In­ter­twin­ing the past and now

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Luce Mill­ford

Inna Ro­gatchi is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed writer, scholar, lec­turer, film­maker and art photograph­er. In her work, she fo­cuses on the in­ter­weav­ing of his­tory, cul­ture and men­tal­ity with the topic of the Holo­caust be­ing at the cusp. Dr. Ro­gatchi is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Di­plo­maa­tia, the lead­ing po­lit­i­cal mag­a­zine in Es­to­nia, to The Jerusalem Con­nec­tion Re­port, a highly re­puted on­line pub­li­ca­tion in the USA, to Arutz Sheva, the Is­raeli Na­tional News Ser­vice, to the Eretz Is­rael, one of the most pop­u­lar on­line pub­li­ca­tions on Jewish themes and mat­ters. She is the au­thor of sev­eral no­table books, among which are: The Shat­tered Gen­er­a­tion, or The Ten Com­mand­ments in the USSR (1992), a mul­ti­fac­eted, com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of Rus­sian so­ci­ety and men­tal­ity, short-listed for the Rus­sian Booker Prize. As an aca­demic ad­vi­sor, Inna is very busy with ad­vis­ing se­nior mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, many Euro­pean Par­lia­ments and their mem­bers, as well as lead­ing in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies, and the com­pa­nies and in­sti­tu­tions that pro­vide in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to the multi-sided man­age­ment of cri­sis sit­u­a­tions. Her lat­est project is a photo ex­hi­bi­tion Baltic Winds of Mem­ory: Baltic Mo­tives in Inna Ro­gatchi’s Shin­ing Souls, Cham­pi­ons of Hu­man­ity project. The Baltic Times spoke to I. Ro­gatchi about it.

Inna, your new project will be hav­ing its Euro­pean Pre­miere and will be in­au­gu­rated at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in com­mem­o­ra­tion events of the In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day 2017 in Brus­sels. One of the works in your se­ries is called Baltic Winds. The Way of Light, and there are some per­son­al­i­ties whom you fea­ture in this project with strong ties to the Baltic re­gion, as well. Can you tell us more about it?

In my work on the theme of the Holo­caust and postholo­caust, the Baltic re­gion plays a very im­por­tant role. I have spent a lot of time work­ing on the theme in Lithua­nia, Poland, and to a lesser ex­tent, in Es­to­nia and Latvia, re­search­ing, film­ing and pho­tograph­ing there, talk­ing with sur­vivors and his­to­ri­ans. That ex­pe­ri­ence, the Baltic di­men­sion of the Shoah, is vi­tal for me in my un­der­stand­ing of the Holo­caust. I do be­lieve in a real feel of his­tory, and I am try­ing to get such a feel at the very places the night­mares of the Holo­caust took place, such as-pane­r­iai For­est which is fea­tured in sev­eral of my works from this col­lec­tion, Vilna Ghetto, and var­i­ous places in Es­to­nia, Latvia and Poland.

It might sound like a cliche, but I am sure that in the process of an ad­e­quate com­pre­hen­sion of his­tory, es­pe­cially in the cases of the events where emo­tions are in­volved – and any hu­man life does in­volve emo­tion – a re­searcher, writer, or a good his­to­rian would not be able to do it, in my view, with­out be­ing phys­i­cally present at the places he or she is writ­ing and re­search­ing about. And it is dou­bly so with re­gard to the Holo­caust.

Hav­ing re­searched it for a long time, and with its wide ge­og­ra­phy, I can tell you that each of those places is unique and ut­terly char­ac­ter­is­tic. This might sound like a para­dox, as the crimes com­mit­ted by the Nazis were uni­ver­sal in their own ob­jec­tive. But to me, ev­ery sin­gle place of the Shoah speaks in its own voice and cries in its own way.

Was there any­thing pe­cu­liar in your artis­tic work on the Holo­caust theme here in the Baltic re­gion?

Yes, def­i­nitely. Speak­ing about the Baltic di­men­sion, I have no­ticed that all around the world, peo­ple are re­act­ing to my pho­tog­ra­phy from Pane­r­iai For­est and ravines very pow­er­fully. I was very ner­vous be­fore go­ing to work in Pane­r­iai for the first time. I was think­ing that the hor­ror there would be un­bear­able, I was not sure what would come out of my ef­forts there, and how I would be able to work there steadily while film­ing and pho­tograph­ing. But my fears were wrong. Quite sur­pris­ingly, the at­mos­phere in the Pane­r­iai For­est was serene and peace­ful, al­though so ex­tremely sad. My pho­tog­ra­phy works from Pane­r­iai For­est mes­merise peo­ple, and many of them say that they can look at the pho­to­graphs from there for a very long time and think about many things. They do feel that unique at­mos­phere of the place look­ing at the pho­tos.

