Memories of the Displaced

The genesis of this project arose out of my first visits to Poland in 2005 and the stark differences I discovered between the Polish Catholic cemeteries and the state of the Jewish cemeteries in Krakow. It was not just the overgrown, cracked and broken tombstones – but also the years of death on many of the tombstones in the Miodowa Street cemetery. Then there is the absence of the detritus of visits by family members to the graves – clearly evident in other Polish cemeteries. It is this last visual clue that reminds us that in less than six years a rich and varied Jewish culture, which had existed for 600 years, was eradicated.

The statistics of those who were displaced seem beyond imagination – yet they involve countless individual lives and histories. The ‘Stolpersteine’ (Stumble Stones) project by the German artist Günter Demnig, is just one small step to assimilate this enormity into individual personal details. ‘Stumble Stones’ are small brass plaques lodged in the pavement next to the homes of those deported. Each plaque indicates the name, year of birth, date of deportation, and eventual destination of each individual. Sometimes whole clusters of these stones can be found where entire apartment blocks were evacuated of their inhabitants.

In the Polish city of Bydgoszcz at Fordon a memorial marks the site of the Dolina Śmierci (valley of death) where 5,000 – 6,000 local residents were murdered in 1939. The panels on the memorial, which list just name and profession, reflect the lists compiled before the war, which sought to eradicate the doctors, lawyers and priests of a generation.

These physical memories remind us that within the grand historical narrative lie the stories of ordinary people and everyday lives.

The burnt our shell of St Johannes church in Gdansk and the half-finished Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona are both reminders of the interruptions and dislocation of war and the distortions of fascism which has left its mark in cemeteries, cities and pavements across Europe.