On the trail of art after the horrors of Auschwitz. Dispatches from a study trip.

The picture cycle vertically aligned in the visitor foyer of the Reichstag building, Berlin 2019
The picture cycle vertically aligned in the visitor foyer of the Reichstag building, Berlin 2019

According to the former President of the German Parliament Prof. Norbert Lammert, “[…] helping to find a solid position for the artistic-aesthetic confrontation with our country and our history”[1] is the reason why the German Parliament decided to house the “Birkenau” series of paintings. The four paintings were created by the artist Gerhard Richter. They are based on four photographs that were secretly taken by prisoners in the Birkenau camp. Although blurred in parts, they show scenes of violence and terror. They are testimony to and evidence of the crimes committed by the National Socialists against humanity.

The confrontation with National Socialism has occupied Richter for a long time, and he was unable to shake the impact of the historical photographs taken in 1944. He decided to work on them as a piece of art.[2] A glance at the history of art shows that the artistic confrontation with Auschwitz and the Holocaust has been and continues to be a controversial issue. Is it legitimate to use art as a vehicle for processing a crime as heinous as this? This question was the starting point for the study trip organised by the International Association for Education and Exchange (IBB) and Porta Polonica. It is worth mentioning at this point that, even after a week of intensive confrontation with the painting series, the participants in the study trip, which we called “ ‘Birkenau’ by Gerhard Richter – A Site Visit”, weren’t able to find all the answers to this (and other) questions.

 

[1] Online services of the German Federal Parliament: Gerhard Richter presents the “Birkenau” series of paintings to the Federal Parliament, URL: bundestag.de/dokumente/textarchiv/2017/kw36-richter-birkenau-525720, last accessed on 17/10/2019.

[2] More information can be found in the article “‘Birkenau’ by Gerhard Richter” on the page: https://www.porta-polonica.de/en/atlas-of-remembrance-places/birkenau-gerhard-richter,last accessed on 19/12/19.

Mediathek
  • The Reichstag building in Berlin, 2019

    The Reichstag building

    The Reichstag building in Berlin was the first stop on the study tour of the IBB and Porta Polonica, 2019.
  • The photographic templates for Gerhard Richter’s monumental work "Birkenau"

    The photographic templates for Gerhard Richter’s monumental work "Birkenau"

    The four photographic models for Gerhard Richter´s monumental picture cycle "Birkenau" are also presented in the visitor foyer of the Bundestag, but in a different corridor than the picture cycle. Ber...
  • H.D. Buchloh´s book “Gerhard Richters Birkenau-Gemälde”

    H.D. Buchloh´s book “Gerhard Richters Birkenau-Gemälde”

    Parallel to the official opening of the exhibition of the picture cycle, the art historian Benjamin H.D. Buchloh published his book "Gerhard Richter's Birkenau-Gemälde", 2019.
  • Start of the seminar with Dr. Jacek Barski

    Start of the seminar with Dr. Jacek Barski

    Dr. Jacek Barski, director of Porta Polonica, gives an introduction to the artist Gerhard Richter and his work "Birkenau", Berlin 2019.
  • In conversation with the participants

    In conversation with the participants

    Bartholomäus Fujak, pedagogical assistant of the IBB, in conversation with the participants of the study trip, Berlin 2019.
  • From the series of paintings entitled “Birkenau”

    From the series of paintings entitled “Birkenau”

    One of the four large-format paintings of the cycle "Birkenau", Berlin 2019.
  • The picture cycle vertically aligned in the visitor foyer of the Reichstag building, Berlin 2019.

    The picture cycle vertically aligned in the visitor foyer of the Reichstag building

    The picture cycle vertically aligned in the visitor foyer of the Reichstag building, Berlin 2019.
  • Participants of the study trip 

    Participants of the study trip 

    Participants of the study trip in front of the historical photographs that served Gerhard Richter as a model for his "Birkenau" cycle, Berlin 2019.
  • The dome of the Reichstag building

    The dome of the Reichstag building

    Visitors in the dome of the Reichstag building, Berlin 2019.
  • At the Jewish Center in Oświęcim

    At the Jewish Center in Oświęcim

    The Centrum Żydowskie (Jewish Centre) in Oświęcim with the Chewra Lomdei Misznajot Synagogue tells about the Jewish settlement since the 16th century and the relationship of the Jewish population to t...
  • At the Jewish Center in Oświęcim

