A lesson for the future.
So around a year ago i was thinking of subjects to shoot for my Major project, for my 3rd and final year at University.
I’m never one to do it the easy way, and i’ll never pick the easy option, whats the point?! Anyway, i came up with a few ideas, of course all of them were totally farfetched, i wanted to travel to Russia and document people living around the Chernobyl disaster site, something which i’m still determined to do at some point. I also looked into carrying on with a portrait i taken of my Grandad which some of you may have seen, it was an image based around his life, and how losing his teenage lover, and wife of many years has effected his life. That image brought me some success in that it took me to the finals of the AOP student photographer awards, and i wanted to continue this theme of the loss of a partner. As well as this, i wanted to document a series of holocaust survivors, portraits. Again, another completely farfetched idea that would take months of organisation, countless trips across the country, and a lot of determination and money.
Anyway, i put the Chernobyl idea to bed for a while, thinking that i’ll need a lot of planning and time to do that, and concentrated on the other two ideas, i sent many emails to various organisations, jewish organisations, the imperial war museum etc.
I did not hear anything back for many months, and i began to forget about my idea, and decided i would either continue my fashion work, or continue with my idea of portraits based around loss.
A few weeks before my minor project brief at uni however (One of two self directed projects in your final year) i received an email from Margaret at The Holocaust Centre in Newark, Nottingham. Margaret has been one of the architects in this project and someone who i am so grateful too. You must all visit the centre when you get chance, it will open your eyes to a whole different world and really make you appreciate life that little more, try and visit when there is a speaker too and make the most of it, for these people will not be around for long.
Anyway, i arranged with Margaret to come and speak to them at the centre, anyway to cut a long story short, i was allowed to shoot at the centre, as they have holocaust survivors who speak to schools, universities, and the public on regular occasions, you can find a list on their website here – http://holocaustcentre.net/
People have asked me, why are you doing this? And people have also asked me, what are you getting from this project?
Well it all started about 18 months ago, when i heard somebody say, what is the Holocaust? Now to me i couldn’t believe this, i was shocked, angry that somebody was allowed to live in a world where every resource is at your finger tips, google, wikipedia, encarta for crying out loud! Anyway, this shocked me, and then i began to think, if it wasn’t for my parents, and my grand parents, would i have known about the Holocaust? I was never taught about it at school, so if other people hadn’t, how are they expected to know?
So i started to think, how can i do something about this? I thought i’m only one person, i’m not a teacher, i dont have access to newspapers etc. but then i thought, well why can’t i make a difference? What is stopping me from making a difference?
So i decided to shoot a series of portaits, and this is where i am at the moment, i have taken 6 portraits of different survivors from different situations, and the following are the images, and their stories.
I plan to keep photographing survivors, and eventually when i have enough, i will be making a book, with the photographs in, and along with it the survivors stories, and some more information about the holocaust, it’ll hopefully get published with the help of the Holocaust Centre, and also the Aegist trust (a genocide prevention and awareness charity). All royalties will then be donated to the holocaust centre. So hopefully this will make the difference i am hoping.
But my main hope, and i’m starting to realise this, and it has made me so happy, is that just by posting these images on my facebook, flickr, and blog, people have commented, at their heartbreak, and interest in reading these stories, people who had no idea what the holocaust was now have the slightest knowledge, and they may go away and research it, every person i tell, has a duty to tell, show or educate someone else. I thought to myself how can I, one person make a difference? Because i am opening these few images to you all, and in doing so, educating a few people, it is up to these few people, to educate another few people, and this will hopefully continue and spread the word. This is what we need.
I have spoken to the survivors in great detail, and interviewed them, and something that stood out with all the survivors is that when asked, do you think humanity has learned from the events in the Holocaust? Not one of them said yes, however when i spoke to Mala Tribich, she told me she thought the tide was turning a little bit, with people taking more of an interest, she said to me she didn’t think people had learnt, but she hoped it would be a lesson for the future. And this, i have taken for my title for my project.
These images are not here to shock, or to upset, nor are they here to provoke or anger you, i have created these images as a way of educating, and preventing such events from ever happening again, we must never forget.
Those who forget history, are doomed to repeat it.
Please repost this blog, and link it your friends and family, and the world alike, it is up to us, our responsibility to educate people and prevent this from happening again, do your little bit and repost this.
Once again a huge thanks to the survivors, the kind staff at the holocaust centre, and the people at the aegis trust for assisting me with my work.
This image is of 80 year old Rudi Oppenheimer, a survivor from the holocaust.
