In the first of an occasional series, Photographer Sam Tanner introduces his portraits of Majer Bojanski from his archive recording the Jewish community at the end of the last century
“These pictures were taken as part of my photography of the Jewish community in the East End between 1998 – 1999. When you carry out a long-term documentary project you always meet people with interesting stories and there are usually one or two who stand out. Majer Bojanski was the most complex and vivid person I met. I photographed him at the Jewish Care Day Centre, The Friends of Yiddish at Toynbee Hall, his home and in the synagogue.
Born in 1912 in Pyotrkow-Tybunalski, Majer was a tailor in pre-war Poland and he confessed to me he was very poor. In the Polish army from 1939, he was captured by the Russians and sent to the Gulags. Majer described being unloaded from a train in the middle of Siberia, north of Archangel. It was a frozen waste, where there were no buildings, but they managed to build a fire and, although he reported all of the group he was with survived Stalin’s slave labour camps, many did not. They simply froze to death.
Majer told me he usually went without food at least one day a week in pre-war Poland. Consequently, privation had made him tougher than many of the others and he was also able to use his skills as a tailor to obtain more food. When Russia was attacked by the Nazis, he was sent to fight with the Allies along with the other Polish prisoners, joining the British Army in Italy. Only later did Majer learn that his wife Esther and most of his family were killed in the Holocaust.
In 1946, after the war, Majer settled in the East End where he worked as a tailor and learnt to play the violin. However, his love, passion and driving force was his love of Yiddish, which he sang. I remember, when my exhibition opened at the Jewish Museum, Majer asked if he could sing a Yiddish song and it turned out to be a memorable event.
He did everything he could to encourage and inspire others to learn speak and sing Yiddish. It seemed to me that his attempt to rescue a language all but murdered by the Nazis was Majer’s life work.”
- Sam Tanner
Majer Bojanski (1912-2005)
Photographs copyright © Sam Tanner
You may also like to take a look at
At The Great Yiddish Parade
Max Levitas, Communist
Count Ralph Smorczewski in Whitechapel
This post first appeared on Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To, please read the originial post: here