Jeff Gusky photographs
Gift of Jeff Gusky, 2007
An abundance of multi-colored frescoes adorns the walls of this palatial but badly desecrated synagogue. An attempt to restore this architectural treasure stalled when the funds raised for the project were stolen. The translation of the Hebrew legend on this window probably reads “Eternal Kingdom”.
These three images are documents of the world in 2007, rather than the 1940s. Here a synagogue built and used by worshippers since the 1860s, deprived of its membership imprisoned or killed, used by invaders as a warehouse and stable, stands open and vacant as it has for sixty-two years. The gate that once taunted prisoners, today evokes iconic response, and trees which since have sprouted and grown stand in a wintery glaze and overlook reverent visitors. Several miles away the gruesome remains of thousands have become indistinguishable residue beneath a serene pond.
Dr. Jeff Gusky is an emergency room physician who, in making pilgrimages to former sites of Jewish community in Poland, discovered and recorded vestiges of the desecration and the horrors endured, the evidence for which remained entirely neglected after some sixty years. In the introduction to his 2003 book Gusky reflected, “As an American, I was accustomed to seeing old buildings of architectural or of historic importance restored and often preserved. I was not prepared to encounter so many centuries-old sites of Jewish history in the raw, abandoned, neglected, disintegrating. My greatest surprise, however, was that in the four journeys to Poland, I did not encounter a single Jew, only emptiness, only absence—although I certainly could have found inhabited pockets in Warsaw with an effort. Nazi genocide and its aftermath had done its work well. But the sites I visited, once full of life, were silent.”
Dr. Gusky’s powerful photographs have been exhibited widely, including at the Bridwell Library in a display, The Landscape of Loss, which ran from 2003 to 2006, and Images of Tragedy in Black and White at the Meadows Museum in which his photographs were shown with depictions of war by Francisco Goya. Jeff is author of Silent Places: Landscapes of Jewish Life and Loss in Eastern Europe, New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2003, and Bordertown: The Odyssey of an American Place, co-authored with Benjamin Heber Johnson, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
The synagogue at Dabrowa Tarnowska has since been restored and was rededicated in 2012.