In Conversation with Lindsay Goldberg
Lindsay, what is your connection to Poland?
My maternal grandfather grew up in a town called Brest-Litowsk in Poland. Adam Adams is the sole survivor of his family. I went to a Jewish school and most of my friend’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors who grew up in Poland. I have now been to Poland three times. Each time I left with a different perspective, of the Country and people. My parents encouraged me to go on March of the Living when I was in year 11, because of our family roots and I would be representative for the rest of the family going to Poland. No one in my family is so interested in the country, and this is for no particular reason.
We had preliminary study sessions to prepare us for the tour, each session gave us information on the holocaust and also how to deal with our emotional wellbeing whilst we are in a place where so many people, including many of our relatives were murdered and tortured. When I went I felt fear in the place. No one had prepared me for what Poland was like today, and my vision of the place was in a time warp. I recall going inside a communal courtyard and visiting a memorial, and baby’s were being held by there mothers looking out the window, and a woman in another apartment whilst I was getting onto the bus, was cleaning the window and all I saw was anti-Semitism in their eyes.
One week in the Poland was an overload of information and history for me. I felt detached from the place and from my grandfathers past. When I was on the march of the living I photographed a lot. When I reflect on those images now – they are so focused on macro details and my images are very dark with only a glimmer of light. My perception of the place has changed a lot…. Because of my feelings and thoughts of the place.
My mentor Emmanuel Santos inspired me to do a research on the lives of Jews still living in Poland today. Little did I know that a community over there even existed? So I went back to do my own investigation, and to my surprise there were people my age in Poland with Jewish Identity.
My first encounter with the Jewish community was in Warsaw in 2013. I attended a community Seder that hosted 300 people in Warsaw. One of the tables were dedicated to a Polish Jewish youth organization called Zoom. I got the courage to go and talk to these people, and found out that they were also part of a program called Minyanim, which brings Jewish leaders and activists from Central Eastern Europe and Israel together to connect with their neighbouring countries.
These people had open themselves up to me, when we met individually on other days. That’s where it all started. These young people have very intense stories of identity and that’s why I went back again a third time to immerse myself more into the wider community.
My upbringing and influence from my family and school and my first trip to Poland, triggered an intense interest in searching for answers that no one knew in my community. I was stuck in a time warp myself, and needed to find out what Poland is like today, and live it not just read it in a book. I also wanted to challenge the second generation’s idea of going to Poland yet not supporting the government and bringing in their own food from another country.
* My grandfather changed his polish surname Kaminski to Adams, after his first son was born, to provide his family a more anglo surname.
What visuals did you get of Poland as a child?
The mood I got from Poland growing up was dark and eerie. It was only about death, destruction and people so malnourished. The visuals I got were from reading books off the booklist, watching footage or photos from the documentation of the war.
This view was imparted to me from the Jewish schools that I attended, it was what they revealed and presented to us. Also it was a void. My grandfather never spoke of Poland to me and he died when I was 11. It was a taboo almost. I don’t remember him ever speaking about his youth. I don’t actually have any memories connected to holocaust of him in my life. I think this way his way of protected me from the History of Poland, and also himself.
I remember being told that my grandfather was in a way indifferent to the Jewish community. He didn’t have many Jewish friends in Australia, and preferred to be friends with Europeans.
What foods did you eat whilst growing up that represented Poland?
Well all the Jewish foods I grew up with, are Polish foods today. And in Poland a lot of Jewish food is still part of their cuisine. So whether it was the Poinchkas, Chicken soup, Challah, schnitzel and latkes.
In Poland, they love their traditional foods. So I was eating very dense dark breads, fermented vegetables, cheese, butter and shaved meats a lot of the time. It’s also very popular over there to add cream to your meal. There are soviet style run places still in existence these days, and they are known as ‘Milk Bars.’ Some of my local friends avoid eating there; they say the quality of food isn’t great, as prices are so cheap they have to cut corners to keep it that way. I enjoyed it and craved it many times whilst I was in Poland. By chance, I always managed to find someone in the line that knew English and could help me place an order. The women serving and cooking looked to me like babushkas who were indicative of the soviet era. You line up to order and pay. You collect your food from the kitchen counter, and when you’re done with your plates you return them before you leave, it’s a very quick turnover and inexpensive. Here I was eating a lot of pierogi, I had quite a few different varieties. Also borsht soup. The people I was staying with in Warsaw are very young and hip. They are excellent cooks and are worldly when it comes to their palate. One time my host Patrycia made chicken baked with Prunes. And another time she made a French toast out of challah. Today they still exist in bakeries. I also recall eating stuffed red capsicum with rice and meat. A traditional polish sour soup too.
I also had many traditional sweets and pastries a long my way. In Poznan they have a famous St Martin’s croissant, which is the shape of a horseshoe and has 81 layers of filling and in Gdansk I had a local famous triangular donut filled with Halva. Just outside Warsaw in a place called Milanowek where I stayed for some time, they have a candy called Milanowek, which is a famous caramel sweet in Poland. If you’re lucky you can find these yellow rapper candies in Acland St.
How did your journey shape your opinion of Poland?
