PAULINA (she is alone)

in collaboration with Patrycja Dołowy

Ten pages of a fading testimony transcribed in Kraków in 1945 were all that appeared to exist of Paulina Hirsch, a Polish-Jewish woman who survived her way throughout Nazi-occupied Poland. The testimony, one of thousands taken by the Jewish Historical Committee at the end of World War II, is an impersonal, official record. The woman behind the text remains a mystery. The notetaker's introduction begins, "Sama" -- She is alone.

I had been looking for something else when this story found me. A mystery related to my grandmother's past had led me to an archive in Warsaw, where I was given the Holocaust testimony of this woman – a relative I hadn't known existed...

Asking what happens when one woman's account, from among thousands, is explored in-depth in the places where it happened, I relocated to Poland for nine-months to work with Warsaw's POLIN Museum; with artist, writer, and guardian of marginalized stories, Patrycja Dołowy; and with archives, sites and many individuals, to shed light on Paulina’s testimony. This investigation of identity, translation, memory, and place culminated in a physical retracing of Paulina's wartime route in collaboration with Dołowy. 
 September 2018 - June 2019.

Michelle Levy and Patrycja Dołowy guiding an exploratory walk in Kraków as part of Festivalt 2019. Photo: Jason Francisco

an evolving multi-media storytelling performance.

Presented in English with simultaneous Polish translation.


Performed as a conversation between search and discovery, Michelle Levy (US) and Patrycja Dołowy (PL) summon archives, personal travel footage, maps, oral histories, foliage, and pieces of the earth, as tangible means to share what is truly ungraspable.

When Michelle Levy asked Patrycja Dołowy to translate the testimony of her ancestor, little did they know the roles they would play in a web of events that had been unfolding over decades. Paulina's testimony--of a woman who lost her family and fended for herself throughout occupied Poland-- is an official, impersonal record. It is impossible to really know the woman behind the text. Brought together by this haunting document which had, as it turns out, been given to Michelle in error, the women, both storytellers, took responsibility for this unearthed story -- that of a woman who can no longer speak for herself. Guided by happenstance and the reminder that things are not always as they seem, they followed Paulina’s traces throughout Poland and Ukraine. They have returned with some extraordinary tales to tell...

Visit the PAULINA website.



Michelle Levy, (b 1976) is an interdisciplinary artist, performer, and cultural organizer based in Brooklyn, NY. She conveys narrative through a framework of “search” and “research,” presenting performances, imagery, narrative and ritual, to investigate the mediated spaces where identity is constructed. Levy holds an MFA in Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice from The City College of New York, and a BA in Studio art at Wesleyan University, CT. Up until stepping away to follow Paulina Hirsch’s story, from 2008-2018, Levy was the Founding Director of EFA Project Space, a collaborative, interdisciplinary exhibition program of The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in Manhattan where she also founded the SHIFT Residency supporting artists who work for arts organizations.


Patrycja Dołowy, (b 1978) is an artist and writer based in Warsaw. She has exhibited work in more than 60 solo and group exhibitions in Europe, and published her texts and photographs in art and popular press. She collaborates with theater directors as playwright, and is the author of books and performances. Focused on problems of memory and Jewish heritage, she bases her projects on oral history and testimonies. She holds an MSc from Warsaw University, 2002, PhD from the Polish Academy of Sciences, 2007, Art Diploma with distinction from the Academy of Art and Photography in Wroclaw, 2005. She is President of SPACES Foundation, whose founders and members act as guardians and mediators of Jewish memory. She collaborates with POLIN Museum, the Centre for Yiddish Culture and Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw. Her book, from interviews with child-survivors of the Holocaust, “Wrocę, Gdy Będziez Spała: Rozmowy z dziecmi Holocaustu,” was released by Czarne Press on March 27, 2019


Paulina Hirschowa (b 1902), from Kraków, was the wife of a barrister, Jozef Hirsch. She is alone. Her husband was killed, her daughter and son-in-law were taken from the Aryan quarter. During the occupation, she was a teacher, a nurse and a translator, and afterward, she applied to be an administrator of community houses in Kraków. She has a high-school diploma from Kaplińska High School in Kraków.


PAULINA is sponsored by the US Embassy, Warsaw, Poland, and by Asylum Arts Small Grants Program.  The project is made possible through cooperation with the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, with additional research support from the Emmanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute. PAULINA has received individual donations through the project's fiscal sponsor, Brooklyn Arts Council. Paulina is FestivALT's 2019 Project-in-Residence in Kraków.

Thank you: Olena Andronatiy, Zuzanna Benesz-Goldfinger, Joanna Biernacka-Płoska, El Bruzda, Ewa Chomicka, Patrycja Dołowy, Anna Duńczyk-Szulc, Agata Franaszek, Ludomir Franczak, Bean Gilsdorf, Rebecca Guber,  Abigal Glaum-Lathbury, Kara Hearn, Jess Hooks, Stefan Kisielowski, Magda Konopka, Anna Krzeczkowska, Dawn Leuck, Bernice Levy, Doug Levy, Ron Levy, Małgorzata and Andrzej Łoziczonek, Clarinda Mac Low, Iryna Matsevko, Małgorzata Międzobrodska, Paweł Morga, Jakub Nowakowski, Michał Palka-Keff, Dominika Pasterska, Alicja Plachowna, Jennie Rabinowitz, Bartek Remisko, Agnieszka Reszka, Michael and Magda Rubenfeld, Sonia Ruszkowska, Władysław Rybyński, Aleksandra Sajdak, Matan Shefi, Elisabeth Smolarz, Konrad Smoliński, Sarah Cameron Sunde, Gabi Von Seltmann, Yaelle Vishniki-Levi, Pamela Wells, Maciej Wzorek, Katie Zazenski, Urszula Zyznowska; 


Asylum Arts (New York), FestivALT (Kraków), Galicia Jewish Museum (Kraków), Inicjatawa LWL (Włodawa) JCC Warszawa (Warsaw), Instytut Teatralny (Warsaw), Jewish Historical Institute Archives and Genealogy departments (Warsaw), Museum of the City of Kraków's Eagle Pharmacy/Apteka Pod Orłem (Krakow), NURTUREart (New York), POLIN Museum for the History of Polish Jews (Warsaw), and the Public Library of the City of Wieliczka.

See related:

She is alone. Performance lecture with participation.

Ruins of Achelach

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© 2020 by Michelle Levy

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