    At the Jewish Center in Oświęcim

    The participants of the study trip at the Center Żydowskie (Jewish Center) in Oświęcim, 2019.
  • At the Museum of the Jewish Center in Oświęcim

    At the Museum of the Jewish Center in Oświęcim

    Participants of the study trip at the Museum of the Jewish Center in Oświęcim, 2019.
  • In the exhibition of the former concentration camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    In the exhibition of the former concentration camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    In the exhibition of the former concentration camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej in the basement vault of the Franciscan church in Oświęcim, 2019.
  • Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej, Oświęcim 2019.
  • Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej, Oświęcim 2019.
  • Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Insights into the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej, Oświęcim 2019.
  • Participants of the study trip in the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Participants of the study trip in the exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej

    Participants of the study trip view the drawn portraits with the distorted, gaunt facial features of the concentration camp prisoners in the exhibition of the works of Marian Kołodziej, Oświęcim 2019.
  • "Anti-Semitism is a crime against God and humanity"

    "Anti-Semitism is a crime against God and humanity"

    Graffiti with Pope John Paul II in Oświęcim: "Anti-Semitism is a crime against God and humanity", Oświęcim 2019.
  • City view Oświęcim

    City view Oświęcim

    City view Oświęcim, 2019.
  • The gate of the Auschwitz main camp with the lettering "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free)

    The gate of the Auschwitz main camp with the lettering "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free)

    The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Groups of visitors enter the area through the gate of the Auschwitz main camp, Oświęcim 2019.
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum

    Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum

    View of the area of the main camp Auschwitz, Oświęcim 2019.
  • Brick barracks of the Auschwitz main camp, 2019.

    Brick barracks of the Auschwitz main camp

    Brick barracks of the Auschwitz main camp, 2019.
  • Eine der historischen Vorlagen für Richters "Birkenau"

    One of the historical photographs that Gerhard Richter used as a template

    One of the historical photographs that Gerhard Richter used as a template for his picture cycle. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum, Oświęcim 2019.
  • The historical templates for Richter's work "Birkenau"

    The historical templates for Richter's work "Birkenau"

    The historical templates for Richter's work "Birkenau" can be found in the exhibition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Oświęcim 2019.
  • The art collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum

    The art collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum

    The art collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum: The exhibition includes various works of art, Oświęcim 2019.
  • The art collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum

    The art collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum

    The art collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum: The exhibition includes various works of art, Oświęcim 2019.
  • Auschwitz II (Birkenau extermination camp)

    Auschwitz II (Birkenau extermination camp)

    The area of Auschwitz II (Birkenau extermination camp), Oświęcim 2019.
  • Barracks in Auschwitz II

    Barracks in Auschwitz II

    Barracks with three-storey bedsteads in Auschwitz II (Birkenau extermination camp), Oświęcim 2019.
  • Carving of the imprisoned people

    Carving of the imprisoned people

    Carvings or paintings of the imprisoned people can also be found in the wooden walls and bedsteads of the residential barracks in Auschwitz II, Oświęcim 2019.
  • The entrance building of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

    The entrance building of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

    The entrance building of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Oświęcim 2019.
  • View into the exhibition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2019.

    View into the exhibition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

    View into the exhibition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Oświęcim 2019.
  • The photographic template for Richter's picture cycle at the authentic location

    The photographic template for Richter's picture cycle at the authentic location

    The photographic template for Richter´s picture cycle is exhibited in Auschwitz-Birkenau at the authentic location with corresponding visitor information, Oświęcim 2019.
  • In the Old Town of Krakow, 2019.

    Kraków

    In the Old Town of Krakow, 2019.
  • The participants of the study trip in the Old Town of Krakow, 2019.

    Kraków

    The participants of the study trip in the Old Town of Krakow, 2019.
  • Graffiti with Hebrew script

    Graffiti with Hebrew script

    Graffiti with Hebrew script in Kraków, 2019
  • The participants of the study trip in Kraków, 2019.

    Kraków

    The participants of the study trip in Kraków, 2019.
  • The participants of the study trip

    The participants of the study trip

    The participants of the study trip, 2019.