Bystanders’ Images of the Holocaust

MIEJSCE 6/2020

The article is related to the visual objects produced by so-called bystanders (eyewitnesses) during the Holocaust and afterwards. Do these materials become a gesture of testimony? And if yes, when, in what circumstances, and on what conditions? If we accept them as historical evidence: will they allow access to the specific, wordless experience of the representatives of a group that—rarely analyzed and studied so far—is now is beginning to receive the attention of Holocaust researchers? In other words, will these testimonies allow us to find out something that we have not yet learned about the witnesses of Jewish suffering? And importantly, will we reclaim the ignored perspective of eyewitnesses and bystanders of the genocide through them? In the widest context: will we discover in these records, relations, meanings, emotions, and pieces of information important to understanding what happened in small communities, in the provincial territories, in Europe after 1939?

In the article, I trace visualizations of violence committed against Jews outside of camps and ghettos—in the arena of the so-called “dispersed Holocaust.” The results of the mass killings are the uncommemorated, small-scale sites of genocide, called in my broader research, after Claude Lanzmann and against Pierre Nora, “non-sites of memory.” I study how bystanders preserve the memory of wartime events through images. I would like to find out what representational practices non-sites of memory evoke, and in particular, how historical representations of these places might influence an understanding and perception of them today. On a different level, I insist on accepting vernacular, non-elite, grassroots visualizations as a cognitively important genre of post-Holocaust art, especially useful for the analysis of processes of remembering the Holocaust that took place outside the centers of the Shoah.

Przepraszamy, ten wpis jest dostępny tylko w języku Amerykański Angielski.

(It) bears repeating that the vast majority of European Jewry was murdered in Poland, and that the vast majority of those killed were East European and Russian Jews. Furthermore, approximately half of those murdered did not die in extermination camps. Over 600,000 Jews died in large and small ghettos scattered throughout German-occupied Eastern Europe. Many of the rest, however, were killed in mass executions at or near their places of residence. These were open-air events, often watched by the gentile population.”1

Presently available visualizations of events of dispersed violence2 usually come from the repositories of perpetrators, and nowadays evoke substantiated concerns.3 The factuality, eyewitness quality of these (usually photographic) accounts from the brink of death pits makes the perpetrators’ images more likely to be widely distributed than those produced by victims. Victims—sometimes quite literally—managed to “exit the grave”4 and deliver a visual testimony (such as that provided by Jonasz Stern, a survivor of the Lviv Ghetto liquidation who managed to crawl out of a pit full of dead bodies left after the mass execution at Hyclowa Góra in June 1943). So far, the least attention has been paid to works produced by the so-called bystanders—those co-present on the stage of violence. This article is an attempt to conduct preliminary reconnaissance of this uncharted territory.

The diversity of scopic attitudes and strategies differentiates eyewitnesses: the apparently homogenous collective subject performing sight-related activities. They can be divided into several sub-groups (observers, gawkers, spectators, etc.), that differ from one another in terms of cognitive capabilities, extent of individualization, and range of agency.5 Visuals created by those who observed the Holocaust and experienced it as a shock are—at least in professional art circulation extremely scarce, as has been estimated by Luiza Nader who terms this group of artworks as “art facing the Holocaust.”6 Research recently conducted on the so called “folk art,” in relation to the exhibition Widok zza bliska. Inne obrazy Zagłady [Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust] 2018-19,7 confirmed the limited number of visual responses but at the same time revealed the communicative potential of artworks produced by artists who created them from non-dominant aesthetics and in non-elite environments. The research exposed the area of so-called vernacular art—neither professional enough to be found in the collections of contemporary art museums nor following the norms imposed upon “folk art.” By vernacular art I mean objects produced by those educated mostly in artisanal or craft areas, as well as autodidacts who worked in professions loosely related to art. The objects belong today mainly to private owners, remaining in the collections of regional museums or cultural centers. A “lower” (meaning: non-elitist), but also “wider” (not centralized in institutions of culture) outline of the territory of the potential existence of works related to the dispersed Holocaust gives us a chance to discover new objects, strategies, and poetics that have not been taken into consideration in the discourses on the Holocaust art so far. The category of bystanders is slowly entering the interest of researchers who study the visual documentation of World War II, and therefore, although the presently known works are quite scarce, it is highly probable that in future this category will be expaned numerically by new findings.

Drawn Testimonies (Kmieliauskas)

During their visit to Lithuania, in search of post-genocide and neglected by memory “sites devoid of a monument,”8 (described in the reportage Nasi. Podróżując z wrogiem [Our People. Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust], 2016), Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff visited Butrimonys near Alytus, where in June 1941, several hundred Jews were executed.9 Unfortunately the witness could not point the site of the massacre in the forest to the researchers, and in the end, they did not manage to locate it.10 Vanagaitė talked about this site with Antanas Kmieliauskas (born in 1932) who, as a child, had observed the killings from a distance. After the war Kmieliauskas became a professor at the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts.11 “Rūta asked the artist to draw this scene from nearly eighty years ago, and Antanas Kmieliauskas obliged, creating a sketch…”—Zurhoff reports. In the book, the authors present this expressive sketch, created in front of them by the artist, depicting schematic silhouettes of people standing in two rows opposite each other.12

