About the ‘holy fear’ of the Holocaust subject

In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition "Polish art and the Holocaust” we included a selection of poems which subject is the experience of the Holocaust.

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Piotr Matywiecki

In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition "Polish art and the Holocaust” we included a selection of poems which subject is the experience of the Holocaust. Already at the time when the Warsaw Ghetto was burning and the smoke coming from the chimneys of the extermination camps could be seen, literature critics and poets talked about the impossibility to express by poetry what happened to Jews during the Second World War. The selection consists of both well and less known poems. What they have in common is the attempt to name something which is impossible to be named: the experience of the Holocaust.

Along with well known poems by Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska or Tadeusz Różewicz, we present a less recognizable authors. The selection of the poems begins with ‘Two deaths’ by Władysław Szlengel. A poet-insurgent, who died in Szymon Kac’s bunker at Świętojerska 36, combines the contrasting types of deaths: of Jews and the Polish. He characteristically names them ours and yours valuing Jewish death as ‘your death’s poor distant relative’.

In the next part of the catalogue we can find well known poems by Czesław Miłosz Campo di Fiori and A Poor Christian Looks At The Ghetto as well as Ballads and romances by Władysław Broniewski. The latter refers to Romanticism and is in dialogue with Mickiewicz’s series of ballads.

An extremely realistic and thought-provoking image is a poem by Tadeusz Różewicz entitled ‘Pigtail’. Through the author’s eyes we observe as the workmen sweep up the hair of the women who had had it shaved just before they were murdered in the gas chambers. In clouds of dry hair we notice a pigtail with a ribbon.

In the poem „Muranow towering” by Jerzy Ficowski, we read about the tragic nature of the post-war everyday life on the debris of the ghetto and what was built on them. Julia Hartwig in the poem Classmates recalls Miriam and Reginka, Jewish girls who she last saw at the border of the ghetto. About a unique meeting writes Feliks Konopka in the poem entitledŻydziak. He speaks of placing man above all, putting trust in man and following a Biblical topos, giving man the royal dignity.

In the catalogue, it is also possible to find poems by Anna Kamieńska, Arnold Słucki, Aleksander Wat, Izabella Czermak, Ewa Fiszer, Stanisław Wygodzki, Stanisław Jerzy Lec, Antoni Marianowicz and Mieczysław Jastrun. 

Piotr Matywiecki, who selected the poems for the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Polish art and the Holocaust’ writes about the ‘holy fear’ of taking up the subject of the Holocaust.

„However, there remains something most important, which cannot be called ‘a subject’ of art because it raises an ethical objection against aestheticizing, against the inseparable from art demonstration of the craftsmanship. Only a few are brave enough to face the most important of all, the unnameable.”

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