|A cozy cafe in Oswiecim. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber|
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
Danny Ghitis is a talented young photographer who has taken a great series of pictures about Oswiecim -- the living town in southern Poland outside of which is the infamous Auschwitz death camp. I'm delighted to see that a selection of them is featured on NPR. Before World War II, most of the residents of Oswiecim were Jewish.
Many tourists come in buses to Auschwitz for the day and may not notice the people who live in the surrounding towns. "Those who do notice," Danny Ghitis writes on his website, "a nearby shopping mall, high school sweethearts holding hands, nicely dressed families are headed to church — are faced with an impossible question: How can life exist in the aftermath of such overwhelming evil?"Ghitis, Brooklyn-based photographer and grandson of a holocaust survivor, was plagued by that question, and spent some time in 2010 exploring the psyche of Oswiecim — as well as his own. "I was aware of my own strong biases," he writes in an e-mail, "but as a journalist I knew the reality of this town had to be more complex than is often painted."
Years ago, I wrote a long, long essay about being snowbound for three days iat Auschwitz and exploring the town of Oswiecim and how the looming shadow of the death camp affected the town -- it formed the final chapter of my book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today. The book is out of print -- but it's still a good read!