Ten pages of a testimony taken in Kraków in 1945 were all that seemed to exist of Paulina Hirsch, a Polish-Jewish woman who navigated her way throughout Nazi-occupied Poland. One of the thousands of testimonies taken by Poland’s Central Jewish Historical Committee at the end of World War II, Paulina's testimony is an official, impersonal account – the woman behind the text remains a mystery. An introductory note begins, "Sama" – She is alone.
When Michelle Levy asked Patrycja Dołowy to translate the testimony of her recently discovered ancestor, little did they know they had entered a web of events that had been unfolding over decades.
Asking what happens when one woman's account of survival is revisited in the very places where it transpired, Levy relocated to Poland to spend nine-months investigating Paulina's testimony together with Dołowy. The two women planned a journey, physically retracing Paulina’s wartime movement across Poland and Ukraine. In April 2019, guided by happenstance, the women embarked on a road trip to see what they would find...
PAULINA is an evolving multimedia storytelling performance. Presented as a dialogue between search and discovery, Levy and Dołowy summon archives, personal travel footage, maps, oral histories, foliage, and pieces of the earth, as tangible means to share what is truly ungraspable.
As we still grapple to comprehend the Holocaust and its echoes today, this project strives to overcome misunderstandings while seeking answers to difficult questions. Exploring relationships between people who were uprooted and those who stayed behind, it is an exchange between two women from the US and Poland – whose story together aims to inspire action and dialogue around caring for stories of others, strangers.
PAULINA has been developed in cooperation with POLIN Museum of Polish Jews, Warsaw; with additional research support by the Archive and Genealogy Departments of The Emmanual Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw; and Festivalt, Krakow. The project has been made possible through grants from Asylum Arts, New York; the US Embassy, Warsaw, Poland; and through Brooklyn Arts Council fiscal sponsorship, it has received donations from 90+ individuals.
Paulina - Performance in Progress, 2019. POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw. Photo: Agata Grzbowska