Zuzanna Hertzberg’s artivistic performance: Heroism of life itself. The other side of the Monument

Na różowym tle "Pochód na zagładę" - druga strona pomnika Bohaterów Getta. Pod spodem napis Heroizm samego życia. 80. rocznica powstania w getcie warszawskim.
W grafice Z. Hertzberg wykorzystała archiwalny projekt architektoniczny Ostrzewskiego wykonany w 1946 r. na podstawie rysunków rewersu pomnika Natana Rapoporta

When the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes was being unveiled in 1948, white cloth covered the front, titled by its author Nathan Rapoport "The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising" ["Walka" / "Combat"] and presenting figures of fighters with arms in their hands. While the ceremony of unveiling focused on the obverse of the Monument, it marginalised the visibility of the reverse, with a bas-relief titled "The Last March." Thus, a specific aspect of the narrative on the Warsaw ghetto was highlighted—the aspect which fosters the belief that armed struggle is the only form of heroism.

The physical act of unveiling triggered a symbolic annual repetition of the gesture, which we have been dealing with until today. The placement of the two bas-reliefs and their message seem to suggest that we have a choice of two opposing paths—armed combat or inevitable death awaiting the participants of the last march to annihilation. In truth, both paths led towards the same finale. Both epitomise the story about the Jewish fate. 

Zuzanna Hertzberg’s artivistic performance defies this division. It is a continuation of the artist’s activities towards fostering awareness of the fact that there are indeed many forms of resistance. Aside from heroic fight arms in hand, the act of living itself—especially in the extreme conditions of the ghetto—was one of them. Laughing, taking care of one’s hygiene and looks, enjoying little things in life were an act of resistance, too. A lipstick and a rifle don’t have to stand in stark opposition to each other, especially when an adequate, faithful and tender narrative on life during the Holocaust is at stake.

All people of Jewish origin, all Jewish men and women in Poland, are descendants of those who resisted in that way. We all carry a fraction of their pain, we all feel helplessness when facing the past but also hope, a will to live with dignity and an effort to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again—never and nowhere!

The other side of the Monument which faces Zamenhofa Street is not only less exposed but also less known. It has never grown to be an iconic image accompanying the commemoration events. The 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising provides a welcome opportunity to turn our attention to the other side and to complete the gesture of unveiling several decades later. Accompanied by a line of Jewish banners, this performative artistic action imitating the formula of official ceremonies will highlight the need to change the way we talk about history—the history written not only by armed combat, but also by the resistance of civilian population, by the heroism of living itself.

Project team:

Zuzanna Hertzberg – interdisciplinary artist, artivist and researcher. Her artistic practice involves painting, performative actions, textiles and assemblage. Zuzanna is the author of installations and collages using archival materials. She is engaged in individual and collective practices countering discrimination and aggression against marginalized individuals and groups.

In 2018, she received Ph.D. at the Faculty of Graphic Design at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts (Scopes of ignorance, 2018). She participated in numerous exhibitions, both in Poland and abroad, i.a. her interdisciplinary artistic project titled "The Volunteers of Freedom" devoted to Jewish female members of the International Brigades was presented as part of the exhibitions: "Independent. Women and the national discourse" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Warsaw (2018/19), "Difficult Pasts. Connected Worlds" at the National Museum of Latvia in Riga (2020/21) and next at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius (2022). Artistic-artivistic project based on scholarly research titled "Mekhica. Individual and Collective Resistance of Women During the Holocaust" was presented at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw (2019), as part of "Still Present! 12th Biennale of New Art" in Berlin (2022) and at the Center for Jewish History in New York (2022/2023).

Currently, Zuzanna continues her research and is in the process of realising an artistic project devoted to Jewish female anarchists. Her works are held in both private collections and in various institutions.

Ewa Chomicka, POLIN Museum – project curator.

Alicja Kaczmarek-Poławska, POLIN Museum – project producer.

Logo of Jewish Cultural Heritage Project: from right side: logo of Norway grants, logo of Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Republic of Poland, logo Polin Museum and JCK project.

www.eeagrants.org, www.norwaygrants.org, www.gov.pl