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The Photographic Power of Memory

Posted 14/5/2013

By Leona and Jerrold Schecter © 2013 -

Introduction for

Inna Rogatchi's The Legacy Of Light: The Schneerson Family Collection

RESTORING IMAGES OF JEWISH LIFE IN UKRAINE

 

For Inna Rogatchi the camera is an extension of her eye and heart. With them her memory captures quiet but deep passion. Inna's The Schneerson Family Collection is a keystone to understanding Jewish life in Ukraine. Inna Rogachi's honest and beautiful pictures restore a history that demands to be seen, told and remembered.

Memory can be stimulated by sight, sound or smell. We speak of a memory bell ringing and it brings a past moment back to our mind's eye. The sweet scent of jasmine might remind us of a far off place and first love. For Inna Rogatchi the camera is an extension of her eye and heart. With them her memory captures a quiet but deep passion that evokes the Holocaust by remembering not only the violence and barbarism, but the peace and joy of normal life that it destroyed. Inna and her husband Michael have devoted their careers to restoring the memories of Jewish life before Hitler and Stalin and preserving them for future generations. They were among the active and most notable supporters of the world's largest multifunctional Jewish Community Center Menorah and Museum, which opened in Dnepropetrovsk in October, 2012.

Inna's pictures return us to a time in Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union, when Dnepropetrovsk was a thriving industrial center invaded by Nazi troops. On August 25, 1941, 11,000 people, including close family members of Inna and Michael, were slaughtered. Inna's pictures honor their lives and are an integral part of the legacy that remains.

Her photographs, with skillful and sensitive color enhancement, reveal the simple but pure essences of nature and life in the remains of the neighborhood in the old town of Ekaterinoslav, later re-named as Dnepropetrovsk, where the Schneerson family lived and has been rooted for many decades.

Inna's The Schneerson Family Collection is a keystone to understanding Jewish life in Ukraine. It was along the banks of the Dnieper River in Ekaterinoslav, today renamed Dnepropetrovsk, where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson lived for the more than thirty years, serving as the chief rabbi. He was renowned for his Talmudic scholarship, interpretations of Kabbalah and Jewish law. He played an influential role in religious and community life in the flourishing city, while educating his son, Menachem Mendel. Jews were a vital part of Dnepropetrovsk's life, constituting more than one-third of its population and owning an estimated 25 percent of its factories.

Menachem Mendel Schneerson studied Torah under his father and other learned wise men. By the time he was 17 he was considered an Illui or genius, marked for leadership in the Hassidic religious order. The routine of daily morning and evening prayers, study and commentary on the Talmud and Kabbalah dominated daily life. The Torah and its laws provided the community's moral center.

Menachem Mendel married the daughter of the Sixth Rebbe Yosef Schneerson who in 1940 fled through Europe to America and settled in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. So did Menachem Mendel who was studying in Berlin until 1939 and fled with his wife to Paris and to Brooklyn Heights in 1940 on one of the last boats to escape the German U-boat blockade.

Menachem Mendel became the Seventh Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in 1951, a year after his father-in-law died. The Seventh Rebbe, who spent his youth in Dnepropetrovsk, retained his connection to Ukraine until he died in 1994. Inna Rogachi researched the places of his youth, and the other places connected with the Schneerson family in Dnepropetrovsk, and they are the core of her photographs.

Today the Hassidic Chabbad-Lubavich has a network of 3,600 institutions, including schools, synagogues and kindergartens in over 70 countries and 1,000 cities throughout the world.

Inna's photographs show the soil in which its roots were planted and the first fruits harvested. Studying her pictures, with their squares and rectangles of deep colors, one can conjure the inspiration for Mark Rothko, the Latvian Jewish painter, a leader of the Washington Color School. Where such art comes from is in the shapes of the buildings and memories of youth.

Memory can play many cruel tricks but Inna Rogachi's honest and beautiful pictures restore a history that demands to be seen, told and remembered.

Leona and Jerrold Schecter , Washington DC, USA.

Leona and Jerrold Schecter are prolific historians and writers,  co-authors of several internationally acclaimed books on modern history, including Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed America History.