Contexts (of images and words)

The Road in Auschwitz by Georges Didi-Huberman, 2011. Photograph courtesy of the author.

Fragment of the e-mail to Georges Didi-Huberman* (23/05/2022)

“War is not only one of the ordeals—the greatest—of which morality lives; it renders morality derisory. The art of foreseeing war and winning it by every means—politics—is henceforth enjoined as the very exercise of reason. (...) In war reality rends the words and images that dissimulate it, to obtrude in its nudity and in its harshness” (Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, Emmanuel Lévinas).

What is striking in your photo is the perspective you called “depressing”. I juxtaposed this photo with a reproduction of Meindert Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middelharnis. When I was a student (that was half a century ago), the reproduction of this painting was used to teach perspective in art schools. Today the topic of perspective (in a broad sense) should be taught based on your photo of the road (Lagerstrasse A) in Auschwitz. 

Janusz Marciniak

*Georges Didi-Huberman one of the most outstanding contemporary philosophers and art historians, as well as the author of an insightful and at the same time moving photographic and word essay (a study of empathy) Écorces on Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

The Avenue at Middelharnis by Meindert Hobbema, 1689

Pacifism is the wrong response to the war in Ukraine

“For me, John Lennon’s mega-hit Imagine was always a song popular for the wrong reasons. Imagine that ‘the world will live as one’ is the best way to end in hell.

Those who cling to pacifism in the face of the Russian attack on Ukraine remain caught in their own version of ‘imagine’. Imagine a world in which tensions are no longer resolved through armed conflicts… Europe persisted in this world of ‘imagine’, ignoring the brutal reality outside its borders. Now it’s the time to awaken.”

“The true target of the war is the dismantlement of the European unity advocated not only by the US conservatives and Russia but also by the European extreme right and left – at this point, in France, Melenchon meets Le Pen.”

Fragments of the article Pacifism is the wrong response to the war in Ukraine by Slavoj Žižek,The Guardian,

Preschoolers in Red Army Uniforms, by Oleg Konstantinov (Ukrainian Organization for Security and Cooperation).

Childrenvictims of Russian propaganda

This photo of children–victims of Russian propaganda and forced militarization, taken by Oleg Konstantinov, tells not only about a destroyed childhood, but also about an ideology that is dangerous to the world.

Paul Celan



Nah sind wir, Herr,

nahe und greifbar.


Gegriffen schon, Herr,

ineinander verkrallt, als wär

der Leib eines jeden von uns

dein Leib, Herr.


Bete, Herr,

bete zu uns,

wir sind nah.


Windschief gingen wir hin,

gingen wir hin, uns zu bücken

nach Mulde und Maar.


Zur Tränke gingen wir, Herr.


Es war Blut, es war,

was du vergossen, Herr.


Es glänzte.


Es warf uns dein Bild in die Augen, Herr.

Augen und Mund stehn so offen und leer, Herr.

Wir haben getrunken, Herr.

Das Blut und das Bild, das im Blut war, Herr.


Bete, Herr.

Wir sind nah.

Anselm Kiefer’s exhibition For Paul Celan

From December 22, 2021, to January 17, 2022, the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris held Anselm Kiefer’s exhibition For Paul Celan. This exhibition turned out to be prophetic. A few weeks later, Russia launched a war in Ukraine. Celan was born in Chernivtsi. This Ukrainian city is part of Celan’s biography, but also of our collective memory. Today in Ukraine tragic history repeats itself.

Anselm Kiefer: Pour Paul Celan by Ana Beatriz Duarte, Studio International:

How Paul Celan Reconceived Language for a Post-Holocaust World by Ruth Franklin, The New Yorker:

Child of Europe by Czesław Miłosz, a manuscript of the French translation by Jeanne Hersch. Private collection.

A gift from Jeanne Hersch*

Many years ago I received, as a gift from Jeanne Hersch, seven books by Czesław Miłosz with the poets handwritten inscriptions for her. I know that a book could be used to store items, but I was surprised when I found in the donated books, in addition to the dedication and signs of reading (annotations in pencil), loose sheets of a manuscript by Hersch (her French translation of the poem Child of Europe), and newspaper clippings about Miłosz. There was also a photo of Miłosz from 1981. These seven books are not only a story of the friendship of Czesław and Jeanne but also a contribution to the reflection on the sanctity of writing, dedicating, reading, storing, and offering books.

