See the photography novella, “Once Upon A Time In Kazimierz” by Richard Tuschman and read about the special town that inspired his work.
Kazimierz was once an island, situated in the middle of the Vistula river, south of Krakow. It was called different things, but in 1335, King Casimir III (1310 – 1370) – also known as The Great – called it Kazimierz, after himself. He thought it would be a fine spot for a university, which he envisaged would bring glory to Poland. Jagiellonian University, as it came to be known, did indeed bring glory to Poland – with the likes of Copernicus etc. – but not from Kazimierz. Rather, in 1399 King Vladislaus Jagiello (c1352 – 1434) began building the university within the walls of Krakow’s Old Town; in an area that was populated by Krakow’s Jews, who were encouraged to leave as the university expanded.
In 1495, amid growing religious intolerance and mercantile jealousy – and fire having destroyed much of the Jewish quarter the previous year – the Jews were officially expelled from Krakow proper and forced to relocate to nearby Kazimierz.
The re-settlement in Kazimierz came on the eve of the Golden Age of Polish Jewry, which lasted well into the 17thcentury; and, though unique, was part of the intellectual flowering experienced by both Poland and Europe as a whole. Central to the Jewish Golden Age was the Yeshiva system, which fostered the maturation of Talmudic scholarship. Kazimierz, the site of Poland’s first Yeshiva, set up by Rabbi Ya’akov Pollak c1509, was, for a time, the cultural and spiritual center for Jewish life in Poland.
Kazimierz’s poor and religious did not survive the Holocaust; theirs are lives lost forever because there are none to recount their secret histories. As you walk the streets of Kazimierz, you can taste the loss and the holiness and the silence of anguish. It fixes in the mind and burrows deep in the heart, yearning for expression. Nowhere is that expression more beautifully rendered than in the work of Richard Tuschman.
Tuschman sets his photographic novella in pre-war Kazimierz, telling the story of an ordinary family in deep personal crisis. Pregnant with Kazimierz’s emotional residue, each picture melts into the viewer with its delicious saturation and alluvion sorrow. The handmade dioramas, touching in their detail, swathe the human drama they contain in luminescent grief; as the people, set deep in their tiny worlds, succumb to grief’s power to unravel that which was bound. For the viewer, the impending doom of history thumps in the heart and whispers “even your personal tragedy can be stolen from you.”