Over a few months in 2022, photographer Jim Leonard and myself began this piece of work. Our project began many years ago when we had visited the camp separately and decided this time to collaborate on a piece that has expanded and allowed us to involve the excellent Holocaust Education Ireland who create awareness throughout the island of Ireland about the Holocaust and its consequences. They introduced us to survivors, and to sit with these wonderful people was as emotional as spending time at the memorial.
It is hard to comprehend the number of people murdered in places such as Auschwitz, and having the opportunity to meet holocaust survivors made each figure real, made the glasses and shoes we photographed, objects of possession which were rushed into suitcases and loaded onto cattle trucks to be never seen by their owners again. There were places that we didn’t shoot any photographs, as we were emersed in the feeling of being there, that feeling when you are numb with emotion and time stops.
As we had made arrangements to have a longer private tour in order for us to have areas to ourselves, it allowed us to document this memorial with patience and the respect which it deserves, using modern day digital technology and film cameras. Slowly walking through the exhibitions, some in complete silence, apart from our excellent guide Lucas giving us in-depth information.
We broke for lunch and then took the complimentary bus to the memorial at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, being taken to the watch tower above the “gate of death” looking down on the train lines that brought innocent people to end their lives. As we walked these train lines, the sky turned white and snow started to fall giving a surreal feel to the landscape. The baron area known as “Canada”, with its building ruins covered in a coating of snow, we saw a family of dear pass in the distance, life and hope in a place known for its cruelty and death surely being a sign of hope for the future.
On returning to Ireland after a recent trip to the camps they met and photographed Holocaust Survivors Suzi Diamond and Tomi Reichental who live in Dublin, these portraits will be on display for Culture Night along with photographs of the first ‘Stolpersteine’ memorial stones to be unveiled in Ireland remembering six Irish Jews murdered by the Nazi regime. These stones, recently laid by artist Gunter Demnig in association with HEI in Dublin form part of the biggest decentralised memorial in the world which includes over 70,000 stones in thirty countries.
Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.
It is a honour to be involved in Culture night in Dublin for the 3rd year and exhibit some of this collection, thanks to The memorial at Auschwitz, Holocaust Education Ireland, Megan, Stephen and all the staff at Brick Alley, Jack for his instillation skills, Tomi, Suzi, Dee and Angie, the chance to collaborate with someone with the eye of Jim has been an adventure and a wonderful experience, I look forward to touring this educational piece of art and producing a book in the future.