Janusz Marciniak

*Jeanne Hersch (1910–2000) was a Swiss philosopher of Polish-Jewish origin. She studied under the existentialist Karl Jaspers. Her works dealt with the concept of freedom. From 1956 to 1977 she was a professor of philosophy at the University of Geneva and also taught at a number of universities in the United States. From 1966 to 1968 she headed the philosophy division of UNESCO, and was a member of its executive commission (1970–1972). In 1968 she edited Birthright of man: a selection of texts, an anthology of writings on human rights. Her main work is Philosophical Astonishment: a history of philosophy. She translated i.a. books of Czesław Miłosz. 

Fragment of the poem Child of Europe by Czesław Miłosz

We, whose lungs fill with the sweetness of day.

Who in May admire trees flowering

Are better than those who perished.

We, who taste of exotic dishes,

And enjoy fully the delights of love,

Are better than those who were buried.

We, from the fiery furnaces, from behind barbed wires

On which the winds of endless autumns howled,

We, who remember battles where the wounded air roared in

paroxysms of pain.

We, saved by our own cunning and knowledge.

By sending others to the more exposed positions

Urging them loudly to fight on

Ourselves withdrawing in certainty of the cause lost.

Having the choice of our own death and that of a friend

We chose his, coldly thinking: Let it be done quickly.

We sealed gas chamber doors, stole bread

Knowing the next day would be harder to bear than the day before.

As befits human beings, we explored good and evil.

Our malignant wisdom has no like on this planet.

Accept it as proven that we are better than they,

The gullible, hot-blooded weaklings, careless with their lives.


New York, 1946

Trees by Józef Czapski, 1980. Private collection.

Józef Czapski the witness of history

Józef Czapski, itinéraires de vérité, sous la direction de Maria Delaperrière, Maciej Forycki et Paweł Rodak, Institut d’études slaves. Eur’Orbem éditions, Paris 2020.

“Włodzimierz Bolecki emphasises that the title of the work on the inhumanity of Sovietism is an ‘extraordinary achievement’ for it has entered not only Polish, but even universal historical consciousness. It has become one of the most important terms in the dictionary of 20th century history” – about the chapter 4. Józef Czapski devant les crimes de masse. De l'enquête sur les « disparus » à la vérité sur le système soviétique.,2,a-book-about-jozef-czapski-in-french-published-in-paris,6162.html

“Peintre, soldat, homme de culture, écrivain, auteur d’un immense et singulier Journal, Józef Czapski (18961993) fut une figure majeure du destin européen du XXe siècle. Ce livre retrace les « itinéraires de vérité » de ce Polonais cosmopolite : son enfance dans un milieu aristocratique au début du siècle, sa jeunesse en Russie, son engagement dans le conflit polono-bolchevique, ses études à l’Académie des beaux-arts de Cracovie, puis à Paris au sein du groupe des « kapistes ». Après les épreuves de la Seconde Guerre mondiale – internement dans les camps soviétiques, découverte de la vérité sur les massacres de Katyń, longue marche avec l’armée d’Anders et campagne d’Italie –, il s’installe en 1947 en France. Avec les exilés regroupés autour de la revue Kultura, il jouera un rôle de médiateur intellectuel entre l’Est et l’Ouest. Cette monographie richement illustrée s’intéresse tant aux témoignages de Czapski sur la condition des victimes du stalinisme (Souvenirs de Starobielsk, Terre inhumaine) qu’à ses réflexions sur l’art et la littérature”.

“The New York Review Books (NYRB) Classics series’ recent publication of two works by the Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski, Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941–1942 and Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp, can only be described as timely. (...) These books, particularly Inhuman Land, are exceedingly useful in understanding Russian society under the Soviet regime and the repercussions of that seventy-four-year terror that are still evident today, as well as the intellectual amid extreme persecution” (Filip Mazurczak).

“The University of the Arts in Poznań has published Józef Czapski’s Letters on Painting (2019). This is a selection of letters written by Czapski to me. Our correspondence mainly concerned painting. It consists of 36 letters from Czapski, and covers the period from 1984 to 1989. When it began, Czapski was 88 years old and I was 30. Exchanging letters turned into friendship. Czapski gave me one of the most important lessons of love for painting and art in general” (Janusz Marciniak). Download the e-book (PDF).

Raphael Lemkin, author of Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.

