An exhibition devoted to the early 20th century works of Abraham Ostrzega, the creator of controversial gravestones on Jewish cemeteries, was opened in Warsaw on 19 January 2017.

The exhibition was opened by Hanna Wróblewska, the director of the Zachęta gallery. "Abraham Ostrzega is famous for his sepulchre sculptures. In his works, he tried to transcend boundaries. "He introduced faces to gravestone sculptures, which was forbidden in Jewish art."

Ostrzega created various sculptures, not only gravestones. However, most of them were destroyed, with few surviving items in galleries and private collections. Three gravestones created by him have survived in a Jewish cemetery in Łódź and one in the Evangelical Reformed Cemetery in Warsaw. The biggest complex of Ostrzega's sculptures consists of 56 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery. The artist did not get his own gravestone - he was killed in the Nazi German death Camp Treblinka II in 1942.

A few years ago Michał Laszczkowski of the Cultural Heritage Foundation became interested in Abraham Ostrzega's works. Thanks to his efforts, 24 gravestones on the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw were renovated in 2016 in collaboration with the Jewish Community of Warsaw. The conservation works were funded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Warsaw Conservation Officer.

Michał Laszczkowski has also been the initiator of the recently opened Abraham Ostrzega's exhibition. The exhibition consists of two parts. The first was opened yesterday in Zachęta – National Gallery of Art. It comprises works of contemporary artists influenced by Ostrzega: Małgorzata Niedzielko, Hubert Czerepok, Katarzyna Rotkiewicz-Szumska and Krzysztof Wojciechowski. The second part of the exhibition consists of Abraham Ostrzega's gravestones that survived in Warsaw's Jewish cemetery in Okopowa St. The official opening of this part of the exhibition took place on 20 January 2017 and was attended by Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Gliński and Secretary of State at the Polish Presidential Chancellery Wojciech Kolarski.

The opening of the exhibition was also part of the ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the Wannsee conference. "Our duty is to remove the anonymity of millions of victims. So that the memory of the Holocaust is personalised, so that it refers to real people, their lives and achievements," deputy PM Gliński said. "Therefore we decided to inaugurate the ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of 'Aktion Reinhardt' in Warsaw, around Abraham Ostrzega."

The Zachęta exhibition will be available until 5 March 2017, Tuesday to Wednesday. The gravestones at the Jewish cemetery – Monday to Thursday, from 10 am until dusk, Friday from 9 am to 1 pm, and Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm. A special map and markings on selected gravestones make it easier to find Abraham Ostrzega's works on the cemetery that occupies about 33 hectares.

Krzysztof Bielawski

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