The aforementioned example shows that images of the sites and scenes of the dispersed Holocaust might be found in the context of testimonies and accounts provided by bystanders.13 Kmieliauskas gave an interview to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (in 1998, he was 66 years old then).14 In the recorded video, it can be noted how—as the story progresses—the man raises his hands, outlining the shapes of pits and the winding roads as if he were exasperated with the inefficiency of his own narrative.15 “Did you see the faces of the perpetrators—and of the victims—at the time of the execution?”—the interviewer asks after half an hour. “It was a little too far for me to see. Just an image—I could almost draw the image, an image, seen from afar. Almost like a painting, with no features.”16 The interview continues, focusing on the death pit and executions, and twenty minutes later, the artist cannot stop himself from supporting his words with images. The phone rings and the recording is paused. When the camera is turned on again, the artist has a white sheet of paper in front of him. He says: “They were there… and they were standing over here…” and draws a sketch similar to the one, the Lithuanian writer would receive from him in 2015.

According to Patrick Debois who studies sites of the Holocaust by bullets, “every witness saw part of the genocide. None of them can recount the whole thing. That is the limit of visual memory.”17 As might be assumed based on the example above, there are numerous limits to the visual memory of witnesses. The case of Kmieliauskas proves that even advanced, professional users of visual culture, when they have to relate to a past scene of crime, are able only to provide its general image, “with no specific features.” The frame flickers: the distance of time (today) and space (long ago: the executions were observed from usually quite a considerable distance) allows for reconstructing contours that resemble something “almost like a painting,” rather than realistic mapping. Fragmentariness of knowledge, childish perception, within which directions and proportions had not yet been formed, as well as several decades apart from the event, years that covered memorable details, distort the drawn testimonies, though they are still capable of conveying the basic, and at the same time the most crucial, information: one group of people stood opposite another group. The latter held up guns. The pit had already been dug.

Sketches Instead of Photographs (Charyton)

When Marian Brandys described his acquaintance with Józef Charyton (1909-1975), a local artist from a small town on the Bug River, he called him by the honorable title (assuming from the use of capital letters) “The Guardian of the King’s Grave.” A short story, included in a collection from 1984 under the same title, focuses on the common obsession of two “public historians” who keep corresponding with each other about the event of bringing Stanisław August Poniatowski’s18 corpse to Poland. (By chance, in 1938, Charyton was involved in the preparation of the burial vault in Poniatowski’s hometown Wołczyn [Volchin], when the king’s corpse was about to be brought back from St. Petersburg. After World War II, due to the alterations of the country’s borders, the king’s grave once again ended up in the territories of Soviet Russia). Brandys dedicated only a two-page fragment of this long story of the pen-friendship (full of Charyton’s written accounts, summaries of correspondence, and conversations on the phone) to another obsession of the author from Siemiatycze. “After the events of 1968, when Jews desperately started leaving Poland, to Charyton, painting portraits of Jews became a moral obligation.”19 Brandys describes the artist’s involvement in Jewish issues on the occasion of—as he mentions—the opening of the artist’s exhibition Portraits of Polish Jews held at the National Jewish Theatre in 1973. However, he fails to mention a former series comprising of several hundred20 works related to the Holocaust in the East. They must have discussed these though: “[Jews] had been part of his life. And then he became a silent witness of their tragic fate. He saw how they were exterminated by the Nazis. How they were inhumanly humiliated and tortured, how they died either a violent death or after long agonizing torments.”21

Charyton was a witness indeed, although not necessarily silent: in 1963, he gave a testimony, today preserved by the Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma [Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute] (ŻIH) in Warsaw.22 The duty to give an account was also performed with the use of another medium: in the same year, the ŻIH bought a series of almost two hundred sketches drawn and painted by the artist from Siematycze.

The works depict scenes that take place on the border of the ghetto in Wysokie Litewskie [today: Vysokaye, Belarus]; marches, executions, preparing for deportation, various forms of forced labor and humiliation, including sexual violence. There prevail portraits and genre scenes preceding executions. They take place exactly where the German photographers from the Einsatzgruppen operated. This time it is a bystander’s gaze that becomes the source of representation of the murderous event.

Drafts and sketches were produced either on thick paper or photographic paper and they had similar, though not identical sizes; about 30 x 40 cm (a smaller size works are an exception). On some of them, there are visible marks from sticking them to walls with pins. At times, their reverse has been used for additional sketches. Charyton drew or painted his works with ink, coal, watercolor, and pencil, very few cards from the ŻIH collection were painted in color. On the obverse, in capital letters, the artist wrote cryptic but vital pieces of information: “Jews just before the execution. All of them from Kamieniec [Kamenits] III, Wys. Lit, [Vysokaye] 1942,” “Jews forced to dig the grave for other Jews, Wys. Lit. [Vysokaye] 1942,” “Jewish women pulled out from the recesses of the ghetto just before the execution, Wys. Lit. [Vysokaye] 42,” “Torturing Jewish people because they were keeping their hands in the wrong way.”

