Glass Plates of Lublin: Found Photographs of a Lost Jewish World
A new publication from White Goat Press with the Grodzka Gate Theatre Centre, Lublin, Poland.
This gorgeous and haunting book contains black and white photographs recovered from glass plate negatives discovered in a pile of rubble in an attic at Rynek 4, Lublin, Poland. The photographs depict scenes of a vibrant Jewish community that was destroyed and irretrievably lost during World War II.
For centuries Lublin was home to one of Europe’s most distinguished Jewish communities. These portraits, which date from around 1913 to the 1930s, showcase the diversity of the city and its Jewish community. In them we see signs of different political parties and members of various social classes; the construction and opening of the Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin, soon to be the largest yeshiva (Talmudic academy) in the world; and groups of left-wing and secular Jewish youngsters, such as members of Bund-affiliated youth groups. The images show the changes in prewar fashions, which reflect increasing Jewish secularization. Many of the pictures were taken in the Saxon Garden, Lublin’s “Central Park,” and in the nearby villages and towns of Nowodwór, Motycz, and Nałęczów, where Lublin residents used to go for vacation.
In the decade since this remarkable find, the collection has been thoroughly researched and analyzed. For years, no connection could be made between any known photographer and the negatives. In 2015, Jakub Chmielewski, then an associate of the Center and currently a researcher at the State Museum at Majdanek, discovered a new clue. In German documents from August 1940, he found an entry on the house at Rynek 4, along with the name “Abram Zylberberg” and the annotation “photographer.” Chmielewski’s discovery was the first, and still the only, serious indication of the negatives’ authorship. The discovery was later confirmed when one of the plates was found bearing the signature “Photo Zylberberg. Lublin.”
The mystery of the people in the photographs is also one we hope to solve, at least in part. Last fall, following a public program about the photographs, an audience member was able to identify one of the women in a photograph as her aunt, who was killed in the Holocaust. We encourage readers to contact us with any addition information that will help in the continued efforts to identify the unnamed individuals.
To learn more about this amazing story, watch this previously recorded program with the book’s editors Aaron Lansky, Lisa Newman and Piotr Nazaruk, moderated By Leora Tec.