An evolving performance between life and death,
the Holocaust and now, and Poland and the U.S.
In 2019, two women from different worlds embarked on an adventure across Poland and Ukraine, following clues from a stranger's story that had been serendipitously placed in their care.
Named after our heroine, Paulina Hirsch (b. 1902, Kraków, PL), PAULINA is a chronicle that unfolds through research, travel, translation, digging, planting, trust, imagination, and friendship. It is presented as a conversation between living protagonists Patrycja Dołowy (Warsaw) and Michelle Levy (New York), artist/storytellers who, responding to the echos of the unresolved past, set out to bring life to the story of a woman who could no longer speak for herself. While they didn't quite know what they were looking for, what they found was beyond any expectation.
PAULINA, the multi-media performance, is being developed over 2020 - 2021, in collaboration with Director Kathleen Amshoff.
Who was Paulina?
Ten fading pages of a testimony written in Polish in Kraków,1945, were all that seemed to exist of Paulina Hirsch, a Polish-Jewish woman in her forties who, "passing" as Polish, fended her way throughout Nazi-occupied Poland. One of the thousands of survivor testimonies taken by Poland’s Central Jewish Historical Committee at the end of World War II, Paulina's testimony is an official, impersonal account. It is filled with facts and details – addresses of places she went, names of people who helped her – but the woman behind the text remains a mystery. When the war began she had a husband and daughter, but the notetaker's introduction states, "Sama" – She is alone.
While doing research in Warsaw in 2017, Michelle was given the testimony of her supposed long-lost relative, Paulina Hirsch. She asked Patrycja, whom she had just met, to translate the testimony. Over a few hours in a warm cafe on an icy Warsaw February day, the lives of three women became intertwined.
Patrycja, a member of the small Jewish community remaining in Poland, had been living with the ghosts for a long time.
She was familiar with testimonies like Paulina's, although this one was different than any she had read before. It would take both women a long time to understand why.