Before the war, Charyton was friends with Jewish artists and during the occupation, when he was employed in the position—as he described it—of ”economic supervisor of the town,” he did his best to protect the Jewish residents from the Blue Police. He was writing a journal, a specific chronicle of the town: “I had to check all the events, I needed to be in all those places, to see everything.” And as he lived in the area adjacent to the ghetto, he saw many acts of terror. “I would carry a small-format camera with me—however I never managed to use it at a relevant moment.” He accompanied those who were taken away from the liquidated ghetto: “I moved along with them to the suburbs of the town; but in the open field, observing was no longer possible.” He saw what happened at the railway station. “Did I manage to notice everything? In spite of the acuteness of my observational capabilities, I had only one pair of eyes, and sketches were often drawn after a couple of days.” “I came back to my studio and started sketching, I had a huge plan to reconstruct the most terrifying scenes on a big canvas for posterity.”23

Charyton is an example of a bystander who consciously undertakes the function of an observer: someone who seemingly stays calm, meticulous, fact-oriented, and is able to plan his work. What is interesting in his activities, is the intention to archive and record: the artist documents the acts of terror, describing them with dates, places, and types of violence. He gets ready to photograph executions and to collect evidence. However, when he stands opposite a pit behind a tannery, which— he suspects—might be used to murder Jews, and when the execution starts, he does not take advantage of the opportunity: “at that moment, I thought everything was for nothing, like this entire life, and the camera fell off my hand.”24 I understand his refusal to use this medium as a very intuitive rejection of the distance that arises between photographer and the photographed. Charyton recognizes the gesture of recording the crime as immoral, and the feeling he describes might be identified as a deep emotional resonance related to empathizing with the victims. In the series of drawings sold to the ŻIH archive, Nazis are the only ones to use cameras.25

What is striking in Charyton’s works, is the contrast between the very conscious intention to deliver evidence, solid and regular work to gather data, and the formal instability of the sketches: they were produced with various techniques, on diverse types of paper, and in different styles—rarely does Charyton reach for realistic and clear lines, more often, he sketches quickly and compulsively; the figures become types, sometimes dangerously close to caricatures. Victims are depicted in a suggestive style that sometimes becomes an expressionistic visual act of exclamation. In extreme cases, the image is hardly possible to decipher—a maze, adumbrative obscurity, and indistinctness reach as far as in the “visual” testimony given by Kmieliauskas. Why does the artist, who has some formal education (he was a student of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow for one year) and intends to produce a historical and evidentiary series, chooses so seldom to use the format of demonstrative realism? His eye-witnessed “initial sketches” are impressionistic and vague. He uses, however, the realistic mode when he visualizes events he has only heard about. This is the case of an image of the body searches and rape experienced by Jewish women, described on its obverse as: “according to the eyewitness’s account.”26 When he reports on events he witnessed: the transport, forcing people into train cars, escapes from the ghetto, humiliation, executions—there appears a quick, shaky line emphasized by water-color (four of those dynamic compositions today illustrate the section of the exhibition dedicated to “Holocaust by Bullets” at Yad Vashem). I would like to read the lability of style, genre (portrait, scene), and alternating between abandoning and respecting perspectival conventions (especially the scenes of executions over the death pits lack depth and seem to be two-dimensional, with only the foreground available to the eye), as derivative of the process of searching for an adequate form to work with and on the “flashback of the shock,” the afterimages of scenes that have not found their own visual language yet.

Interestingly, an inconsistency regarding dates there can be observed. According to the artist’s account, the sketches were created some days later than the events they depict, and the collection sold to Warsaw dates back to the years of war. In the compositions, there are dates such as 1942, 1943, 1944, but also 1956, and 1957; the catalogue cards provide the information of the date of creation as: 1945-1963 or 1963. Charyton explains in his testimony that his post-war dire living situation did not allow him to produce the second, large-format version, however, the repetitive scenes such as the execution of Jewish women, a German taking a photograph of Jews heading to work, a man falling into the death pit (all in ŻIH archive) have several variants, and therefore, in fact, the gesture of painting subsequent versions was performed by the artist. Dates and shifts in poetics might constitute proof that the painter used to return to the “most horrifying scenes” or that they came back to him, according to the unpredictable rhythm of traumatizing afterimages, for which the triggers—in line with what Brandys wrote down (and what stems from the ascribed dates)—were the waves of anti-Semitism in Poland.

If we accept Charyton’s account as a Holocaust testimony, it would become evident that his work was the result of a subjective and affective reaction of someone who seemingly having followed the rational, strict protocol of the “observer’s” work (Charyton uses this term most often), in fact, experienced trauma. Empathizing with the victims murdered in the dispersed Holocaust in this series is disputable: victims often do not have specific features, and perpetrators who are standing closer appear to possess more individualized physical attributes; the scenes are voyeuristic—especially when the victims are naked women; the images of humiliation resemble the poetics of anti-Semitic propaganda. Nevertheless, the empathetic approach is evident and one might prove it based on a work produced at least three times in 1956.27 The artist depicts a pained expression on the face of a man who has already slid into the death pit. His chest is torn by a bullet. The upper edge of the composition is filled with the boots of the soldiers. The perspective Charyton applies to paint this scene, is difficult and actually impossible: he positions the point of view from inside the death pit, slightly below the face of the dying man. This gesture—painting the scene from the inside of the mass grave—is hard to interpret differently than as an act of extreme identification. At the same time, it determines the artist’s approach towards the eyewitnessed events and towards the murdered, as well as the “side” he takes as a “by-stander.” If Charyton was the “Guardian of Graves,” as Brandys stated, then I state that first and foremost, he was the guardian of the graves that had been dug behind the tanneries, along the railroads, and in the forests.