He made it through with his two siblings after spending time in both Westerbork transit camp, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He lost both sets of his grandparents to the gas chambers, and lost both of his parent’s to typhus in Bergen Belsen. He now travels around the country telling his story to school children trying to educate them about these events, in the hope it may never happen again.
Mala Tribic, 81, Holocaust Survivor.
This is the second image from my portrait series, Aged nine, Mala Tribich was among thousands of Jews forced into the Piotrkow-Trybunalski ghetto in Poland at the start of World War II.
By 1945, she had been deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
She witnessed the death of her parent’s in the ghetto at the hands of the Nazi’s, and was present at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, although suffering from typhus at the time, she made it through just.
She had the courage to step out of line when being lined up to be deported without her parents, and spoke to an SS officer, who flabergasted, allowed her to enter the ghetto to find her parents, in this situation usually the child would be shot.
‘The main camp is something beyond description. There was a terrible stench of burning flesh. The crematorium could not cope with all the bodies so they were burning them in pits.
People were so emaciated, they looked like skeletons. They would be walking along and just drop dead.’
Simon Winston, Holocaust Survivor.
Simon was born in Poland in 1938. During the war he lost both friends and family.
As a young child, his family escaped certain death in a Jewish ghetto in Poland and spent years hiding in surrounding farms.
“I remember when my father left me in a field. I was five or six years old. I had to wait for my father to collect me. I was covered by corn. I crouched down and waited and waited, which I’d done before.”
“Suddenly I was confronted by a group of Ukrainian soldiers. I was petrified. One of the soldiers said to me ‘What is your name?’ and I gave him my name, not my real name, a false name, a Ukrainian name.
“He said ‘What are you doing?’. I said I was playing hide and seek and waiting for my friends to come and find me and they believed me and they left.
“The real miracle of that was that I was able to speak to them at all in Ukrainian because my native tongue was Polish.
“We were restricted in our movement because the farmers were all scared that the Germans might come and find us there. That would have been the end for him too,” Mr Winston said.
“We could only surface at dusk. That was to slop out, get some fresh water and any food he might have had for us and get a bit of fresh air.
“The cellar under the barn was our last hiding place. Because it was so spacious my father was able to invite some friends and relatives. At one time there was 10 or 12 people.
“My mother’s brother’s wife gave birth in hiding in that cellar. When the child was born it screamed and screamed and screamed.
“When the farmer heard this he told us all to leave. We had to make a terrible, terrible decision. The child was suffocated. What a terrible decision to make but it saved our lives at the time.”
Iby Knill, 88, Holocaust Survivor.
Iby grew up in an educated, cultured family in Bratislava, then the capital of Czechoslovakia. Iby went to a German grammar school until she was excluded for being Jewish. Once the Sudetenland had been annexed by Germany, and Czechoslovakia was divided, life became more difficult for the Jewish population on both sides. Jewish people weren’t allowed to sit down on public transport and were the last to be served in shops. Iby deeply resented being made to wear a yellow star on her clothing and used to cover it with a scarf on her walk to school. Iby didn’t come from a religious family, and discrimination on grounds of being Jewish made no sense to her at all.
In 1942 Iby’s mother had a phone call from a friend, asking whether the authorities had come to “fetch Iby”. The friend explained that Jewish girls were rounded up to be taken to work as prostitutes for the German soldiers on the Eastern Front. Iby’s mother acted fast. She dressed Iby up as a peasant girl, and Iby and her cousin took a tram out to the village where their grandparents lived. There they hid for several days while Iby’s parents made arrangements to get her away to safety.
‘Safety’ meant crossing the border into Hungary, crawling across no-man’s land in the middle of the night. Iby went to an aunt, who was scared of repercussions so refused to help her. She then stayed hidden in the apartment of another cousin for several weeks, having to remain absolutely silent so nobody would guess she was there. Iby was just 18.
The cousin introduced her to a solicitor who worked in the Hungarian resistance. Iby stayed with the solicitor and his wife for several months and worked with them, helping Allied airmen to escape. Finally the group was caught, and Iby was held in prison for three months where she was subject to torture. On her release she was immediately re-arrested as an illegal immigrant and sent to a refugee camp in northern Hungary.
The Germans invaded Hungary in 1944 and the situation changed markedly. One evening Iby was visiting Jewish friends when an air raid happened and she was unable to return home. At 5am the police came to round everybody up and take them to Auschwitz. It didn’t matter that Iby wasn’t supposed to be there, she was taken along with the rest. They were kept at a local brickyard then put on cattle wagons and began the journey to Auschwitz. Iby had never even heard of the place and had no idea what was going to happen to her.
