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Gone

Yuri Dojc, a Canadian photographer born in Slovakia, photographed abandoned prayer books in his family’s ancestral village, where he uncovered a life the Nazis destroyed and his relatives refused to discuss

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A prayer book found in a school in the town of Bardejov. (Photographs by Yuri Dojc)

Entering the Last Folio exhibit of photographs at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, visitors are greeted by stares. These are the weary, aged faces of Slovakia’s remaining Holocaust survivors, whom Slovakian-born photographer Yuri Dojc began documenting in the late 1990s. Most are no longer alive.

Dojc, a commercial photographer who has lived in Canada since his family left Slovakia in 1968, returned to visit several towns, including his family’s onetime home, where he learned about the fate of its Jews during the Holocaust, a history his relatives refused to talk about. Dojc’s project shifted with the discovery, during a trip to Slovakia to interview survivors, of abandoned prayer books in long-empty synagogues and schoolhouses that had gone untouched since the Nazis deported Slovakia’s Jews to concentration camps.

The photography exhibit, which opened this week, moves from the hallway of portraits into a light-filled, six-sided room featuring breathtaking images of prayer books in various stages of physical decay and sustaining damage far greater than the wear and tear of everyday use. Katya Krausova, a London-based filmmaker, traveled with Dojc through Slovakia and her documentary plays in the exhibition space.

The layout of the exhibit reflects the genesis of the project and Dojc’s personal journey—the pair discovered a prayer book belonging to Dojc’s grandfather, whom he never met, among the unearthed volumes. The books star in the photographs, commanding attention while revealing layer after layer of abandonment by society and destruction by nature. Yet Dojc believes these books—and all books, for that matter—possess an enchanting, transcending quality. The photographs are about beauty and decay, he explained before the exhibit’s opening: “beauty in decay.”

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Thank you for documenting this. Between the style of photography and the subject matter, the outcome is profound. Just as it should be to capture the depth of what happened.

Scott-Martin Kosofsky says:

Thank you for showing the achingly beautiful work of Yuri Dojc, one of the very best artists to document the vanished worlds of European Jewry. I recommend highly a visit to his website, where one can see more of the series, as well as selections from his other projects, including remarkable photographs from Rwanda and Russia. Among my favorites in the Slovakia series is a disturbing image that looks at first like a nest of snakes, but is, I believe, a disintegrating pile of retzu’ot, the straps from t’fillin.

D'vorah says:

The photographs are magnificent. I only wish I lived in New York and could go see the exhibit in person. They are haunting images of a lost place, people and time. Thank you for including this in Table Magazine. I learned about your magazine just a few weeks ago from a friend in my Chavurah and decided to go to your website and have a look. I was so impressed I signed up for a daily subscription and I am SO glad I did! Every morning when I open my email I receive a digital treat that lasts me all day long! Thank you.

sarah says:

how poignant and moving,are there any Jewish facilities at all left which still operate?

Rebecca says:

thank you, perhaps my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s book is also there.

Absolutely breathtaking! I can almost see the hands holding the sefsrim, and the fingers turning pages! Eeery also to see the lonely synagogues bereft of worshippers. Oh, how cruel people can be.

sell them on ebay and make a few sheckels

Oliver Pollak says:

Awesome, tear wrenching, the power of photography to capture stilled life, and Tablet to transmit it to ready readers.

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Gone

Yuri Dojc, a Canadian photographer born in Slovakia, photographed abandoned prayer books in his family’s ancestral village, where he uncovered a life the Nazis destroyed and his relatives refused to discuss

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