Entries in germany (32)


Summer Jacobson's Poetry

We are very proud of Summer. She's smart and beautiful. It always warms our hearts to see her perform (singing/guitar), or to listen to one of her poems. We like to hear her political and social thoughts, too. She's more in touch with the important things in life at 16 years-old than I was at 26 years-old.

She brought home the "Showcase" catalog yesterday. It features work from high school students all over Europe. This was just published in the last few weeks, but it was from work submitted last year (when she was a sophomore). They selected one of her poems for it. Can you guess who the poem is about?

We love you Summer! You make us very, very proud! And, yes, we rocked the vote this time!

Summer Jacobson's poem


Can You Believe It? German Press About My Project!

I don't really believe in coincidences, and every once-in-a-great-while something comes along to remind me why I don't believe in coincidences.

Seligenstat Newspaper article about me working in the Jewish cemetery. Last November 9 (2008), which was the 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, I was in Seligenstadt, Germany making glass plate photographs in a Jewish cemetery that was destroyed during that pogrom.  My friend, Jan from Berlin, was there and a journalist named Armin Wronski, from the Offenbach Post was there, too. Jan's mother and step-father live in Seligenstadt. Jan and his family arranged for the paper to be there. As I made plates, Armin shot digital photographs of me and Jan told him all about my Kristallnacht project, auf Deustch, of course. I thought this would be a great piece and a huge accomplishment for me if they actually published it. To be honest with you, I didn't think they would. (You can click on the image to enlarge and read)

You have to think about this; I'm an American, with Jewish heritage, in Germany making photographs of one of the most terrible events in human history perpetrated by this country and its people. This is a very difficult and serious topic. It's hard to talk about, it's hard to think about, and a lot of Germans feel ashamed and powerless over the situation. Would you want to publicize this? Of course the angle is soft in this article, it's the technique, the Wet Plate Collodion process, that's intriguing for people. Also, if you know about Germany and the Germans, you'll know how out of place I look/seem in my dark box next to a cemetery, pouring strange chemicals on glass plates. This is not what I would call, "ordnung" - and Germans need things proper and in order. However, the people of Seligenstadt were very kind and gracious to me. They were interested in what I was doing - and that's a wonderful thing for me. I think the fact that the newspaper ran this piece is a testament to their willingness to talk about this, that's the key.

Anyway, back to coincidences; I didn't hear a word about it for two months. Just last week, it entered my mind, "What did they do with that story? Did they ever publish it?" On Monday, January 5, 2009, I wrote Jan and Armin an email asking what became of the story. Jan immediately wrote back and said, "It's in today's paper!" Are you kidding me? I was beside myself and tripping out. I hadn't really even thought about it until that weekend and the day I send the email, it's published!?! Wow! Like I said, no coincidences. What does that mean? Am I psychic? No, I'm not, but I am connected to this in a bigger way than I even think I know about and it's these kinds of things that prove that to me.

If you ever find yourself in a rut and are bored with life, move to Germany and start an art project about the Holocaust. If you have any German friends, ask them to raise interest in the local media about you and your project. And finally, to really get things going, tell them that you have Jewish heritage. Try it sometime, you'll find that it's both rewarding and challenging. Life will NOT be boring anymore.

Follow up - January 12, 2009: After running this by my German friend for a complete translation, I've got to say that I'm not impressed. There's not one mention of Kristallnacht, or the fact that my entire project deals with that. I'm sure he was censored, or censored himself. I had my hopes up. It's a "fluff" piece, and in the big picture, it means, nothing.


The Transports

Train tracks in DachauMy friend, Caron, gave me a great idea for my Kristallnacht project. She suggested that I make images of train tracks and stations that were instrumental in moving Jews to the concentration camps. "The Final Solution" could not have happened without the railways, without the trains making the mass transport possible. The Germans sent 30,000 Jewish men to Dachau and Sachsenhausen on Kristallnacht by way of trains.

The photo on the left is one I snapped at Dachau one year ago (December 2007). I remember thinking, "These are the rails that carried all of those people to their death". It was profoundly sad and visually striking to me.

