a totally different function for them. which were afterwards linked to the ever-changing definition of an "appropriate" and "responsible" representation. the way Strzeminski uses photographs in this series is similar to the one represented by George Segal in the work entitled Holocaust (1982). for that matter.e. Fundacja Anima. If one was to consider this series in the context of subsequent waves of the memory of the Shoah. pictures of an inexperienced experience of death that was taken from those who suffered it. One needs to bear in mind that To My Friends. A fragment of a traumatic historical reality imposes itself but cannot be included or assimilated in the existing artistic framework. of violence. Strzeminski. The two artists mentioned by Iedliriska belong to the third wave of memory. if not fascination. Zclizcr.the delicate line of his drawing and the shameless precision of photography. . These photographic images seem not to be really pictures of death. As I already mentioned. See: Zelizer. or. is its immediacy and directness vis-a-vis the events ofthe Holocaust. however. and on the other hand. or by Robert Morris in Untitled (1985-1987)20. uses press photographs and his own drawings from former warrelated series. but rather expose the unbearable contact with an seemingly 'unmediated' reality. instead of letting them speak for themselves. or photo-journalism. where a secondary transformation and re-processing of documentary images of the Holocaust takes place. they do remain on the surface. According to Eleonora [edlinska. which should not be ignored in any analysis. He shows hereby how a documented reality penetrates the space (or even the asylum) of artistic reality. Therefore. Those are the images that Strzeminski cannot incorporate to his artistic idiom. to a perpetual and atrocious death in/by the image"19. Lodz 2001. risks condemning the victims. the loss of voice in the face of atrocity. "it was only through the shock encounter offered by the photographic and film documentary in the immediate moment of the liberation of the camps in Europe in 1945 that the horrifying possibility of genocide could be grasped at all. p. i. However. one could argue that Strzeminski already grasped the ambivalent and problematic nature of these photographs. "Tygicl Kultury". 119. Iedlinska. distinguished by Zelizer-'. the Jews had been conceived before any condemnation of artistic. Remembering 10 Forget: Holocaust Memory Through the Camera's Eye. which is why such a comparison seems unfruitful or even misleading. whose unimaginable suffering (and death) photo-journalists once so shockingly 'shot' at their first exposure. University of Chicago Pcess. As 19 B. How is one supposed to understand the function of the photographic images in this series? They seem not to serve the rhetoric of fact. scandal and terror. I cannot agree with this statement and in order to support my argument.Wtadystaw Strzemiriskl and His Artistic Document of the Holocaust 149 Photographs As Barbie Zelizer noted. The very photographic archive. or even with the Real. paradoxically. I shall recall once again the time when Strzemiriski's series was created. 20 E. The artist draws on the prewar tradition of photomontage which allows him to juxtapose these two visual languages .

Father's Skull. doubt has been cast over the ability of the image to capture ethically the mag- W. "when the Allied forces went into the camps and filmed the survivors as they walked around like skeletons. Assuming the role of a friend and saving some space for his own expression. ToMy Friends the Jews series. op.150 Katarzyna BojaJS!(a many critics stressed.. Strzemiriski. cit. the resultant images were offensive. p. avoids the trap of appropriation. Ever since. 1945 nitude of the suffering of trauma victims"22. 12 . disrespectful and transgressed the integrity of the human subject. unable to speak for themselves. We should bear in mind that the first images of Holocaust that were 22 'Ihe Images and the Witness. at least to some extent. Strzeminski.

to the artist.becomes a billboard or a projection screen for the ready-made history. offer art which is a critical project directed at the culture of its own production and at the society which. mimetic truth were abandoned. when she says that this unprecedented industrialised death seems inexpressible. the Jews are related to the above-described inevitability of seeing. The awareness of the threat of erasing the events of Holocaust from the common memory was increasing. Strzemiriski. locks the catastrophe up in the past. This series. His avant-garde background on the one hand meets its point of crisis in the confrontation with this historical event. a Nazi?). enables the artist to overcome the crisis. Levitte-Harten. There existed nevertheless the need to relieve the pain with help of beauty"23. decay. The invaded and distorted modernist art . rather than search for consolatory beauty. Not because they were bad artists. Barnett Newman and Frank Stella. At the same time. Le Vitte-Harten is right.embodied in the war-related drawings . The art does not serve for finding simple (iconographic) solutions and schemes in principle. like a photographer (a journalist. All these notions known from Strzerninski's 23 D. They point to the on-looker. becomes an accomplice of the crime (of seeing). The photographs in To My Friends. both in the artistic and in the historical discourse. an Allied. but because they faced the event which no one before tried to represent or turn into image. by means of the act of looking. the theme of dying. which was motivated by the respect for the victims. They shamelessly expose everything that he wished he had not seen. the commentaries made in the late 1950Sand early 19608 focused on the implications of the Holocaust for the human nature and destiny. With some important exceptions. be it European or American. These images stigmatise the artist. together with the urge for accuracy. There existed no tradition of representation of the gas chambers. by dividing the time into past. vanity and corporeal degradation has a long tradition of imagery in the Western culture. however. the claims to achieve an absolute. Przekladanie Gallery. However. Abel? ex. present and future.Wfadysfaw Strzeminski and His Artistic Document of the Holocaust 151 published. Zacheta National Art . it rather disagrees with the existing ones. Warsaw 1995. Therefore. were making bad art out of documentation. turning memory into the metaphorical axis of the narration. just as they stigmatise his works. The well-known structural opposition of drawing (reflection) and photography (document). in this case. It was not until the 1980s and 19908 that the discussion turned towards the issues of representation. I am convinced that the art dealing with the Holocaust should be regarded in the context of a certain critical and political project. on the other. According to him. who. leaving an irremovable stain of outrageous figuration. honesty and responsibility. in my opinion. the artist "introduces the dimension of memory into the structure of the composition. the Jews. religious and moral life. prompted a subsequent shift away from the visual depiction of the suffering. pJ4 b6lu na kolor. cat. the violence of looking which the artist must have experienced. such as Mark Rothko. They struggled with bare facts deprived of iconography. in: Gdzie jest brat Two]. the opposition of art versus history is indeed suspended here. as well as other artists originating in the avant-garde. Strzeminski does not seem interested in either relieving pain or resurrecting the idea of beauty. looking for a critical reflection rather than a pure commemoration or consolation. is an event in itself. For Andrzej Turowski. I find it difficult to agree with what Doreet Le Vitte-Harten wrote about the so-called testimonial art: "The artists who testified to their experience. memory is the crucial component and the key for the interpretation of To My Friends.

The ability to give a response and assume responsibility mobilise this series or rather. 24 Turowski. reflection and absence now become elements of the new image. but also human. as well as a mnemonic space where the Holocaust needs to be reconsidered'<s. At the same time.. cit. The artist in the deepest of grieves accompanies his friends into oblivion. Strzeminski's artistic gesture. it does find a point of reference and an inspiration to transgress. emptiness. where they earn a photographic concretisation.152 Kalarzyna Bojarska works from the war period. make this event impossible not to happen. as I have already argued. . it shows that for the sake of accuracy. 228. the documentary and the artistic features shall not remain separated. He rescues the face which was to be ef-faced. p. op. shows a bare kind of art. such as trace. The tension provoked by this non-separation is a matter of artistic. not letting them fall into it. responsibility. it reveals the crisis of the avant-garde thought and practice and yet.

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