Return to Paulinaland – Update
Hello, dear friends of the Paulina project: I am writing this on my flight home from a two-week stay in Poland – my first visit in four years. When I last left in 2019, I thought I would be back within months. Alas, the world had other plans. After much disruption and change, I am grateful for this chance to return and reconnect with the layered story that continues to inspire my work and life: Paulina Hirsch's WWII journey and my resulting journey to follow her. Its heart is tied to my collaboration with my living Polish flipside, Patrycja Dołowy, and our joint actions that led us to Stefan, a local caretaker of Jewish memory who had found Paulina's items at the bottom of his well. The seemingly impossible moment of discovery between Patrycja, Stefan, and me revealed the wondrous potential for human lives to touch each other and enact healing across generations. It granted me a hopeful vision of humanity I continue to hold onto and strive to share through the film I am now making. The circumstances contributing to its magic are what I aimed to reconnect with on this trip.
On the road last week with Patrycja
Salvaged from a beat-up cocoa tin (found at the bottom of Stefan's well) were items tied to Paulina and the daughter she lost (her only child) during the war. Stefan had been searching for their owner for three decades. At the time of our fateful encounter with Stefan, he had been trying on his own to save a buried archive of Jewish documents in Wieliczka. Patrycja and I, moved by this caring man and by the power of coincidence that brought us all together, promised to help him. It was at this same moment that I made a more personal promise – if I had any chance left, I would have a child, in the name of the daughter Paulina lost. Now, more than three years since Stefan's death, and two years into trying to become a mother while developing this film, I returned to my old Polish haunts in Warsaw and took a trip east with Patrycja to the site of the buried archive, hoping to find some more answers...
(Sneak peek) Stills of raw footage from our visit to the site of the buried archive, in Wieliczka. Photography by Tomasz Głowacki
As with every experience tied to this story, what happened on this trip will take some time to process and sift through, especially as the added shades of unfolding war and violence were, and continue to be, ever palpable. Please stay tuned for the next phase of development where I can share this story with you. Wishing for peace and better days ahead. Michelle
Tea and cake with Stefan's wife, Jagoda, at their home in Wieliczka.
OTHER PAULINA NEWS Earlier this year, artist/curator Yevgeniy Fiks published an interview with me, Unearthing Lost Histories: Michelle Levy Explores the Power of Performance and the Role of Archives in the Paulina Project, featured on Kolture.org If you are in NYC this fall, please join me on November 30 at Residency Unlimited for the RU Talk – Shaping an Art Odyssey: From Content to Continent. I will be in conversation with RU Executive Director Nathalie Angles and curator Bartek Remisko about the journey of creating this project.
Prior iterations of the Paulina Project have been supported by Asylum Arts, POLIN Museum for the History of Polish Jews, Emmanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Festivalt, and US Embassy, Warsaw, among numerous others. The Paulina film, in early production, is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. It has received support from the Jewish Association Czulent, Tarbut Foundation, Union Docs Early Production Lab, and The Neighborhood, Brooklyn. The Paulina film is a fiscally sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts. Donations towards its production are welcome and tax-deductible.