Posts Tagged ‘Czech Republic

20
Nov
11

Terezîn, Czech Republic

You may recall that Terezîn was formerly called Theresienstadt, under Nazi rule during World War II.  It is/was a garrison town built in the 1780’s as a fortress by the Hapsburg rulers. You can read more about it by clicking this link. My interest in Terezin is multi-layered and even a bit complicated. But over all of it lies this sense of amazement for the life that the residents of Terezin ghetto created for themselves during this descent into Hell.

From the first days, the residents, in the form of the Jewish Council of Elders, decided that to survive this experience, the children must be educated and the community as a whole must have access and participation in the ARTS. Performances of original plays, musical recitals, Verdi’s Requiem, and the renowned children’s opera “Brundibar”, took place in Terezin regularly. The education of the children, though forbidden, went on nearly without stopping. Thanks to incredible teachers and instructors, children produced art works and magazines for the entire community. These activities, along with their involvement in “Brundibar” would be, what one survivor described, “the last source of great joy in their lives.” (Jiri Kotouc, Home L 417).

I am working on a project that came from my need to understand the human capacity for such darkness in the face of joy, love, and humanity. It is proving to be more difficult than I imagined. But I’ve decided to put up a few photos from my days in Terezin, just to communicate a little of the solitude and sadness that still lives here. Terezin is unique in all of Europe in that people inhabit, today, the very same structures that housed Jews, Danes, Poles, Czechs and others, the vast majority of whom perished in the Holocaust. More than 10,000 children lived in Terezin, fewer than 200 survived.

I want to photograph the people of Terezin today, against the backdrop of all this history. It’s not easy. I haven’t been successful yet. But I will keep trying.

If you have any interest in this story, I urge you to read The Girls of Room 28, by Hannelore Brenner. You will be saddened, uplifted, and probably left with the same questions that have haunted me for a number of years. But I predict that you will have a deeper understanding of the importance of art and education in all our lives.

More than anything, the children longed for the open spaces of their villages and towns. I spent a day driving all over the countryside, when fog hung in the air and hoarfrost coated every surface. I wanted to get to know the countryside a little better.  The damp and cold, coupled with the moody lighting and absolute stillness was to me totally appropriate.  It turns out that I don’t know how to portray sadness and sorrow…. a sadness and sorrow so deep that it threatened to engulf an entire people. In the end I could only photograph what I saw and what I felt.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the very first transport to Terezin of Jews from points all over what was Czechoslovakia. It is just a small footnote in a large history. But it is not forgotten.

I’ll close with the words of someone far more articulate than I, Rabbi David Cooper:

“…what happens when the suffering is too great? When it engulfs and extinguishes people and hope? I don’t think we have learned a thing collectively. Is it enough that individuals have? It must be ~ and therefore, every heart, every light DOES matter. This alone gives me hope.”

29
Oct
10

European Wrap Up…with horses!

I suppose I couldn’t go too long without posting some equestrian images on the blog.  History has long been a passion for me. Seeing the prevalence of the horse in European culture for centuries was a reminder of how dependent we have been on our equine friends for the advancement of civilization. Thankfully, horses are no longer used in warfare in most parts of the world, but they are still being abused and neglected. I’ve been working with Dominique and Debra Barbier on some behind the scenes projects….there will soon be an announcement about their efforts to educate riders and trainers about the correct, classical and compassionate training of the horse for all disciplines and levels. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the gallery. It’s an eclectic mix, but reflects some of the cultural landscape from Eastern Europe.

27
Oct
10

Thoughts on a birthday…finding direction

I’m spending a lot of time on planes now.  For the most part I don’t mind it, and sometimes I rather enjoy it. Last night I flew from the East Coast to Seattle. Six hours of time without a (good) book to read allowed me to write in my journal.  I’ve just completed a journey through parts of Holland, Germany and the Czech Republic. My mind has been occupied with sorting all the experiences I had…trying to create some cohesion in the face of such wide disparity.  No success so far.

I thumbed through the older pages in my journal to see if there was a clue about my journey hidden away and I came across something I had written several months ago:  “We walk in the light cast by our searching soul.”

This is a time of change for me (time zones, homes, artistic direction). Birthdays are good markers for reflecting on what has come before…and to clarify our goals and desires for the coming year.  My trip to Europe amplified so many questions for me. What direction will I take? Will I find answers to questions that have haunted me for years…questions of the nature of humanity and our propensity for destruction that exists as the twin to our capacity for love? Can I create even more solitude in my life and how do I balance that with working to create a more public face for my photography?

Though I have learned that change is the best way to move forward it can still be difficult. Often we can find direction in observing where we’ve been and how it’s led us to where we are. The path might surprise you. The unexpected turn can seem perfectly aligned when viewed from a distance. Embrace change, it’s our only constant.