Iby spent about six weeks in Auschwitz on starvation rations, crammed into inhuman conditions with thousands of others. One day, she and some friends answered a call for volunteer nurses to go with a slave labour transport. They were taking a risk – they had no way of knowing whether the offer was genuine or if they would end up in the gas chamber – but on this occasion they were given better clothing and taken to work in the hospital of an armaments factory in the Ruhr, she was given this opportunity by none other than Mengeler, the Angel of Death himself. By this time the war was going very badly for the Germans. Iby and other women sabotaged the work they were doing to undermine the German war effort further.
In the dying stages of the war, the Germans evacuated the camp. Iby and the other women were taken on a forced march towards Bergen Belsen. Anyone lagging behind was shot. Iby had developed an infection in her hip and may not have made it were it not for the friends who carried her along. They saw American tanks in the distance. The German forces melted away and Iby and her friends were finally liberated on Easter Sunday 1945.
Arek Hersh, 83, Holocaust Survivor.
Arek was born a Jew in Poland, and was taken to his first concentration camp at only 11 years old after his house was stormed in the Ghetto by the Nazi’s, and he was taken away for a ‘work party’. He then spent time in the Lodz ghetto, and was sent to Auschwitz Birkenau after being kept locked in a church with 1000 other jews. He left his mother and his sister after having lost his brother and father to the nazi death camps, to look for water after being trapped inside for days, he ventured outside and an SS officer asked his occupation, he stated ‘Tailor’ and this saved his life. He was sent to Auschwitz and the remaining people in the church were murdered, including his Mother.
While in Auschwitz Arek confesses of the evil of the guards, having confessed to me today he never came across one single event of kindness from a guard. Telling me more about a guard who infact on the otherside of the fence, asked if he was hungry, stretched his arm out to hand some food over, and then dropped it on the floor and laughed as his guard dog licked it off the floor while Arek’s heart sank.
After spending time in Auschwitz he was then sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, and spent time at Theresienstadt, as well as taking part in a final and infamous death march.
During his time in captivity, he watched 81 members of his family die, and only his sister to survive although he did not know this until 1947.
He was made to carry bodies to the crematorium in auschwitz, and was made to bury body parts, and skeletons while at Buchenwald, memories he will never forget, and still remains vivid and emotionally present to this day.
Arek’s tale is truly remarkable, so many twists and tales which lead to his survival, there are several occasions in which he was brave enough to switch groups in commotion and therefore saving his own life.
He now speaks across the world about his story, visiting auschwitz and various other places from his tale with groups to tell his story.
It took Arek 3 attempts at visiting Auschwitz before he was finally brave enough to enter the gates once again.
If you would like to know more about Arek’s tale he has a book for sale titled ‘A detail of history’ or ask me for more info.
Or you can watch his story here in an emotional documentary –
<a href=”http://www.arekmovie.com/” rel=”nofollow”>www.arekmovie.com/</a>
Trude grew up in Bratislava, then capital of Czecholsovakia. Aged 9, she escaped the country by train with her aunt and cousin and arrived in England, where she grew up in a series of foster homes and boarding schools. Later a scientist and teacher with a family of her own, Trude is still researching what happened to her relatives and has never found out what happened to some of those who stayed behind.
Trude has limited memories of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, though she vividly remembers hearing him “shouting his speeches” down the radio, and hearing reports of her father’s sisters in Austria being ill treated and brutalised by the Nazis. In March of 1938, when things became particularly tense due to the Anschluss of Austria, Trude’s father sent the family to stay with his mother in the relative safety of the countryside. The same happened again in October of that year when British prime minister Chamberlain went to see Hitler to discuss the cessation of the Sudetenland to Germany. For the Feldmann family the writing was clearly on the wall, and Trude soon realised that her parents were doing their utmost to get their three children out of Czechoslovakia to safety.
Trude’s sister was the first to leave on 31 December 1938. She was taken in by an English family near Kew Gardens in London, and lived happily with them until her marriage. Their older brother Paul found a job at a furrier’s in London and travelled there in May 1939. Trude recalls the sense of escalating danger. She remembers being sent home from school in March 1939, when the Germans invaded Slovakia, and looking out of the classroom window to see tanks in the street.
Trude has a limited memory of the trauma of leaving home. Her aunt had managed to get permission to work in England as a domestic servant, and took her own daughter and Trude with her. They left one morning, bundled in a taxi, and suffered a 4-day journey by train, stopped numerous times by officials. Eventually they took a boat from Flushing to Harwich, followed by another train, and finally arrived at Liverpool Street station at midnight.