In the town of Zator, in southern Poland, a residential courtyard appears to contain little of note.
A subsequent image of paving stones seems to have been taken by mistake, as if the camera’s shutter triggered itself.
And yet the photographer’s curious perspective is deliberate. A paving stone is overturned, and a Jewish gravestone, or matzeva, is unearthed.
Similarly, the cobbled surface of a square in the town of Inowrocław, in northern Poland, appears ordinary enough to begin with. Anonymous cobblestones lead past a local high school.
Upon closer inspection, though, a trace of Hebrew lettering comes into focus.
This pattern repeats itself throughout Baksik’s monograph: The eye shifts from a long shot of apparent everyday banality to details that topsy-turvy any semblance of normalcy. Eventually, the viewer’s eye learns to be warily inquisitive from the beginning of each sequence.
A storage building in the village of Milejczyce, in northeastern Poland.
Even when photographed from only a short distance, the building leaves one no reason to believe it is anything but an unremarkable brick edifice used for housing farm equipment.
It is only when one notices the foundation’s cornerstone that Baksik’s interest in this particular storage building becomes apparent.
A sandbox in the city of Szczecin, in northwestern Poland.
One of the sandbox’s inconspicuous corners.
Sand is removed, revealing a foundation comprised of a Jewish headstone, tipped on its side and set into the ground.
A cowshed in Starowola by Parysów, a village in east-central Poland.
An irreligious patchwork of shattered matzevot, to the right of the cowshed’s doors, feels particularly profane. Inscriptions meant to preserve the memory of individuals are roughly stitched together like the flesh of Victor Frankenstein’s monster.
Baksik himself isn’t dispassionate, but his photographs are rigorously and formally rational: He doesn’t condemn by condemning; he condemns by showing.
School playing courts in Kazimierz Dolny, a town in eastern Poland. The schoolyard was built, in the 1950s, on the grounds of a Jewish cemetery.
The wall behind the basketball court. The playing surface itself was recently renovated, and yet matzevot used to patch holes in the wall many decades before were left untouched. They remain in place up to the present day.
The school’s director, Baksik relates, was unconcerned. He didn’t see an issue in having children run back and forth past the embedded matzevot on a daily basis. The matzevot had been there long enough to become normal, the reasoning went, and to remove them would have been to yield to an excessively emotional impulse.
Family plot in a Protestant cemetery in Gołkowice, a village in southern Poland.
A view from behind the gravesite reveals the headstone’s provenance: A matzeva has been appropriated. The graveyard itself is cared for, well-maintained. For those who tend the graveyard, the undisguised presence of this looted Jewish gravestone does not pose a threat to order or propriety.
In a cemetery in the town of Topczewo, in northeastern Poland, a Catholic gravestone has been primitively carved out of a matzeva.
“The cemetery plundering makes me wonder,” says Baksik in an interview, reprinted within his book. “After all, a cemetery is a holy place for Poles, for Catholics, as well. We get upset when someone vandalizes the Lwów Eaglets Cemetery, overturning a tombstone or a cross. But we are utterly immune to what happens to Jewish gravestones.”
In the town of Brok, in eastern Poland, the interior of a workshop contains a mounted grindstone carved from a matzeva.
For him who uses the matzeva-derived grindstone—bound as he is, Baksik emphasizes, by multiple cemetery-specific taboos, wary of irreligious trespass, and well-schooled in the consequences of profanation—to live and work in close proximity to looted gravestones, and with apparent spiritual equanimity, is only possible if the matzevot themselves do not register as being representative of fellow human beings.
In the process of assembling his record, Baksik unearthed fragments of lives lived. In Kazimierz Dolny, the “abridged” Hebrew on a grindstone speaks of Miriam, “a woman modest and beloved, zealous in observing the commandment to light the candles.” She died in 1914. The name of her father—“blessed in memory”—is only partially legible, notes Baksik, “because that was where the shaft of a crank was hammered in.”