Sketches of the Proxy (Lipa)

In “The Guardian of The King’s Grave,” Brandys also mentions the series of portraits of Jews painted by Charyton after the war. The artist gave quite a surprising explanation for picking up this theme: “But one night—who knows, if it didn’t happen after the Kielce pogrom provoked by some ‘unknown perpetrators’—the murdered Jews from his town paid him a visit in a dream. Then, they started coming every night. They did not say anything but just looked, as if they demanded something. It was then when he bought brushes and paints and started to paint their portraits.”28 According to notes in his journal, the artist experienced the presence of his visitors as very real and physical, for instance, he mentioned that he had been motivated by one of the guests slapping his face to punish him for sluggishness. “I am painting their faces and I have to hurry because one face does not last for long. It comes and goes. (…) It is as if I were chasing the shadow of this person, I had seen once. (…) The paint is still wet and I am already rushing after another. This is an extremely exhausting effort.”29 These portraits commissioned by the dead, I choose to understand as forensic sketches, “identikits” produced based on data delivered by the victim to their “proxy,” who possesses the relevant skills and techniques to visualize: the bystander becomes a depositary, a middle-man, “a hired hand,” commissioned to fashion an image whose visual features are to be dictated by the eyewitness-victim.

The example of such a variant of dispersed Holocaust representation, this time far from the hauntological one (in which the work is commissioned by a spectre), is a piece created by a vernacular artist Roman Lipa in 1984.30 The painting depicts the execution of forty-two residents of Wielopole Skrzyńskie on June 30, 1942, and was showcased in the traveling exhibition “Holocaust by Bullets” hosted by Yahad-In Unum31 (the work is presently owned by the Teitelbaum Family, whose predecessors died in the massacre).32

Fragment of the exposition of Roman Lipa’s works within the frames of the project “Kantor en Rhône - Alpes”, Théâtre des Asphodèles, Lyon 2006. Photo: Ewa Kulka, courtesy of Ewa Kulka.

Roman Lipa was a carpenter, painter, photographer, and historian33 of Wielopole Skrzyńskie, the same town whose fate became the inspiration for Tadeusz Kantor’s “The Theatre of Death.” The description of the key genocidal event included in Lipa’s Okupacyjne wspomnienia – pamiętnik autora [Memoir from Occupation Times—the Author’s Journal] might support the visual identification of elements in the painting the self-taught artist created in 1983: “Over the mass grave of an approximate length of ten meters, Jews were forced to kneel down in a row. Others were standing aside in a group. (…) The shooting was done by one German from the SS who had a skull on the cap he was wearing. The German, using a handgun, shot the people kneeling at the grave in the back of their heads, and the victims fell into the pit.”34 This work, however, was not painted based on personal recollection but on an account of another witness: the person who inspired this work was another bystander and an eyewitness of the massacre of 1943.35

The brutally honest realism of the image reveals the full demonstrability of the scene of the murder and the role local people played in it: we can see in the cadre the Blue Police officer and the village mayor, clenching the file with documents. It was actually the latter, Józef Długosz, who later became Lipa’s informant. In Lipa’s recollection Likwidacja Żydów [Extermination of Jews], published in Konteksty. Polska sztuki in 2015, the author addressed the reaction of the village mayor, suggesting he had been torn by extreme emotions: “The mayor, being the only civil bystander, was so deeply shocked and traumatized by these crimes that he was standing there petrified, watching his friends and acquaintances from the village being shot down one after another.”36 Likwidacja Żydów tells a story of the decline of Jewish Wielopole, but it does not stop at the report on inaction explained by being shock. Lipa also brutally reports on the aftermath of the committed crimes: looting, taking over and bartering of possessions, stealing what had been left, and attempts to utilize the Torah parchments, all of which was commonly done without any hesitation and with the participation of the local residents. Lipa does not obscure the co-perpetration of his neighbors: “By the end of the occupation, due to hunts and denunciatory activities, nine Jewish people who had been hiding near Wielopole, lost their lives.”37 The village mayor is described as the righteous among the greedy (just because he did not pick up money thrown by a Jew who was about to be executed) and the empathetic among the indifferent, however, his co-presence on the stage of crime and his implication in the rules of the Nazi power are not trivialized or swept aside. Years later, the mayor revealed his participation, using the painter as his interlocutor and as a proxy in the process of supplementing the oral account with visual sketch. In this act Długosz undertook the role of a testifying witness, building for himself a testimonial situation similar to the one that was granted for instance to Kmieliauskas.

Details of Roman Lipa’s painting “Rozstrzelanie 42 osób żydowskich w Wielopolu Skrzyńskim w dniu 30/VI 1942 roku” [The Execution of 42 Jewish People in Wielopole Skrzyńskie on June 30, 1942], 1984. Published in: „Konteksty” 2015, no 1-2, 142.

The poetics of this late testimony repeats a gesture that could be already observed in Charyton’s practice: the scenes described by the witness, being also the commissioning party, are depicted by Lipa with the utmost meticulosness. By multiplying details he had never witnessed, he demonstrates a proactive approach: he cares for the potential forensic value, the eyewitness power of the performed task, and especially for a “photographic” detailedness while reconstructing the murder site (“He always reflected the reality in an accurate manner. Before he created Likwidacja Żydów, he went to the Jewish cemetery and took photos of the site” – remembered one of his family members).38 The large-format composition seems to be a way to emphasize the importance of the depicted scene. It also allows the individualization of the figures by granting each person specific features, gestures, and behaviors. It is noteworthy how clearly Lipa divides the painting into two sections: in the lower part of the work, he places the crime scene. In the upper part—sharply demarcated with the line of the country road—the spectators can see the summer landscape of Wielopole. The scene is complemented by some peaceful houses, without people milling around the yards; instead they silently, but also indifferently, co-participate in the murder. It is impossible not to read this fractured reality as a commentary on the social relations in Wielopole in 1942 as well as after the war.

