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Grunwald Gallery photo exhibition focuses on Holocaust survivors, objects left behind

July 2011

An upcoming photography exhibition at Indiana University's Grunwald Gallery of Art features images of Holocaust survivors and the Bardejov, Slovakia community many were forced to abandon in the 1940s.


Artist: Yuri Dojc

SYNAGOGUE Kralovsky Chlmec, 2006

Print-Quality Photo

"Last Folio: A Photographic Journey with Yuri Dojc," which opens Sept. 2 and remains on display through Oct. 1, is made possible by a gift from Rita Grunwald in memory of John Grunwald.

In 2006, Dojc -- then a commercial photographer -- encountered an abandoned school in Bardejov where time seemed to have stood still since the day in 1942 when its students were forced into concentration camps. He found schoolbooks, still open, and notebooks full of corrections and reports. (Remarkably, later in his journey, Dojc came upon a book once owned by his own grandfather.)

At his father's funeral in 1997, Dojc encountered a Holocaust survivor, a meeting that resulted in his decision to take photographs of the Slovak survivors before it was too late. In his journey across the country, he followed the path detailed in a book his father had written on the country's Jewish heritage. Dojc took more than 150 portraits of Slovak Holocaust survivors, which went into his own recently published book Last Folio: Textures of Jewish Life in Slovakia (IU Press). The book also includes images of the ruins of schools, synagogues, mikvahs and cemeteries in what was once a vibrant community.

"We all strive to leave something behind, a mark that remains after we've left," Dojc said. "But there is almost nothing left of the people whose lives were cut short during the Holocaust. Photography allows me to build a private memorial to them. It is through these photos that I can pay homage to them and keep their memory alive. I can only hope that my images will speak to the visitors to this exhibition."

Dojc and filmmaker Katya Krausova, who joined him five years ago, have searched for and discovered objects saved by the last Slovak Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, while also collecting memories of how these remnants survived.

In one instance, a man who heard that his town's mayor was going to destroy a synagogue to make way for a parking lot moved in with his neighbor and donated his own home to store the books rescued from the neglected synagogue. The books remain in this house 30 years later.

Dojc and Krausova met a man who had purchased an old synagogue and wanted to transform it into "the largest disco in Central Europe." He allowed them to take photographs of the once-majestic building that now stands empty and dilapidated.

"Yuri and I travelled many roads to small towns and tiny hamlets all over the country, meeting people and finding remnants of lives and fragments of memories," Krausova said. "Retracing the experiences of our families, and the worlds in which they lived and died, has been an enormously powerful journey that has been emotional, spiritual and deeply personal."

Photographs of the schoolbooks Dojc found in Bardejov are the centerpiece of the exhibition, which was designed by Daniel Weil (Pentagram).

Also featured are portraits of Holocaust survivors that capture the poignant ruins of schools, synagogues and cemeteries. Dojc's images speak of the destruction of time, the power of memory and the poignancy of the importance of preservation. Each image is rich with layers of material information, a fragment of what once was. Each photograph communicates the power embodied in these abandoned places and includes a documentary created by Krausova that follows Dojc through Slovakia.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Dojc arrived in North America as a refugee in 1969. Four decades later, his photographs adorn the walls of private collections and galleries all over the world, including the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the National Museum of Slovakia and the Library of Congress. In 2001, he received the Medal of Honor from the Slovak Ambassador to the United States for "We Endured," a series of portraits of Holocaust survivors.

Krausova is an independent television producer/director whose work has been broadcast on national television channels and screened at prestigious film festivals around the world. She arrived in Britain following the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and is a director of a leading United Kingdom independent film and television production company, Portobello Media and Portobello Pictures, which won the 1997 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Kolya.

The exhibit will be in the Grunwald Gallery of Art -- formerly called the IU School of Fine Arts (SoFA) Gallery -- which was named in honor of John A. Grunwald. His widow, Rita, provided a significant endowed gift to IU and decided to name the Grunwald Gallery when initially discussing the idea for this exhibition, which holds great significance to her and her family.

"Everything that you've read or seen about children and the Holocaust, John experienced that," she said. "Because Slovak Jews predominantly spoke Hungarian, sponsoring this exhibit and its visit to Bloomington seemed a perfect way to honor his memory. John and I did not have any children, and I wanted to find a way to perpetuate the Grunwald name. I've been thinking about how to do this for a long time."

John Grunwald, who died in 2009, was born in 1935, in Budapest, Hungary, to Jewish parents. He survived the Holocaust in Europe, and came to New York in 1950. He completed an undergraduate degree in economics in 1956 at IU, where he and Rita met. After living in England and elsewhere, John and Rita returned to live in Bloomington. John spent his professional career with the David R. Webb hardwood veneer company, starting as a part-time trainee and rising to become the company's chief executive officer. He particularly enjoyed the rich local culture and actively participated in and supported all the arts IU offered. He was also a devoted participant in the Hungarian Studies Program and mentored international students enrolled in the IU Kelley School of Business.

Upcoming events at Grunwald Gallery

"Last Folio: A Symposium." Thursday, Sept. 1, 3 p.m.-5 p.m., IU Cinema.

"Art and Memory: A Discussion with Yuri Dojic and Katya Krausovaz." Friday, Sept. 2, 5:30 p.m., Grunwald Gallery.

"Grunwald Gallery Naming Ceremony." Friday, Sept. 2, 6:15 p.m., Grunwald Gallery.

Opening Reception. Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m.-8 p.m., Grunwald Gallery.

The Grunwald Gallery of Art is located at 1201 E. 7th St. Phone: 812-855-8490. Website: Email: Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, noon-4 p.m. or by appointment.