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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Holocaust Memory

editorial3 March 2020

Daniel Véri

In Karol Tchorek’s studio a table is covered with material concerning the design and history of the so called Tchorek plaques. After the Second World War, people of Warsaw spontaneously started to commemorate in public spaces the various battles and executions that took place in the city during the Nazi occupation. A competition, organized in 1948, aimed to provide a standardized form for these initiatives.

The winning design was created by Karol Tchorek: on the memorial plaque a shield with a standardized inscription is placed in the middle of a Maltese cross, with an additional inscription below, explaining the specificities of each commemorated event. The general inscription translates as “This place is sanctified by the blood of Poles fighting for the freedom of their homeland.” The second inscription provides the details, including the number of victims, and also names the perpetrators, often worded as “Hitlerites”. Although according to the original concept for Jewish and Soviet victims a different type was designed, lacking the cross, in many cases the original form was used, with a shortened, standard inscription: “Honour their memory”. Many of these plaques are still scattered all around the city.

From the perspective of Holocaust-memory, they constitute an important, early initiative, even though their interpretation might be debated. On the one hand, the inscriptions separate “Poles” from “Jews”, thus creating an uneasy impression of Polish Jews being denied their “Polishness”. Yet on the on the other hand these plaques are rather straightforward, not shadowing the Jewish origin of the victims they aim to commemorate, as did for instance many Hungarian plaques at the time using the generalized expression: “victims of fascism”.