Shedding light on the shadows of Łódź

Studio art professor Leslie Starobin gave a presentation Nov. 10 via Zoom about the effects of the Holocaust on families. 

She discussed her video project, “Looming in the Shadows of Łódź,” which was inspired by a family trip to Poland in 2019.

Their trip marked the 75th anniversary of their relatives’ deportation to Auschwitz.

Throughout their journey, her son filmed videos and her daughter painted, while Starobin took photos of historical places.

Starobin asked, “How can we understand the effects of the Holocaust without the survivors alive to tell their stories?”

She said the second generation acts as a gatekeeper, with the responsibility of sharing the information with future generations.

Starobin said she hopes her film “helps examine remembrance from a multigenerational perspective.”

She discussed the historical background of her project.

“Our story is about a family of textile workers in Łódź, the third largest city in Poland today,” said Starobin.

Prior to World War II, Łódź – Poland’s second largest city – had a population of 233,000 Jewish people. Today, a little over 300 Jewish people reside there.

“Until recently, the Jewish cemetery in Łódź was the largest burial center in Europe,” said Starobin.

She said there was a huge open field of unmarked graves of people who perished in the ghetto. 

On Sept. 8, 1939, the German army entered the city – Starobin recited from a journal by David Sherakoviak, a survivor.

“A synagogue has been harmed, another synagogue is reportedly on fire. There is something sick about the Germans,” wrote Sherakoviak.

Starobin said her film will show where the synagogue stood.

“When German Nazis attacked it [the synagogue], they attacked all Jewish people’s property,” she said. 

Starobin said when her father-in-law reminisced about his childhood – he never mentioned the synagogue.

“He [her father-in-law] chose to point out, on the map, where he played soccer and the address in Łódź where he grew up,” she said.

After her father-in-law pointed out these locations on the map, Starobin created still-life montages, using her in-laws’ letters and photographs for a project she called, “The Last Address.”

Months after German occupation of Łódź, the Nazis renamed her father-in-law’s street to “Adolf Hitler’s Street,” forbidding Jewish people.

Starobin said in Łódź, Jewish pedestrians were forced to wear a yellow armband with the Star of David and the word “yud” which is German for “Jew.”

She added, “Before the Germans created ghettos to seal the Jews, 75,000 Jews, including my father-in-law, fled Łódź.”

Starobin discussed her mother-in-law Tola’s journey from her home to the ghetto.

“They were sealed off from the outside world,” she said.

 Ten years ago, Starobin began interviewing Dorka, Tola’s sister – also a Holocaust survivor.

“Tonight’s presentation and film would not be made possible without Dorka’s commitment to preserving her wartime experiences for future generations,” said Starobin. 

In 2017, a typed copy of Dorka’s diary was found in the Jewish Institute in Warsaw.

Starobin read from Dorka’s diary: “I am the only one from my class still here, possibly by accident, or saved by a miracle. They all fell victims in Auschwitz. I don’t have anyone to confess my heavy heart in moments of despair.”

Starobin recited another quote from Dorka: “In Łódź, there was a bakery near us every day. Tola went at noon to buy fresh bread. Why did Tola go and not me? Tola was fair with blue eyes – she did not look exactly Jewish.”

Starobin said she included excerpts from Dorka’s diary in her film.

“In Poland, as I framed the scenes in my viewfinder, the voices of the individuals who experienced these places and events firsthand, were forefront in my mind,” she said.

Starobin said she “juxtaposed distinct accounts from Dorka compiled 70 years apart, alluding to how age and memory influence the acts of remembrance.”

She continued, “By presenting both Dorka’s and my mother-in-law’s stories, relaying the same events, I also want to call attention to how their singular viewpoints have shaped the story in transmission of memory.”

Starobin’s artworks have been displayed at the Danforth as well as several museums – including The Harvard Art Museums and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.