Bystanders’ images reporting the crimes of dispersed Holocaust are—as I attempted to prove above—of a unique evidential character: they were produced with the intention to explain the details of the crime, to further convey the forensic data. Their judicial value is but debatable. This “visual protocol” is usually initiated by a third party: by a question asked by an interviewer, the request of eyewitnesses, or the victims of Holocaust events. The artist-witness seems to be prompted to testify by external trigger. The factuality is somewhat paradoxical: the examples presented above reveal a specific inner contradiction of the representational strategy. If Doreet LeVitte Harten proves to be right (in her text from the 1995 catalogue for the exhibition Gdzie jest brat twój, Abel? [Where is Abel, Thy Brother?]),39 commenting on the general framing of Holocaust acts, then “While the witnesses gave first-hand evidence, thus using art as documentation and falling into the snare of the real, those who were not there idealized the situation.”40 In the arena of the bystanders’ art, this rule seems to be reversed. Those who eyewitnessed murders—Charyton, Kmieliauskas—paint “the most terrifying scenes” as jumpy and shaking afterimages, impressions and projections in which it is hard to determine details of the event. Despite an intention to testify, they produce objects of low juridical value: the subscript or oral testimony must come here to help to inform about the details of the crime. But the image itself is as distant as possible from the “trap of reality,” if this is to be understood as subjecting representation to documentary rules. On the other hand, what is visualized from a position of a secondary witness, based on the account heard (case of Charyton’s picturing rapes, Lipa’s scene of execution), is presented in a veristic manner and with a brutality of detail.

The art of the bystanders-who-witnessed, created on the hurriedly found sheets of paper, produced with the initial under-gesture of a sketch, subjected to the whimsey of the post-traumatic recurrence of the trauma, in the end, does not provide a reliable testimony. Its insufficiency is based on the temporariness and ambiguity that stem from the haziness of an afterimage. In the center of the visual memory there is a jumpy image, in its essence extremely different from photography, which is culturally perceived as the medium bearing probative value. And yet, these representations maintain something that is worth taking a closer look at: these are belated “post-images,” returns to specific, often non-anonymous people, to traumatic events remembered as extreme and shocking, and not as common nor morbidly thrilling. In the end, not only affectively, but also functionally, they turn out to exceed limitations that are related to the visual expression typical for external strategies toward the Shoah (Nader’s “facing the Holocaust”). They become related to the images produced by victims, those reporting “from the Holocaust.” Even in cases when—as in the “commissioned sketches”—the artist is not capable of reaching the detailed intensity of the experience, the image still remains an extremely rare non-perpetrator’s record of scenes from the dispersed Holocaust. Even this sole reason makes them worth granting the status of visual information of great importance.41

Translated by Aleksandra Szymczyk

Information on research funding: The paper was written within the research project Nieupamiętnione miejsca ludobójstwa i ich wpływ na współczesne procesy wytwarzania form pamięci kolektywnej i tożsamości kulturowej w Polsce [Uncommemorated Genocide Sites and Their Impact on Collective Memory, Cultural Identity, Ethical Attitudes and Intercultural Relations in Contemporary Poland] (2016-2020), Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the National Program for the Development of Humanities, registration number of the project: 2aH 15 0121 83.


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Sendyka, Roma. “Bystanders as Visual Subjects: Onlookers, Spectators, Observers, Gawkers in Occupied Poland.” In Probing the Limits of Categorization: The Bystander in Holocaust History, edited by Christina Morina and Krijn Thijs, 52-71. New York: Bergham Books, 2019.

— “Od obserwatorów do gapiów. Kategoria bystanders i analiza wizualna,” Teksty Drugie, no. 3 (2018): 117-130.

— “Poświadek, przeciw-postronny i (niczyja) trauma”/ ”Post-witness, counter-bystander and the (unclaimed) experience.” Translated by Łukasz Mojsak. Widok. Teorie i praktyki kultury wizualnej, no. 18 (2017). https://​www​.pismowidok​.org/​e​n​/​a​r​c​h​i​v​e​/​2​0​1​7​/​1​8​-​p​h​a​n​t​o​m​-​h​i​s​t​o​r​i​e​s​/​p​o​s​t​-​w​i​t​n​e​s​s​-​c​o​u​n​t​e​r​-​b​y​s​t​a​n​d​e​r​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​u​n​c​l​a​i​m​e​d​-​e​x​p​e​r​i​e​nce

Poza obozem. Nie-miejsca pamięci—próba rozpoznania. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, 2020 (in print).

— “Pryzma—zrozumieć nie-miejsce pamięci,” Teksty Drugie, no. 1-2 (2012): 323-344.

Sendyka, Roma, Karina Jarzyńska, Maria Kobielska, Jakub Muchowski, and Aleksandra Szczepan, eds. Nie-miejsca pamięci. Elementarz. Cracow: Ośrodek Badań nad Kulturami Pamięci UJ, 2017.

