Marking the Ghosts in Poland’s Old Jewish Cemeteries


How do you alert people to an absence? Across Poland, different communities come together to clean up and restore Jewish cemeteries. But in some places, those cemeteries have been not just neglected, but replaced — with sites ranging from stadiums to parking lots to playgrounds. That’s where Katarzyna Kopecka, Piotr Pawlak, and Jan Janiak come in.


They travel to these sites and erect makeshift gravestones with traditional Hebrew inscriptions.


The installations, which they call “Obecnie nieobecni” (“Presently Absent”), are temporary, but they hope to feature their gorgeous photography in gallery exhibits and in an eventual book.


So far, Presently Absent has visited about 230 cemeteries which have been not only destroyed, but also built over. It’s so difficult to determine their precise location that residents are often surprised to learn of these sites’ past.


Pawlak and Kopecka stumbled across the idea after they visited a small town square, which happened to be the site of an unmarked cemetery.


“It leads to some reflection,” they wrote in an email. “In a sense, we realize the inhabitants of this forgotten part of the story; sometimes we hear stories about how people lived with their Jewish neighbors…We realized that such sites must be more and few people know about them.”

Photos by Piotr Pawlak and Jan Janiak. See more on their Facebook page.

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