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A Conversation with Krzysztof Czyzewski

On the evening of April 9th, the Polish theater director, actor, and “practitioner of ideas,” Krzysztof Czyzewski, had a public conversation with Elzbieta Matynia and Jeffrey Goldfarb at the New School for Social Research. Czyzewski discussed his life course from actor in the avant-garde theater Gardzienice to a resident and activist in a remote northeastern corner of Poland, where Poland, Lithuania and Belarus meet, with Russia and Ukraine just down the road. He delves deeply in this “borderland” through living among and working with the people in the city of Sejny and the surrounding area.

In Gardzienice, Czyzewski and his colleagues talked with people of the localities, asking them to share their memories, stories, and traditions, using the encounters to create their world acclaimed art. But since the theater did not return to those communities, Czyzewski concluded that this schema planted a hope that was not actualized. Seeking a deeper, potluck-style exchange of ideas and culture, Czyzewski changed the format of his theater. In 1990, starting from Poznan with one horse-drawn wagon and one jeep, his group made the journey across Poland taking many months. Once living in Sejny, they began what came to be The Borderland Archipelago, including a foundation, a library, and a cultural center with a broad range of activities, among them the publishing house that published Jan Gross’s Neighbors in Polish.

Czyzewski, Matynia and Goldfarb discussed the physical, emotional and cultural broken bridges of the post-genocide, post-Soviet-occupied, very tense borderland. As Czyzewski stated, “When you try to build a bridge, you have to go to the ground — to the source of the memory — you can’t ignore it.” Below is an edited video of the conversation among three old friends and colleagues, Elzbieta, Jeff and “Kris,” exploring the work of artists and their neighbors in community — marked with memories of broken ties and betrayal — rebuilding broken bridges through theater, art, music and storytelling. Also below is the video of the audience’s response. -Ariel Merkel

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Ariel Merkel

  • janina

    It’s sad that after an expulsion and extermination many Polish people still do not understand thier own haritage.
    My family stayed in Poland after the Russians took over as Chatholics. The family name Finklestien was changed to Czerwinski. Now in america for three generations have been back to Poland with little satisfaction as to a tolorant multi-cultural Jewish place. And that is true of some sad societies that judge other peoples cultural heritage. What once was the “pardise of the Jew” is no longer Poland, because no practicing jews stayed unless fully becoming Christian! For the hidding Jew thier agony still consumes the lives of generations of people now spread throughout the globe. Your next work should be called “good bye poland” & show some of the hell the jewish dispora experirnced immigrating through out the world.

    • Janina, There has been much suffering by many people in Poland and among its neighbors, and the power of those to fight against expulsion and extermination has not been able to overcome the forces of genocide. But it is crucial to recognize that there are those who try to remember the victims and identify the perpetrators, even when that identification hits close to home. There are those who work to understand, such as Krzysztof Czyzewski and his colleagues of the Borderlands project. Paying attention to their work, including the publication of Jan Gross’s Neighbors and a remarkable honoring of the Jewish presence in small town, shtetl, of Sejny, is imperative. Blanket condemnations of an entire nation only continues the cycle of suffering and injustice.

      • janina

        It leaves me with many questions for
        Monsier Czyzewski:

        1.)Do we ever recover from this kind of genocide as a people?

        2.)Who will you/I be the person to
        help the persecuted to stand with them in the firing squad (Or drones)? Or will
        we, you and I be the destroyer or the destroyed?

        3.) How can we become more active in uniting people in cultural tolerance and still maintain cultural heritage?

        4.) Who is responsible for these tragedies?

        In The Jewish population, thankfully, some cultural anonymity would be preserved by speaking Hebrew and Yiddish, With their own language they would have made their own history.
        These people were victimized by being who they were and celebrating a culture and a faith. Others were also persecuted and killed for helping to hide
        Jewish men and not reveal the identity of Jewish women. It was an absolut horror and to try and sift through the rubble is a very hard task which is commendable and very profound for Krzysztof to be taking on.

        I would have to see the performance to critique it effectively, I am sure. There was a lot of feedback in the recording. If communities have questions and are looking for a broad network let me know I would love to work with them to connect with The Children of the Holocost, which is a group here in New York and possibly a national group. These stories of survivors and the progression of both the German and Russian fronts in the war are always eye opening.

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