Struk, Janina. Holokaust w fotografiach. Interpretacje dowodów. Warsaw: Prószyński i S-ka 2007.

Szczepan, Aleksandra. “O wystawianiu historii. Świadek historii na scenie zbrodni.” Teksty Drugie, no. 3 (2018): 309-323.

Szczepan, Aleksandra, and Kinga Siewior. “Nekrokartografie: topografie i topologie nie-miejsc pamięci.” In Nie-miejsca pamięci (2). Nekrotopologie, edited by Roma Sendyka, Aleksandra Janus, Karina Jarzyńska, and Kinga Siewior. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, 2020 (in print).

Vanagaitė, Rūta, and Efraim Zuroff. Nasi. Podróżując z wrogiem. Translated by Krzysztof Mazurek. Warsaw: Czarna Owca, 2016.

Internet websites:












Documents analyzed:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Oral History Department, file no. 1998.A.0221.20; RG-50.473.0020.

Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma in Warsaw, Józef Charyton’s account (February 6, 1963), file no. 301/6133.

  1. Omer Bartov, “Eastern Europe as the Site of Genocide,” The Journal of Modern History, no. 3 (2008): 570. (My emphasis). ↩︎
  2. The scale of violence becomes clear due to research on executions in the Eastern Front carried out by the Einsatzgruppen. See: Dieter Pohl, “Historiography and Nazi Killing Sites,” in: Killing Sites—Research and Remembrance, International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, IHRA series, vol. 1 (Berlin: Metropol Verlag, 2015), 37. Also see: Bartov. In the article, I focus on representations of sites that usually remain uncommemorated. I call them “non-sites of memory” (see: “Prism: Understanding Non-Sites of Memory,” trans. Jennifer Croft, Teksty Drugie, no. 2 (2015): 13–28. ↩︎
  3. See, for instance: Janina Struk, Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence (New York: Routledge, 2020); Petra Bopp, “Images of Violence in Wehrmacht Soldiers’ Private Photo Albums,” in Violence and Visibility in Modern History, eds. Jürgen Matschukat and Silvan Niedermeier (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015): 181-197; Christophe Busch, “Bonding Images: Photography and Film as Acts of Perpetration,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, no. 12 (2018): 54-83. ↩︎
  4. Jacek Leociak, “Wyjście z grobu” [Exiting the Grave], Teksty Drugie, no. 5 (2004): 48-63. ↩︎
  5. On the necessity of distinguishing subjects using their sense of sight (onlookers, spectators, observers, and gawkers of the Holocaust) I have written in: “Od obserwatorów do gapiów. Kategoria bystanders i analiza wizualna,” Teksty Drugie, no. 3 (2018): 117-130, and “Bystanders as Visual Subjects: Onlookers, Spectators, Observers, Gawkers in Occupied Poland,” in Probing the Limits of Categorization: The Bystander in Holocaust History, eds. Christina Morina and Krijn Thijs (New York: Bergham Books, 2019), 52-71. ↩︎
  6. ‘Art facing the Holocaust’ [sztuka wobec Zagłady] is understood as works addressing the Holocaust (including in its least obvious aspects), created by an extremely internally diverse group, generally described as bystanders,” Luiza Nader, “Polscy obserwatorzy Zagłady. Studium przypadków z zakresu sztuk wizualnych—uwagi wstępne” [Polish Observers of the Holocaust. Case Studies Drawn from the Visual Arts—Initial Remarks], Zagłada Żydów. Studia i Materiały, no. 14 (2018): 169. ↩︎
  7. Terribly Close. Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust, The Ethnographic Museum in Cracow, 2018-19, curators: Erica Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Magdalena Zych, Wojciech Wilczyk. See: http://​widokzzabliska​.eu/ and http://​www​.terriblyclose​.eu/ (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  8. Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff, Nasi. Podróżując z wrogiem [Our People. Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust], trans. Krzysztof Mazurek (Warsaw: Czarna Owca, 2016), 158. ↩︎
  9. On September 9, 1941, the Einsatzgruppen together with the Lithuanian Police within few hours, executed 740 Jews—67 men, 370 women, 303 children; according to other sources, the number of victims was as high as 1400.” See https://​sztetl​.org​.pl/​p​l​/​m​i​e​j​s​c​o​w​o​s​c​i​/​b​/​1​6​2​6​-​b​u​t​r​y​m​a​n​c​e​/​9​9​-​h​i​s​t​o​r​i​a​-​s​p​o​l​e​c​z​n​o​s​c​i​/​1​3​7​1​4​6​-​h​i​s​t​o​r​i​a​-​s​p​o​l​e​c​z​n​o​sci. (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  10. Vanagaitė, Zuroff, 200. ↩︎
  11. See the biography at https://​lt​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​A​n​t​a​n​a​s​_​K​m​i​e​l​i​a​u​s​kas (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  12. Vanagaitė, Zuroff, 199. ↩︎
  13. See also this article on maps sketched in such situations: Aleksandra Szczepan and Kinga Siewior, “Nekrokartografie: topografie i topologie nie-miejsc pamięci” [Necrocartography: Topographies and topologies of the Non-Sites of Memory], in Nie-miejsca pamięci (2). Nekrotopologie, [Non-sites of Memory (2). Necrotopologies], eds. Roma Sendyka, Aleksandra Janus, Karina Jarzyńska, and Kinga Siewior (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, 2020) (in print). ↩︎
  14. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Oral History Department, file no. 1998.A.0221.20; RG-50.473.0020. ↩︎
  15. Video: https://​collections​.ushmm​.org/​s​e​a​r​c​h​/​c​a​t​a​l​o​g​/​i​r​n​5​0​8​574 (accessed: 03.21.2020); English transcription: https://​collections​.ushmm​.org/​o​h​_​f​i​n​d​i​n​g​a​i​d​s​/​R​G​-​5​0​.​4​7​3​.​0​0​2​0​_​t​r​s​_​e​n​.​pdf (accessed: 03.21.2020). ↩︎
  16. See video from c. minute 32-36. ↩︎
  17. Patrick Desbois, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, trans. Paul Shapiro (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 172. ↩︎
  18. Stanisław August Poniatowski (1732-1798) was the last monarch of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. After the partitions of Poland he lived in St. Petersburg, where he died. Independent post-1918 Poland negotiated bringing back his coffin. The negotiations with the communist Russia were kept secret due to anti-soviet policy of the Polish government. The repatriation of the corpse of the king, and his burial in his native Wołczyn were finalized in 1938. The outbreak of World War II, and the attack of the Red Army on Poland made his resting place become incorporated into Soviet Russia. New negotiations to bring the king’s remains to Poland restarted in 1988, the final burial in Warsaw took place in 1995. ↩︎