Raphael Lemkin, creator of the concept of genocide

“Raphael Lemkin (Polish: Rafał Lemkin; 24 June 1900 – 28 August 1959) was a Polish lawyer who is best known for coining the term ‘genocide’ and for initiating the Genocide Convention, an interest spurred on after learning about the Armenian genocide and finding out that no international laws existed to prosecute the Ottoman leaders who had perpetrated these crimes.

Lemkin coined genocide in 1943 or 1944 from genos (Greek: γένος génos, ‘family, clan, tribe, race, stock, kin’) and -cide (Latin: -cīdium, ‘killing’). He became interested in war crimes after reading about the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian for the assassination of Talaat Pasha. He recognized the fate of Armenians as one of the most significant genocides of the 20th century. His work inspired Jessie Bernard, whose book American Community Behavior contains one of the earliest sociological studies of genocide. (...) 

In November 1944, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. This book included an extensive legal analysis of German rule in countries occupied by Nazi Germany during the course of World War II, along with the definition of the term genocide. Lemkin's idea of genocide as an offence against international law was widely accepted by the international community and was one of the legal bases of the Nuremberg Trials. In 1945 to 1946, Lemkin became an advisor to Supreme Court of the United States Justice and Nuremberg Trial chief counsel Robert H. Jackson. The book became one of the foundational texts in Holocaust studies, and the study of totalitarianism, mass violence, and genocide studies.”

Prof. Józef Rotblat

Józef Rotblat, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1995

“Sir Joseph Rotblat KCMG CBE FRS (4 November 1908 – 31 August 2005) was a Polish physicist, a self-described ‘Pole with a British passport’. During World War II he worked on Tube Alloys and the Manhattan Project, but left the Los Alamos Laboratory on grounds of conscience after it became clear that Germany had ceased development of an atomic bomb in 1942.

His work on nuclear fallout was a major contribution toward the ratification of the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. A signatory of the 1955 Russell–Einstein Manifesto, he was secretary-general of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs from their founding until 1973 and shared, with the Pugwash Conferences, the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize ‘for efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international affairs and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms.’ (...) The Pugwash Conferences are credited with laying the ground work for the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In parallel with the Pugwash Conferences, he joined with Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Bertrand Russell and other concerned scientists to found the World Academy of Art and Science, which was proposed by them in the mid-1950s and formally constituted in 1960.”

Benjamin Ferencz

Benjamin Ferencz: Law, not war

“Benjamin Berell Ferencz (March 11, 1920 – April 7, 2023) was an American lawyer. He was an investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II and the chief prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen trial, one of the 12 subsequent Nuremberg trials held by US authorities at Nuremberg, Germany. (...) Later he became an advocate of international rule of law and for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. From 1985 to 1996, he was an adjunct professor of international law at Pace University. (...) In March 2022, an audio clip of Ferencz was played during the eleventh emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly and he later gave an interview to BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said that Vladimir Putin should be 'behind bars' for his war crimes, and that he was 'heartbroken' over atrocities in Ukraine.”

Ivan: It seems Europe has stopped respecting me! by Stanisław Rydygier (1872–1943). “Ivan” is kicked out of Europe’s door a caricature devoted to the Munich Agreement of 1938 expresses the idea that Russia was alien to European civilization. This cartoon appeared in Mucha, 1938, №43. Polish satirical magazine published in Warsaw in the periods 1868–1939 and 1946–1952.

Ends and Means by Aldous Huxley

“A principal cause of war is nationalism, and nationalism is immensely popular because it is psychologically satisfying to individual nationalists. Every nationalism is an idolatrous religion, in which the god is the personified state, represented in many instances by a more or less deified king or dictator. Membership of the ex hypothesi divine nation is thought of as imparting a kind of mystical pre-eminence.”

Ends and Means. An Enquiry Into the Nature of Ideals and Into the Methods Employed for Their Realization by Aldous Huxley. The book contains essays on war, religion, nationalism and ethics (first published in 1937). Chapter IX, WAR, p. 97.

The Abolition of War by Krzysztof Wodiczko


UN-WAR – collective exhibition at the Art, Culture, and Technology program at MIT (April 22–June 1, 2022). The aim of the exhibition was to critically reflect on the culture of war and contribute to dismantling it through our own proactive work and a collective cultural campaign based on Krzysztof Wodiczko’s call to put an end to perpetuating the very idea of war.

Babi Yar, Ukraine, the site of a mass murder of Jews, September 1941. Yad Vashem Archives 3521/129.

