Why They Left
Why They Left: Why did the Jews flee Eastern Europe for America?
I decided to make a documentary installation about antisemitism and the pogroms in Ukraine as the result of my interest in modern day terrorism. In 2005, I created a documentary about the victims of terrorism, The X-Ray Project, and spent the next six years touring universities, medical schools and art galleries. The conversations that I had with students, faculty, and the general public helped me to understand how large-scale events can be erased by the constraints of the social environment.
I remember a student who described the worry of a two week search for his family in Nairobi, Kenya, after an attack there. There was a student from Vietnam, a young man who was still struggling with English, who connected with the images and spent a long time making photos to send back to his family. But most of all, I remember the conversations with Jewish students who described difficulties on their campuses, students who expressed a range of worry, anger, fear and frustration with the political climate. Some of these students were from families that he been citizens of the United States for generations, and some were first generation immigrants, having arrived in the United States from Russia or Ukraine as children.
Artists have always commented on war and violence. Goya's portfolio, The Disasters of War, is perhaps the most graphic, but there are examples from the ancient Greeks through Picasso's Guernica, and beyond. Almost as soon as it became technically possible, the studio of photographer, Mathew Brady, made a record of the Civil War, including hundreds of images of soldiers in battle and death. This tradition has continued throughout every conflict to the present day. Photography is a way of making an image by drawing with the very light that the objects reflect, so when we look at objects of the Civil War battlefield of Antietam, we see something very close to the horror of the scenes as they appeared to the photographer. We see records of actual events. And when we look at images made of the pogroms, we see our own history, the history of our relatives before they came to America. This history is part of who we are.
These images were originally published in a catalog for an exhibition about the pogroms during the Russian Civil War (1917-1921). They were lost and forgotten for decades. With modern imaging techniques, we can bring them back to life.
© Diane Covert 2018