  19. Marian Brandys, Strażnik Królewskiego Grobu [The Guardian of King’s Grave] (Warsaw: Iskry, 1984), 56. ↩︎
  20. The author states that many of his works were lost during the war, other pieces got into private hands, and the most extensive series was sold to ŻIH. See Józef Charyton’s account (February 6, 1963), Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma (ŻIH) [Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute] in Warsaw, file no. 301/6133. Charyton’s works are also part of the collection of Yad Vashem and the Podlaskie Museum in Białystok. The “Bioregion” Association runs the digital archive of Charyton’s works: http://​www​.nawschodzie​.pl/​o​b​r​a​z​y​_​p​a​m​i​e​c​i​.​h​tml (accessed: 03.21.2020). ↩︎
  21. Brandys, 55. ↩︎
  22. The ŻIH collection includes 111 works. The “Bioregion” Association website mentions the purchase of 185 sketches: http://​www​.nawschodzie​.pl/​9​/​3​.​h​tml (accessed: 08/20/2019). ↩︎
  23. All Charyton’s statements quoted above come from his account provided to ŻIH on February 6, 1963, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma w Warszawie, file no. 301/6133. ↩︎
  24. All the quotes after the document: ŻIH no. 301/6133. ↩︎
  25. Two sketches can be found in the ŻIH archive, one can be seen on the “Bioregion” Association website: (sketches: Fotografowanie [Taking Photographs] and Fotografowanie na pamiątkę [Taking Photographs to Keep], a third is untitled). See http://​www​.nawschodzie​.pl/​9​/​2​8​.​h​tml (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  26. See the sketch presented on the “Bioregion” Association website: http://​www​.nawschodzie​.pl/​9​/​3​.​h​tml (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  27. Two variants can be found in the ŻIH archive, one on the “Bioregion” Association website: http://​www​.nawschodzie​.pl/​9​/​4​.​h​tml (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  28. Brandys, 56. ↩︎
  29. Quote after an unpublished MA thesis: Zdzisław Chodakowski, “Józef Charyton. Życie i twórczość” [Józef Charyton. Life and Work], MA Thesis, Wyższa Szkoła Rolniczo-Pedagogiczna w Siedlcach, 1979, 76. I would like to express my gratitude to the “Bioregion” Association for enabling me the access to the Józef Charyton archive in Nurzec. See also Norbert Mojżyn, “Symboliczna wartość obrazowania zagłady w malarstwie Józefa Charytona,” [The Symbolic Value of Depicting the Holocaust in Józef Charyton’s Paintings] Studia Teologiczne 204, no. 22, 295-315. I also mention Charyton in Bystanders as Visual Subject as well as in an article which constituted the introduction to the approach presented here: Roma Sendyka, “Holocaust by Bullets: Expanding the Field of Holocaust Art,” EHRI Newsletter, March year 2016 (http://​www​.ehri​-project​.eu/​w​e​b​f​m​_​s​e​n​d​/​433) (accessed: 04.20.2020). ↩︎
  30. See Felix Ackerman, “Eine Reise mit Tante Malka,” Berliner Zeitung Magazin, July 22-23, 2017, 4-5. ↩︎
  31. See, for example, the description of the exhibition from 2016, presented at Facultat de Geografia i Història, Universitat de València, zob. https://​www​.uv​.es/​g​e​o​h​d​o​c​s​/​n​o​t​i​c​i​a​s​/​C​u​r​s​_​2​0​1​5​_​1​6​/​L​a​_​S​h​o​a​p​o​r​b​a​l​a​s​c​s​.​pdf (accessed: 04.21.2020). ↩︎
  32. Lipa’s four works on the pre-war Jewish Wielopole can be found at LAMOTH (Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust), sig. RG-1417.01-04 (the card contains a mistake regarding the painter’s name). A documentary film prepared at the request of the Teitelbaum Family (private archive, dir. Katka Reszke, Sławomir Grünberg, 2012) presents the story about the Teitelbaums’ visit to Wielopole in 2012, as well as purchasing a painting from the artist and the decision to donate the work to the museum. ↩︎
  33. See section with biographies, Konteksty, no. 1-2 (2015): 546. This issue of Konteksty was dedicated to Tadeusz Kantor. Lipa, as a resident of Wielopole, was presented as an artist and historian who testifies on the death of Jews from Wielopole. ↩︎
  34. Roman Lipa, Okupacyjne wspomnienia—pamiętnik autora [Memoir from Occupation Times—Author’s Journal] (Wielopole: Wirtualny Sztetl POLIN, 2002), 23. https://​sztetl​.org​.pl/​p​l​/​m​i​e​j​s​c​o​w​o​s​c​i​/​w​/​2​2​7​-​w​i​e​l​o​p​o​l​e​-​s​k​r​z​y​n​s​k​i​e​/​1​1​4​-​c​m​e​n​t​a​r​z​e​/​3​8​3​7​9​-​c​m​e​n​t​a​r​z​-​z​y​d​o​w​s​k​i​-​w​-​w​i​e​l​o​p​olu (accessed: 08.20.2019). ↩︎
  35. See: Ackerman, 5. See also; Aleksandra Domaradzka, “Drodzy nieobecni” [Dearly Departed], Konteksty, no. 1-2 (2015):160-162, and explanations in the Teitelbaums’ film. ↩︎
  36. Roman Lipa, “Likwidacja Żydów” [Extermination of Jews], Konteksty, no. 1-2 (2015): 158. ↩︎
  37. Lipa, 159. ↩︎
  38. Jagoda Gutowska, “Wielopolski człowiek renesansu” [A Renaissance Man from Wielopole], Konteksty, no. 1-2 (2015): 139. ↩︎
  39. The exhibition Gdzie jest brat twój, Abel? [Where is thy brother, Abel?], at the National Gallery Zachęta was curated by Anda Rottenberg. ↩︎
  40. Doreet LeVitte-Harten, “The Motion of Pain on Colour,” in Gdzie jest brat twój, Abel? [Where is thy brother, Abel?] (Warsaw: Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, 1995), 23. ↩︎
  41. The article constitutes part of a more extensive work: Oględziny miejsca zbrodni [Investigating the Crime Scene], prepared as a fragment of work: Roma Sendyka, Poza obozem. Nie-miejsca pamięci—próba rozpoznania [Beyond the Camp. The Non-Sites of Memory—Preliminary Diagnosis] (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, 2020, in print). I would like to thank to Michał Chojak (Yahad—In Unum) for information on Roman Lipa’s painting, Felix Ackerman for materials on the subject and drawing my attention to this interesting object. I am also very thankful to Michał Krasicki and Anna Duńczyk-Szulc from the Jewish Historical Institute for their enormous help and support during my research on Charyton’s documents. I would like to express my gratitude to the “Bioregion” Association for enabling me the access to Józef Charyton archive in Nurzec. And to Luiza Nader—for consultations and inspirations. ↩︎

