Intertwining the past and now
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