Some other places in the Baltic re­gion – like the Riga Ghetto or es­pe­cially Liepaja beach-front in Latvia - have come across to me as cold and steely, where the destiny of Jewish peo­ple had been sealed off with­out sen­ti­ment or hope. The open space makes a re­mark­able con­trast to a crime. It makes this con­trast al­most un­bear­able in the case of Liepaja beach or the Danube em­bank­ment. The open space does not hide the crime and hor­ror in­flicted by it in the way a for­est does. And it is very dif­fi­cult to bear the shad­ows of the Holo­caust, es­pe­cially at the open spa­ces – but maybe, it is just my per­sonal per­cep­tion.

In some re­mark­able way, a hu­man be­ing al­ways tries to see light and hope, even un­der im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances. And we do know many just un­be­liev­able sto­ries of sur­vival in the Holo­caust de­struc­tion. I am very glad that one of such sto­ries is re­flected in my work Baltic Winds. The Way of Light ded­i­cated to Mar­ian Turski, a bril­liant Pol­ish and Euro­pean in­tel­lec­tual, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, who did find the light and brought this light to so many peo­ple dur­ing his long and bril­liant ca­reer, even un­der such cold winds, un­der some­times truly bleak Baltic skies.

Who else from the he­roes of your se­ries are con­nected with the Baltic re­gion, and in what way?

The ex­hi­bi­tion and project is built as pairs of art works, each pair fea­tur­ing known Jewish and non-jewish per­son­al­i­ties, whose des­tinies were marked by the Holo­caust and who were vic­tims and he­roes of it. Ad­di­tion­ally to Mar­ian Turski, the Holo­caust sur­vivor who had be­come the lead­ing Euro­pean in­tel­lec­tual and the chair­man of the POLIN Mu­seum, I ded­i­cated my work also to Rafael Ch­woles, an out­stand­ing artist who sur­vived the Holo­caust in the USSR, but whose fam­ily had been ex­ter­mi­nated in the Vilna Ghetto. All of his post-war life, first in War­saw, and then in Paris, Rafael Ch­woles lived think­ing about his ex­ter­mi­nated fam­ily ev­ery sin­gle day. But he did not project the dark­ness of his tor­ment onto his can­vasses. His su­perbly tal­ented art is just in­cred­i­bly warm and hu­man, es­pe­cially given the cir­cum­stances. And I am glad to re­mem­ber him in this project.

The other two peo­ple are Con­sul Chi­une Sugi­hara and Fa­ther Pa­trick Des­bois. The more I learn about the heroic man, Ja­panese diplo­mat Chi­une Sugi­hara, - and I am very grate­ful to his son Nobuki for the op­por­tu­nity to talk about his great fa­ther - , the more I ad­mire that man of stern in­tegrity and com­pas­sion­ate un­der­stand­ing of the value of hu­man life. My work ded­i­cated to Con­sul Chi­une Sugi­hara is called Some Sun in the For­est, and it has been pho­tographed in Lithua­nia, at the place where Sugi­hara did save the lives of thou­sands of peo­ple.

Fa­ther Pa­trick Des­bois has been un­der­tak­ing a re­mark­able mis­sion for many years now. With ad­mirable con­sis­tency and de­ter­mi­na­tion, de­spite all pos­si­ble and im­pos­si­ble hur­dles along the way, he is col­lect­ing first­hand ev­i­dence of the for­got­ten episodes of the Holo­caust at var­i­ous places in Eastern and Cen­tral Europe, and the for­mer Soviet Union. My art­work, which is homage to him and his mis­sion, is also pho­tographed in the Baltic re­gion. If some stones could speak, the stones from the Holo­caust mas­sacre locations cer­tainly are the ones. And our mem­ory, the ded­i­ca­tion to this mem­ory by some re­mark­able peo­ple, the cham­pi­ons of hu­man­ity like -- Fa­ther Des­bois, is tran­scend­ing this small but firm light of de­cency and com­pas­sion for all of us. It af­firms the best that a hu­man be­ing is ca­pa­ble of, and I am very grate­ful to all the Cham­pi­ons of Hu­man­ity for their coura­geous lives, their deeds and mis­sions which did bring hon­our to the vic­tims of the Holo­caust. The hon­our that they have been de­prived of so bru­tally, along with their very lives.

“In my work on the theme of the Holo­caust and post-holo­caust, the Baltic re­gion plays a very im­por­tant role. I have spent a lot of time work­ing on the theme in Lithua­nia, Poland, and to a lesser ex­tent in Es­to­nia and Latvia, re­search­ing, film­ing and pho­tograph­ing there, and talk­ing with sur­vivors and his­to­ri­ans. That ex­pe­ri­ence, the Baltic di­men­sion of the Shoah, is vi­tal for me in my un­der­stand­ing of the Holo­caust.”

Inna Ro­gatchi is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed writer, scholar, lec­turer, film­maker and art photograph­er

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