Babi Yar

“Babi Yar (...) is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and a site of massacres carried out by Nazi Germany's forces during its campaign against the Soviet Union in World War II. The first and best documented of the massacres took place on 29–30 September 1941, killing some 33,771 Jews. (...) The massacre was the largest mass-murder under the auspices of the Nazi regime and its Ukrainian collaborators during the campaign against the Soviet Union, and it has been called the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust to that particular date.”

“On 1 March 2022, during Russia's invasion of Ukraine the site was purportedly struck by Russian forces while they were trying to destroy the nearby Kyiv TV Tower according to Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The attack resulted in the death of at least five people.”

“In the spring of 1961, Babi Yar was the site of a massive mudslide. An earthen dam in the ravine was used to hold loam pulp which had been pumped from the local brick factories over the course of ten years without sufficient drainage. The dam collapsed after heavy rain, resulting in a mudslide that swept away the low-lying Kurenivka neighborhood and several other areas. The death toll was estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 people.”

In the book Le témoin jusqu'au bout [The Witness to the End] Georges Didi-Huberman interprets a diary written in Dresden in 19331945 by Victor Klemperer (1881–1960), author of The Language of the Third Reich. “The witness to the end” was also Janusz Korczak (18781942). Korczak is the embodiment of humanity that Emmanuel Lévinas wrote about in his books.


Fragments of Ukraine diaries: Ethnographer documents the war by Romain Huët

“Little is written about the practical details of such journeys. What should you pack? As a rule, you should travel light to make it easier to get around. But one month is quite a long time.

I packed 10 or so items of underwear, three T-shirts, a pair of jeans, a sweater, 20 batteries for my voice recorder, a computer, cash, a bulletproof vest (in France, a Level 3 bulletproof vest costs more than €2,000) that I borrowed from Reporters Without Borders, a helmet, and four notebooks – one for writing down my thoughts, and three for writing down what the people I meet tell me.

I also brought a few books, although I had a hard time picking which ones. I opted for literature: Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary, Sankhara by Frédérique Deghelt, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I knew nothing about these novels, about their quality or power, but literature whispers words and helps get a perspective in the fog of war.

At the last minute, I also took along Le Témoin jusqu’au bout (The Witness to the End) by French philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman. (...) Georges Didi-Huberman tells us that Sigmund Freud, in his last work, Moses and Monotheism, tackled the issue with alarming simplicity, just as he was witnessing the dawn of the Third Reich. In his very last preface, he wrote:

We are living in a particularly strange era. We are discovering with surprise that progress has entered into a pact with barbarity.

His take still resonates today. There are many ways to resist warmongering passions. One of the most important is to reflect, to question what is happening, to observe so as to find in it something like a content of historical truth.”

Translated from the French by Thomas Young.

November 12, 2022

Fragment of Ukrainian Professor Says Russia is Stealing Ukraine by Max Kovalov

“For Ukraine, Russia’s 'special military operation' means the loss of people, territory, wealth, language, culture and sovereignty. Russia is taking not only its land, people, power plants, agricultural equipment and wealth – but also its language and cultural heritage. The Russian government is effectively trying to eradicate the Ukrainian identity. Russia is stealing Ukraine. 

The theft began in 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Shortly after, Russia started supporting separatists in the Donbas region, providing them with military training, equipment and economic support. In the annexation and the war in the Donbas region from 2014 to 2020, Ukraine lost $280 billion in output, trade and investment – not to mention 14,000 Ukrainian lives.  

Since the full-scale invasion in February, 200,000 children have been abducted and transported to Russia for resettlement. The forceful removal of children from Ukrainian cities occupied by Russia has been nothing less than a state-organized kidnapping campaign – what the Russian media refers to as 'saving the children'.  

In addition to vandalizing apartments of ordinary citizens and stealing electronics, clothes, shoes and even cosmetics, Russian soldiers have stolen artifacts from museums and churches in more than 250 cultural institutions and centers. In Kherson, the occupiers launched an assault on the Ukrainian education system by imposing Russian curriculum in schools and restricting the use of the Ukrainian language – the destruction of which has been sought by Russian leaders for centuries.” 

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Liar by Janusz Marciniak, 2022

Fragment of Why Lying Has Become a National Pastime by Marilyn Murray

Many Russians lie on a regular basis. They lie even when they don't have to lie. It is a national pastime. It can proceed from the small 'white lie' of a family member to one of major proportions from a government official. But often, most Russians are not deceived and know when a statement is a falsehood.” 

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