This is a very insightful and interesting idea on many levels. It resonates with me simply for the fact of how much we us railroad metaphors and how they take on a whole new meaning here in Germany. For example, "derailed"or "derailing", "track wreck", "just the ticket", "off track", "one track mind", "railroaded", "fast track", "express", "letting off steam", "blowing your stack", "tunnel vision", "bells and whistles" and "end of the line". I see trains here in that kind of context.

The transports were usually cattle cars. At times, the floor of the car had a layer of quick lime which burned the feet of the human cargo. There was no water. There was no food. There was no toilet, no ventilation. Some boxcars had up to 150 people stuffed into them. It did not matter if it was summer, winter, boiling hot or freezing cold. And an average transport took about four and a half days. Sometimes the Germans did not have enough cars to make it worth their while to do a major shipment of Jews to the camps, so the victims were stuck in a switching yard - "standing room only" - for two and a half days. The longest transport, from Corfu, took 18 days. When the train got to the camps and the doors were opened, and everyone was dead.


German Lawmakers & Anti-Semitism

I ran across this piece today. These are the kinds of questions and the issues I wonder about. I would answer the question asked at the end by saying, come and live here for a while, you'll know.

"Two weeks ago was the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. German society, now expert at such commemorations, gestured in all the appropriate ways. Angela Merkel visited the newly renovated Rykestrasse synagogue. Mozart’s Requiem was performed at the Gendarmenmarkt. All the newspapers featured reviews of a new exhibit about the burning and pillaging that augured worse to come. The public centerpiece of all this memorializing was to be a standard resolution, a statement of concern, really—unanimously supported by all the members of the Bundestag—decrying anti-Semitism and calling for renewed vigilance. It almost didn’t happen. When a vote finally took place on November 5, it was only after the ruling coalition of Christian and Social Democrats and the extreme left party had engaged in a brutal round of accusatory historical regurgitation. Der Spiegel said everyone concerned in the episode “should be red in the face with shame.” In the end, to avoid what would have been a full-blown fiasco, two separate statements for the dueling factions were produced and passed.

Why did this no-brainer of a resolution create such problems for German lawmakers?"

By Gal Beckerman


Seligenstadt Synagogue in Wet Plate Collodion

Today, I made the image that will appear on the first page of my book (I think). The image shows the original steps of the Seligenstadt synagogue. These steps are the only thing left of the synagogue. It was burned on November 9/10, 1938 during Kristallnacht. If you think about the metaphor of stairs (especially ascending/descending) you'll get where I'm going with this.

The emptiness is what moves me the most when I'm making photographs where the mighty, vibrant synagogues once stood in these small villages. I'm almost trying to photograph what isn't there. It's very difficult to do. It's also very sad.  

A friend from Berlin, Jan, met us in Seligenstadt this morning. His mother lives there and his step-father has done an enormous amount of research on the Jewish community (that was) in Seligenstadt. 

After making a positive image and a negative image of the same scene (the steps), we (Summer, Jan and I) went for coffee and looked at the "stumbling stones" around the village. There was a significant Jewish community that lived in this village until 1938. It's the same story in all of these places. Jan had newspaper clippings from the Seligenstadt newspaper (from 1935) that showed a page of ads for office furniture, shoes and clothes, and in the middle of these "common ads" was another kind of ad that read, "The Jews are our misfortune" ("Die Juden sind unser Unglück"). Mind-blowing and very educational.

The last two images are the positive (8x10 Black Glass Ambrotype) and the negative (8x10). I'll make a POP print this week of of the negative.

Seligenstadt Synagogue Remains 
I wasn't sure about the light, being in a hole and surrounded with "red" and "yellow". 
"Where does the shadow of my hand fall?" 1100 hours, 4 second exposure. 
Pouring Collodion on an 8"x10" piece of black glass.  
Putting the "loaded" plate holder onto the camera.  
Processing the plate.

"Seligenstadt Synagogue Stairs" 8"x10" Black Glass Ambrotype (sold) 
8"x10" negative - Seligenstadt Synagogue Stairs. 
I'm going back to Seligenstadt next week. We're suppose to have a key to get into the Juden Friedhof (Jewish cemetery) - it was vandalized during Kristallnacht as well. Look for those images next week!

Thank you Summer and Jan. It was a great day. This is very important work, thanks for being a part of it.