Roma Sendyka

Przepraszamy, ten wpis jest dostępny tylko w języku Amerykański Angielski.


Roma Sendyka works at the Department of Literary Anthropology and Cultural Studies at the Faculty of Polish Studies at Jagiellonian University. Head of the Research Center for Memory Cultures, member of Kolektyw Kuratorski [The Curatorial Collective]. Her academic interests include literary and cultural, and especially studies on visual culture and memory cultures. Author of: Nowoczesny esej. Studium historycznej świadomości gatunku [Modern Essay. A Study of Historical Awareness of the Genre] (2006), Od kultury ja do kultury siebie [From Culture of Me to Culture of Myself] (2015), co-editor of several volumes related to memory studies. Co-editor of the Nowa Humanistyka series (IBL PAN). Currently she is working on the theory of non-sites of memory and visual aspects of the Holocaust. In 2011, she was visiting lecturer at the University of Chicago.

Scholarship holder of the Kościuszko Foundation, Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, ERSTE Stiftung (Vienna), and European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (NIOD, Amsterdam). Head of the research project: Awkward objects of genocide. Vernacular art on the Holocaust and ethnographic museums, developed within the project Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts: From Intervention to Co-Production (Horizon2020, Reflective Society, 2016-2019). Head of the research project Uncommemorated Genocide Sites and Their Impact on Collective Memory, Cultural Identity, Ethical Attitudes and Intercultural Relations in Contemporary Poland (Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the National Program for the Development of Humanities 2016, 2016-2019). Co-curator of the exhibition Widok zza bliska. Inne obrazy Zagłady [Terribly Close. Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust] (2018-2019). Since 2020, she has been the leader and co-manager (together with Magdalena Waligórska) of the project Polish Folk Art and the Holocaust: Perpetrator—Victim—Bystander Memory Transactions in the Polish German Context (DFG-NCN, Beethoven Classic). She is also PI in the Polish team in the project Challenging Populist Truth-Making in Europe. The Role of Museums in a Digital, Post-Truth European Society (CARMAH, Humboldt University of Berlin, run by Christoph Bareither). See: http://​www​.kulturypamieci​.polonistyka​.uj​.edu​.pl/​d​r​-​h​a​b​.​-​r​o​m​a​-​s​e​n​d​yka; http://​www​.widokzzabliska​.eu/;