I made my journey to Auschwitz and Birkenau knowing fully that it would be sorrowful and perhaps impossible to photograph through tears and stunned disbelief. All these emotions swirled through me and rendered my whole being mute. Not just my voice, my entire being. I couldn’t formulate a thought, much less express one; verbally or photographically. Then, I raised my camera as I was stumbling along, stopped to make a photograph, and began to come back to myself. Gradually, I understood that this act of creation was more than an act of self-preservation, it was a way to look deeper. With this intent, the overwhelming sorrow lessened just enough for me to regain some composure and begin to walk purposefully, to see, purposefully.
The lasting impressions from both Terezin and Auschwitz/Birkenau are of silence and permeating cold. I created the photos below with this awareness. In the photographs I’ve chosen for this post, as an idea to portray a silent conversation, I have blended images from Terezin with images from Auschwitz/Birkenau. Most of the people that were sent from Terezin on the dreaded transports perished in Birkenau.
I hope my viewers will keep this in mind: the photos are an artistic expression of what I saw and felt. They are not indictments, religious commentary or judgement. My intent is to simply reflect my personal experience in a place that has infinite layers of horror, grief, loss, and teaching. My intent is not to create offense or add sorrow. If you are troubled by the imagery, write to me. I want to hear your thoughts.
I’ll close with a quote from Longfellow: “Therefore trust to thy heart, and to what the world calls illusions.” As all the places I visited retain only the faintest trace of the living, I had to rely on a deeper sensibility to gain a small foothold in the incalculable darkness. I hope that the images I offer will resonate with you. It is simply my heart speaking.
I found your blog via the Pacific NW Art school. I’ve been waiting years to get into Arthur Meyerson’s class there, but was unable to attend this past year. Hopefully next year. How wonderful to be able to assist!
Your Auschwitz photos remind me of Jeffrey Gusky’s in his sad but excellent book Silent Places. He photographed former Jewish ghettos, graveyards, etc., in Poland. I can’t recommend it enough.
I’m enjoying your posts and your photos.
Thank you so much for finding the blog! I hope we’ll see you next year in the class….it was a wonderful group of folks, and of course EL Don was magnificent.
Thank you for taking the time to comment on the post. I’ll be looking for Mr. Gusky’s book as soon as I finish this note. It was a deeply meaningful trip for me and one that I will make again….but we will see where the work takes me. : )
my favorite image is the one of the troughs that were used as mass latrines and what the prisoners found to be their place of privacy. unbelievable to imagine have slabs with holes cut out and placed above horse feeding troughs used to toilets, but the germans wouldn’t go into this area from the stench. this was “privacy.”
the chill in this image, the bone-chllling horror along with the sense of being frozen is illustrated in how you chose to composite. i believe you found a way to illustrate what is not imaginable to portray. i was surprised by what you did only because i thought you went to make portraits.
of course, you did…hauntingly so….bravo.
And I weep, again. This time there is solace from our connection.
As you say, I set out to make portraits. What I saw and felt while I was there was this silent conversation between the two places (Terezin and Auschwitz/Birkenau) The specter of the Death Camps loomed over all the residents of Terezin and was, for the vast majority, their final resting place. The numb of the cold and the ice was just another layer of torture and another layer of agony, though mute. This is why I chose to do what I did. I had to make the best photograph I could and so I set about doing it. This silent conversation rose up from what I felt.
Thank you for your comments, as always.
Wonderful imagery, Keron. I had relatives… many who perished…and some who survived, who has endured Auschwitz. I loved them dearly. Nothing even a lifetime of stories and images can perhaps create the fullest picture of their experiences. But we’re blessed to have the opportunity to see and experience it through your eyes, in your special way.
I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to comment. Your words are deeply meaningful and have moved me greatly. I will return to the Czech Republic and to Poland in the Spring. I must. I hope you’ll check back and see what images rose up for me. I am just the messenger and if there must be one, I will humbly do my part.
Such powerful evocative imagery. In so many ways – you’ve expressed visually the confusion of feelings I have for these places and spaces in time and history. You’re very brave to visit there and to attempt to capture the evocative raw bleakness..the tragic sorrow.
Thank you for your kind words. I am so grateful that you check the blog….and find it worth commenting upon. Strange, you know….I didn’t feel brave (though I thank you for that)….I felt compelled. The images I created were totally different than what I thought I was going there to do. That is a lesson of course for photographers, but the deeper lesson was to GO and to remain open to what there was to experience, and then make the best photograph you can. It takes the pressure off a bit and I think it allows for greater creative expression. I’m satisfied with the imagery….and haunted by it as well. Thank you, again, for checking the blog. ~Keron
In 1963, an Air Force buddy and I were driving in Germany and saw a sign for Dachau. I experienced the abomination of Dachau as we walked through the “shower rooms” and other places of death. Your images brought me back to the horror that day. Congratulations on your project.
Hey there, Tom…thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your own personal experience. And thank you, too, for your congratulations. I know I can enlist your support when the time comes to share the news of the finished project! Warmly, Keron
I have told again and again the impact your slide show of the death camps had on me when you visited our Whidbey Photo Group. I have taken to heart your comment: “What does the photo say about you?”, working toward that with a few of my recent photos.
We live in a place of immense beauty here on Whidbey Island and Seattle, yet it is part of a broken world with homelessness, poverty and violence surrounded by extreme financial wealth, shared and un-shared. Your photos have shown me that the combination poverty and excess or love and hate blended into one image can speak to “Who I am”.
Thank you for sharing your gift of image in photo and word.