An evolving performance between life and death,
the Holocaust and now, and Poland and the U.S.
In 2019, two women from different worlds embarked on an adventure across Poland and Ukraine following clues from a stranger's story that had been placed in their care.
Named after our heroine, Paulina Hirsch (b. 1902, Kraków, PL), PAULINA is a chronicle that unfolds through research, travel, translation, digging, planting, trust, imagination, and friendship. It is presented as a conversation between living protagonists Michelle Levy (New York) and Patrycja Dołowy (Warsaw), artist/storytellers who, responding to the echoes of the unresolved past, set out to bring life to the story of a woman who could no longer speak for herself. While they didn't quite know what they were looking for, what they found was beyond any expectation.
Over 2019 - 2020, this project lived as an evolving performance-in-process. The next chapter, beginning in 2021, will be a film.
Who was Paulina?
Ten fading pages of a testimony written in Polish in Kraków,1945, were all that seemed to exist of Paulina Hirsch, a Polish-Jewish woman in her forties who, "passing" as Polish, fended her way throughout Nazi-occupied Poland. One of the thousands of survivor testimonies taken by Poland’s Central Jewish Historical Committee at the end of World War II, Paulina's testimony is an official, impersonal account. It is filled with facts and details – addresses of places she went, names of people who helped her – but the woman behind the text remains a mystery. When the war began she had a husband and daughter, but the notetaker's introduction states, "Sama" – She is alone.
While doing research in Warsaw in 2017, Michelle was given the testimony of her supposed long-lost relative, Paulina Hirsch. She asked Patrycja, whom she had just met, to translate the testimony. Over a few hours in a warm cafe on an icy Warsaw February day, the lives of three women became intertwined.
Patrycja, a member of the small Jewish community remaining in Poland, had been living with ghosts for a long time.
She had read other testimonies, but Paulina's was different from any she had seen. It would take both women a long time to understand why.