AND THE STORY OF JAN-CAREL ABOUT THIS SCULPTURE:
“The fragile memory of hope”
Silently I have been working on my latest marble sculpture about Auschwitz Birkenau. A sculpture that arose in my mind several months ago.
For this sculpture, I had to go to Krakow, the second largest capital of Poland. A town that once was the centre of the holocaust during WWII. The best way to depict a feeling or a thought is to go back to the place where it all took place. So, that is what I did, I went to the Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau extermination camp.
Krakow in winter
It was the 30th of November, snowing in Krakow and the temperature was high for that time of year, our taxi driver said “-3 with a strong wind from the east. “Normally, it can be between -10 and -30 degrees” he said. That sentence kept on rolling in my mind. -30 degrees!
Thousands of people who were struggling for life in their striped pyjamas, most of them barefoot. How is it possible that there was a proportion of people that thought it was normal to do such atrocious things to others? Sadly it was more humane to be killed in the gas chambers immediately than suffer the unbearable conditions of the harsh Polish winter. Many of them did, but there were too many people and they could only gas 6,000 people in one day. Consequently, the others had to wait and do the jobs for the German craftsmen. If not, they would have been shot.
Camp Birkenau was built for 150,000 people, a huge barren place where the wind has free play. From the platform where everybody arrives through to the gate of death. I walked to the demolished gas chambers where infamously Josef Mengele experimented on many twins. From there on I walked back to the camp, something most people could never had done. To the wooden barracks, I walked the most disgusting living quarters I’ve ever seen in my life. Those beds, made of a few shelves or a small place on the ground. I would not allow my pigs to live in there. The cold, the dirt, the inhumanity is unthinkable.
Everyday camps prisoners were counted. They had to be present at 5am where they were told to wait, barefoot in the snow at -30 degrees. Waiting for the German officials to show up for a daily counting. Most of the time they stood from 5am until 10am before the Germans came for the daily head count, in their warm jackets. Knowing all this, for myself is almost unimaginable how a few prisoners survived. Walking there in the cold silence where even now birds can be found or heard, I couldn’t find and feel the smallest bit of hope. The survivors must have been extremely brave and strong, or just had luck on their side. There were no people whom they could trust or were willing to help them. All hope for normal life was taken from them. Living there was like a wire, so thin and fragile. All help was obsolete. A feeling I came away with from Poland and with that in mind what inspired me to craft this fragile marble sculpture.
An experience that keeps on digging away in my thoughts was the reality of the people who visited the camp for a tour. We were standing in line, hundreds of people, waiting to get in. Bitterly cold, everybody wore a thick coat and a warm hat and scarf. Yet many of the people around me were complaining about the long waiting time in the cold. Can you imagine that? That’s what we have become, a bunch of nagging folks, complaining about the few minutes waiting time. Knowing what the people in the camp had suffered, I felt ashamed; there in my warm coat. So, I opened my jacket and waited silently, thinking of those who arrived there 75 years ago with a fragile hope for a better future.