Re-reading that one sentence gave me hope and a bit of added strength.  When darkness envelops, even the tiniest spark of light offers warm, courage, and a direction, even if for only a few steps.  We all have that spark within.  So my birthday wish is that we all nurture our sparks so that they become flames and the flames create beacons.  Those beacons will light our way and could ease the path for many others.

Shine your light.

And perhaps more eloquently:
“Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”  ~ Golda Meir

Light streaming through the windows of St. Vitus' Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

 

15
Oct
10

“…the man who has seen Prague might tell us something.” Dr. Johnson

What can I tell you about Prague?  My strongest impression: Prague is a powerful juxtaposition of new and old. After elbowing through a crowd of tourists navigating narrow lanes, you can discover restaurants in ancient vaulted spaces proclaiming “Slow Food Prague Approved”. You can see the Old Jewish Cemetery (with 12,000 tombstones succumbing to gravity and erosion) or new works by inspiring artists in galleries on every block. You can watch a new beginning take place on the steps of a centuries old castle……or turn the corner and have a meal and a beer at the oldest medieval pub in Prague while you put up your latest blog post (they have wifi). Tour St. Vitus’ Cathedral and discover a distinctly Czech color palette and style in new stained glass that coexists with an artisan’s window from the 14th century.

Though I have seen Prague, I feel like there is so much more to see.  It is, in this way, very much like London, Paris, Florence, or Rome…..it is nearly unknowable.  The pace of the change feels like it could be faster than the cities I’ve mentioned. Prague has long been a center of learning and expression in art, literature, science and music….but the desire to “catch up” since the fall of the Iron Curtain is manifested in the street scene and in the vibrancy of a very young population.

I think that it will soon be very difficult to find vestiges of mid-20th century Prague. Sophisticated architecture, fashion, cuisine, and a heavily centered tourist economy will erase what is left from this time. But the best parts will certainly remain.  See Prague and you will see the height of Baroque (and earlier) European culture displayed in the churches, in the music, and the glorious decorated architecture. See Prague and you will see a populace alive with possibility while preserving its storied intellectual and social awareness. See Prague and you will see heart-rending evidence of loss and the annihilation of a population that gave so much to the life blood of a great city.

See Prague.

13
Oct
10

the journey continues: Terezin

A caveat: I am not a scholar….I am not a philosopher…..I hesitate to write about this subject as so many have come before me and written profoundly and with tremendous compassion and knowledge.  I offer my thoughts as a simple commentary from a caring human that happens to use a camera to add to the dialogue.

Terezin (or Theriesenstadt as it is more widely known) was a jolt. Having a cup of tea in what turned out to be one of the workshops for the inhabitants of the ghetto was simply surreal. The waiter, the furniture, the strange green gray paint on the wall, cobwebbed windows and the slightly dirty table cloth created an atmosphere of such oppression. It felt like all life had been drained from this town and in its place was poured inertia and darkness.  I was unprepared for the fact that people LIVE in this town. I kept looking around for the “site” and then realized I was standing IN the site. This helped to explain the feeling that I was walking in a gray airless space.

After walking the perimeter I left the town and went to the Small Fortress.  The town of Terezin was built originally as a fortified garrison town.  To the north lies the small fortress…what became a center of torture and death for Czech political prisoners and resistance figures, locals accused of aiding prisoners, and people from Terezin who had defied some rule or conspired in some way to make life a little better.  Again, the juxtaposition of horror (the cells of the fortress) existing within 30 feet of lovely homes and lawns (the lodging for the commandant and adjutants) filled me with revulsion and anger.

I walked through the fortress…..learned that it is a place of deep sadness for Czechs as so many of their heroes died here…..and learned about the citizens who risked their lives and often lost them to help a prisoner. Smuggling a letter or trying to get a bit of food for a prisoner was punishable by death, after having been tortured. The Small Fortress at Terezin is a blessedly silent monument to martyrdom, to true heroism, and to the values that compelled citizens to try to help, even in the smallest ways.

I went back to the town to visit the Ghetto Museum.  This is a large building that borders a small park, with big leafy trees that line the sidewalk. It is housed in what was a boy’s dormitory.  More than 10,500 children passed through Terezin from 1940 to 1945.  Less than 300 survived. Walking the halls of the museum and looking at all the children’s drawings ~ of holidays, of seasons, of family and of home ~ was heartbreaking. And then beneath the incredibly precious works of art the artist’s name, birth date, and date and place of his or her death is inscribed. What can anyone say when faced with this much loss? Humanity’s loss? Photographs were forbidden and I certainly didn’t want to disrespect the memory of the children and their heart’s work…..but I did make a photo of a small part of a wall….just one of many….that was inscribed with the youngest victim’s names. I made it in a way that I hope invokes the feeling of their departure, but also their journey to a better place…..surrounding us all in the air we breath and the molecules that pass through us in each moment. They are us and we are them.




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