Photonet Magazine Issue 220 “A photographer in Auschwitz”

A photographer in Auschwitz

The journey has a starting point. Each one of its route ends in a place. Photography includes a journey with a timeless place as a starting point.

A photographer may have wondered whether the caption   of an image has pre existed before its print, but the journey has definitely been done long before it became a reality. Some routes become tempting because they are not “shiny” but in the end the enlighten our personal evolution.  There is a time when Auschwitz stops being elusive. On the contrary, it is approachable, more than ever, it stands shouting with the cosmic voice  of 1.1 million souls that left there their last element of existence.

Auschwitz is located in the suburbs of Oświęcim, a small town in Poland, 60 km west of Kraków. It was a complex of more than forty concentration camps that where created by the Nazis in occupied Poland during the Second world War.

While preparing your luggage you stand in front of it. You know that in you closet you can find a pair of black wings among other clothes. You choose to take them with you and take pictures of them  in the place of human brutality. On the way to the airport you realize that you are not going to Auschwitz only because of reasons of personal pursuit. You realize that you are traveling because of more transcendent reasons. You feel that there is a universal defense on everything that enslaves human dignity – freedom.    

The taking off created a sentiment of pleasure in the stomach and added moments of expectation. You land in Krakow. It is snowing and it’s cold. It seems as if white is not incriminating they gray you are going to face. Shots penetrate during exploration. At the same time, while  you are trying to find the hotel you are going to stay, you enjoy the beauty of a picturesque town that is full of colors and Chopin. Before you stand in Auschwitz ‘s gate, you are visiting Schindler ‘s factory.   The past has now come closer.  The city imposes. You haven’t realized that you are integrated with its history.

The new day has dawn. Wings are ready to fly. Too much anxiety for too much sadness. A photographer can ‘t wait for empathy. The bus has started its route. The windows are dully. They are still soaking from snowflakes and breath.  While you approach the camps you absorb everything that moves in a route you do not know and you mourn. You are not alone, no one speaks. They may give space to the screams. The destination passes the baton from fiction to reality.  You know that your camera is not only a medium for recording, it is the extension of being a photographer, of its own reality. You have arrived, you pass the checkpoint, they are scanning you. It is strictly forbidden to take with you the black wings.You strictly get mad. Without having realized, the security just took the imaginary photos from your consciousness in  its hands and tore them. Auschwitz is now having a sense of  a heterotopia. You reach the past as the present.

You are obligated to forget. While you move to the camp ‘s blocks you find the central gate where the impressive sing of Auschwitz “Arbeit macht frei.”You cannot just pass through it. You stand. You look up. You are wondering how liberation combines with  so many kilometers of whirenetting. You finally pass the propaganda and enter the unmoving and incomparable concentration camps. You stand with awe shooting their cold perfection, accompanied by the reflection of the snow. You can ‘t wait for what they have to tell you. Each one of them has a dedication, a reality of the horror with photographs, text, objects, documents, which are worn and permanent sorrow. The isles of the block, looked after, are penetrated by the darkness and not the light.

The same happens with rooms. They are atmospheric and the light that passes through the windows is low. You look at the visitors. They do not laugh, they speak rarely and low, some of them shed tears, others stand without moving looking shocked. In front of this sadness, we are united. You take pictures without been discovered, taking into account of the lightest detail. You need to breathe. There are many windows and you reach the one that is closer to you. Sarcastically, the view is outstanding. From some of them you can watch beautifull landscapes with tall trees and in others the sacredness of the buildings.

Finally the documents include numbers, dates, names, ethnicities, religions, minorities, piles of shoes and glasses, humans in experiments and monsters with human faces. You are someone who visited death, the horror of a war, a holocaust. You met with the messy impulse of a heaped despair where on its top repetition of brutality dominated. But now the need for defending the existence and its rights is getting bigger. You continue to walk on the aisle of the blocks 6 and 7. Hundreds of  portraits mainly of polish people who died.

These expressions, harrased, are trying to hide an enormous fear. . They are not allowed to have feelings during the shooting. They are not allowed to cry. The creator of the pictures, photographer Wilhem Brasse has Austrian roots. Just before they die, he took pictures of their last moments of existence. Sometimes he tried to find reasons to increase the time of life of some of them. In 1945 he was set free and he went back to his hometown. He never again touched a camera.

Too many hours have passed. You are full of memories from memories, you reach the exit where you find  the aisle of the furnaces in the gas chamber building and the crematory.  Before you leave, you decide to enter. It is not easy. It penetrates you. It won ‘t be erased.

The wings are returned to their owner during exiting the place. You decide to hang them in the wire netting that “protects” the camp. You take pictures of them. You are left without wings and photographic status. You just feel pain.You remember  what Budha said: “Fear is the carrier of consciousness” . You relax. You return.

Reader Whrite : Ypatia Kornarou