Posts Tagged ‘Terezin

10
Jan
14

encouragement

I am working on a project that is very important to me…though sometimes I despair at my seeming lack of progress. Every time I have felt a little lost, uncertain of my purpose or without hope, the Universe has given me a sign. It’s just a small thing, but enough of an encouragement that says ‘go on, there are things to uncover still’.

Today, even while enduring a migraine, I picked up the laptop to check a few sites that always lift my spirits. But this day was different. Not only are my spirits lifted, but I stumbled upon another story that goes directly to the heart of the project I am working on. There is no mistaking the dual message: first, my quest is supported, and second, my hypothesis is correct.

I am no different, no more or less deserving than any other person on the planet. But I have learned that when we follow our hearts, when we allow ourselves to be known and our intention to be expressed, we are supported. If you need a little encouragement today, open your heart…express your intent…and follow the signs.

There’ll be much more to come about the project in this space, but for now, follow the link and enjoy. Life is beautiful. I am grateful. Thank you, Alice Herz Sommer.

http://theladyinnumber6.com

Alice Herz Sommer, mother, daughter, pianist, 110 and loving the beauty that is Life.

Alice Herz Sommer, mother, daughter, pianist, 110 and loving the beauty that is Life. 

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.”

16
Mar
11

Compassion = Understanding?

Magnum photographer Eve Arnold from her book Retrospect: “If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.”

For a very long time I have wanted to photograph elements of our existence on earth that are troubling, unsettling, even tragic.  There are many reasons to do this that probably only make sense to myself.  I expect to learn a great deal more about my own motivations as the work progresses. I made a beginning last October with my trip to Eastern Europe. I’m taking another step now even as I develop a deeper project for the work in the Czech Republic.  To say that it’s a departure from the equine photography is an understatement, but there is a uniting theme: I am interested in what is happening in front of my lens.

The suffering happening in Japan is mirrored in so many countries today. While the story is unfolding there and creating fear and apprehension for millions around the world, it offers us the chance to check-in with stories in other places…places that have experienced continual suffering and loss. Haiti is just one place on our planet that fits that description.  With Grace and good fortune I’ll be going there in June to help several families and to photograph the stories I find. I’ll begin my self-assignment now and learn as much as I can about the history of the land, the literature, music, and culture of a people whose history stretches far across a divide hewn by violence and fear.  Often this violence came at the hands of “Men of God”. And yet, blessings and goodness have also been offered from other good men. And there is one of the least understood aspects of the human personality: the capacity for unspeakable evil matched with the ability to offer Grace and compassion in its presence.  I offer the photograph today not in judgement or evangelical spirit. I offer it for us to consider and understand the burden and connotation that human beings attach to a symbol.  As potent a symbol as has ever been created, the Christian Cross has the power to divide, to call out, to separate, to OTHER~ more than any other banner, flag, or nation’s symbol. I understand our need to “tribe” ourselves, perhaps these days, more accurately BRAND ourselves. But must it be blindly? Always? Yes, I’m painting with a broad brush. I know that.

This photograph is as powerful for me as any other I’ve ever made. It makes me think. It stopped me in my tracks when I saw it ~ as it seemed totally out of place in the Small Fortress at Terézin.  And when I made time to work on it I knew I wanted to emphasize the qualities I saw in it.  I won’t describe those as I don’t want to prejudice your seeing of it. I’m interested in what you think.  Your point of view matters to me.

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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