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“Black-and-White Forest: Two Journeys to Treblinka”

Ariel Yannay, director of the photography department at Camera Obscura, is the son of Warsaw-born Shmuel “Samek” Yannay, the last commander of the Palyam naval unit, whose family was wiped out in Treblinka. This exhibition contains photographs taken by Ariel Yannay in the forests near the murder sites and a dialogue between Yannay and Chavka Folman-Raban, who had reached Treblinka on a mission as liaison-courier of the Warsaw ghetto’s underground Zionist movement “Dror” to verify rumors about the extermination of Jews there. The exhibition deals with the meaning of the journey and the ability of photography to provide evidence and serve as a channel for memory.

 

 

My Story

My father, Shmuel (Samek) Yannay, was born Shmuel Poznanski in Warsaw in 1921. On September 3, 1935, holding an immigration permit,
he travelled alone to his aunt in Palestine. Taking a train from Warsaw to the port of Constanta, Romania, there he boarded the steamship Polonia
and sailed to Haifa.

On that railway platform in Warsaw, he saw his mother, his father, his 21-year-old brother and his 16-year-old sister for the last time. They would all be murdered in Treblinka.

Since my father had no specific dates, he decided upon the 22nd of July, 1942, as his family's memorial day. That was the date on which the
Great Aktion in the Warsaw ghetto began. Annually on this day, he lit Yahrzeit candles in their memory. In the 1980’s, my father visited Poland
with some relatives. One day he disappeared. When he returned, he said that he had been to Treblinka. He went there, he said, so as to “feel what they had felt."

In his footsteps, I too went to Treblinka. Once as a visitor, and once as a photographer. When I arrived there, it was a beautiful day. I left behind
the monument and headed for the woods. I felt spellbound by the charm of the forest, and by its light. I knew, though, that this pastoral beauty
concealed an unbearable truth.

When one arrives at Treblinka, one expects to see what had happened. But there is nothing there to see: it's all stones of the monument. But the
stones tell nothing; it is only the woods that speak.

I love the woods. Regrettably, there are none in Israel – there's hardly anywhere in which to get lost. Forest and trees are a place’s portrait.
And then there is the special light of each and every forest.

One of the works in this exhibition is a portrait of a tree. It is a young tree. I regard it as our ‘family tree.’ Its leaves are like glittering diamonds.
The family is the glittering freshness of this tree. And the light in the woods.

The forest in my works is a spectrum of tonal values: it is either about to appear, or to disappear. Like figments of our memories.
Like the appearing and disappearing of a photograph in the developer's tray in my dark room: if we are impatient we end up with nothing
but faded white contours; if we forget it and walk away from it, it will darken and swallow up all images in black. From the whiteness of
the photographic paper, all through the many shades of gray, and onto the sealed, featureless black.

Between that which no longer is, and those who still are. Still life.

 

 

To Ariel Yannay's website

 

 

 

 

Article from the Jerusalem Post about the exhibition  Article from the Jerusalem Post about the exhibition
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