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

Station 2: Oświęcim or Art is documentation is emotion

The first station of the journey was able to be discussed in detail during the long bus journey from Berlin to Oświęcim. Today, this town in Lesser Poland is known for the German National Socialists having operated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp on the western edge of the town from 1940. The town is closely linked to the concentration camp, which, in the public consciousness, has come to represent the Holocaust and the National Socialist crimes against humanity.

However, the German-Jewish-Polish story of the town did not begin when the camp was built in 1940, which is why the group decided to visit the town with its town centre and castle dating back to the middle ages first. This is where you find the Centrum Żydowskie w Oświęcimiu (Jewish Centre in Oświęcim) with its Chewra Lomdei Misznajot Synagogue, which is a meeting place, place of prayer and information space rolled into one.[4] During the tour, the group learnt about Jewish settlement dating back to the 16th century and the relationship of the Jewish population with the town, which they called Oshpitzin. They also heard about the town’s dark chapter, with the beginning of the Second World War and the occupation of the region by the German armed forces, and ultimately of the systematic extermination of more than one million people in the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1941. The last Jew to live in Oświęcim died in 2000. Since then, there has been no separate Jewish community in the town.[5] Today, the people who come to the synagogue to pray are tourists and visitors to the town, predominantly visitors to the memorial. The group was visibly moved by everything that they heard; particularly about events in recent history. Numerous documents from the inhabitants provide insights into the thoughts and feelings of their owners.

The second day began very early and was misty. The aim was to go to the memorial site. During the tour, the group was given an insight into the structure of the camp, the living conditions and the murder of the prisoners in the concentration camp. But before the group arrived at the camp, Bartholomäus Fujak, a member of the IBB pedagogical staff, and the bus driver from the town, drove them to the affiliated district of Hamęrze. The journey took them past sleepy houses waking in the morning light and past the greenery of late summer.

A few minutes later, the group stopped in front of a Franciscan church where a real gem was waiting: an exhibition of the works of the former camp prisoner Marian Kołodziej. Kołodziej worked through his experience in the camp in numerous pictures. He was one of the first to arrive at Auschwitz and he survived.[6] The pictures are pencil and graphite drawings drawn on different sized backgrounds. The exhibition is housed in a narrow cellar vault. The light reveals the distorted , haggard features of so many prisoners who, as shadows of their former selves, are often contrasted with the SS members, who are portrayed as wild animals. Several portraits show Kołodziej himself, who can be recognised by his tattooed prisoner number: 432. Kołodziej did not just want to his pictures to bear witness, he also wanted to give the prisoners of the concentration camp their identity and their existence back. After the tour, the participants had some time to go through the exhibition on their own. In the conversations that followed on the way to the bus and during the journey to the memorial, the general mood fluctuated between feeling overwhelmed at the sheer number of impressions they were left with and their admiration for the artist.

 

[4] More information can be found on the Centre’s website: https://ajcf.pl/en/museum/, last accessed on 7/1/2020.

[5] cf. Olga Mielnikiewicz: Oświęcim. Historia społeczności, Link: https://sztetl.org.pl/pl/miejscowosci/o/546-oswiecim/99-historia-spolecznosci/137813-historia-spolecznosci, last accessed on 7/1/2020.

[6] See the detailed portrayal of Kołodziej, the survivor and artist: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora: Marian Kołodziej, in: culture.pl, Link: https://culture.pl/pl/tworca/marian-kolodziej, last accessed on 7/1/2020.

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.