I spent almost 10 weeks in the country and not once was I homeless. Not once did I stay in a rented accommodation. This trip I made was not just a gathering of photographing materials. I made friends regardless of their religion, and found similarities and many things in common with people on the opposite side of the world.
This was a personal quest. Not only was this travel purpose to complete my project, but also it was more than that. I went with the intention to visit where my grandfather was born. I always thought that the town of Brest-Litowsk was in Poland. Until I went to the travel agent and told her my plans. She showed me on a map that in actual fact it is in Belarus, and that to get there isn’t as easy as just a train ride away. The other part of this journey I made was about self-growth and maturity. This whole trip flowed so well and I started to master the art of travelling. It was even sometimes last minute that I am on a train going to a foreign place and there would be a text message of someone connecting me to a person whom could host me with open arms.
I met so many different people a long my way. I took train rides and even hitch hiked. I always felt welcome no matter what. I went to social gatherings so far from my comfort zone, and was always pleasantly surprised and grateful to all those people whom welcomed with open arms. I learnt to navigate the cities, and use the very efficient public transport. I started to live like a local and even started to contemplate the possibilities of me going back to live there for sometime. The place I think I could call home at some stage would be either Warsaw or Poznan. One time I even met a woman in a shop with her young daughter and she was so interested in my project, she was even looking forward to catching up with me again, and for me to meet her friends. My heart was always open and transparent, and I saw it being mirrored in everyone else I interacted with. My expectations of my grandfather’s town were completely shattered. I was frightened by what people who hadn’t even been there in Australia would tell me. I was thinking to even stay only one day. But as an example of life flowing and looking out for me. One of my jewish friends with Polish Jewish Russian identity, told me she would go with me and we would stay with her family friends for two nights and also her friend of a friend in the capital city for one night. My time in Belarus, was so bright. I was out until four in the morning loving every minute of it. I learnt a lot about the power of the heart and of positivity. This darkness and depressing visions I had are now in the past, and I can say that Poland and Eastern Europe for me, isn’t a taboo and place that can’t be touched because of my family history. In Belarus, maybe my grandfather and his family were looking down at me. I felt at home there with intentions of going back. My hosts were so hospitable and generous, the Jewish community had time for us, and even on the way home a woman took us all the way from Brest Litowsk to Warsaw. I remember at the border of Belarus, the young man asked what we were doing there, and he was so interested – he said we should go check out Polin museum if we haven’t already and good luck for my exhibition and we are always welcome in his eyes to Belarus!
My non-Jewish encounters this whole trip, really opened my mind up. People have moved on and got on with their lives, and it just clarified to me that there is this evolution. This is my experience. I was there.
Is there a Jewish future in Poland?
I would definitely say so! Yes! Young people tend to be drawn to main cities over there, and if someone wants to embrace their Judaism or explore it they have easy access to migrating to one of the bigger cities with a Jewish community. For these people there lives are not focused on darkness and the Holocaust. These young people have bright futures, there identities are also being refined and worked on so much.
The communities are so strong! There are people who aren’t Jewish who are dedicating their lives to Judaism and the future of Jewish life in Poland. These people’s dreams are to see the Jewish community thrive again as they are also very nostalgic about Poland’s past.
I asked a normal girl on the street in Kazimiers Square what she thought of Jews. She said she can remember her grandmother telling her this story that at the time of war, her family were throwing apples at the Jews with aggression and the Nazi’s who monitored it thought it was great. Little did the Nazi’s know her grandmother was giving them food to eat.
There are so many inspired people in the community and with this focus and attention to Jewish life. The community is only getting stronger and stronger. The highly educated non-Jewish people are very open-minded thinkers. When I was in Warsaw my friend told me a story that someone she knows received a birthday gift of a star of David from a Jewish person… and she wore it to her work in a kindergarten and people were persecuting and traumatising her at work for this. And she was proud to wear this symbol, and yet other people had the fear.
Is there a strong Jewish consciousness? If so, what does it look like?
Poland Jewish community is very unique. It’s not just Jewish people who are involved. There are some people I met who aren’t Jewish, but have their own connection to Judaism and volunteer lots of their time for the community. No one is turned away from the JCC in Warsaw and Krakow for not being Jewish. If they do this then many people with the Jewish identity who don’t know about it might never get the opportunity to discover it. JCC WARSAW have a boker tov brunch every Sunday, and everyone is welcome! And people are interested to go no matter there religion. Some of these people start to question their own family traditions and papers, and work out they too have roots. JCC Krakow have Hebrew classes – and some people who have no connection or interest yet just want to learn the language to get a decent job, or learn something different for fun.
People who I encountered that are non Jewish are aware of strong Jewish presence in the past and a loss now. Science and craft came from the Jewish community they cannot ignore It –cannot exist as a pole and not have any relationship with a Jew – and it’s still relevant because they still have the memories passed down to them even as new generations.
From my personal experience people are genuinely accepting of their history. They just make sure I know that Poles were also killed at this war.
All artwork by Lindsay Goldberg, artist Tales of Renewal Poznan, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Krakow, Warsaw, 2013–2015