I have transcribed much words spoken by the survivors of holocaust before writing this. I did this exercise not to gather information but to recognise in my flesh that I am incapable of speaking about what has happened at Auschwitz, the largest concentration and extermination camp. The place of “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. ‘Where inmates were killed in a variety of ways: gassing, cannibalism, overcrowding, starvation, lethal injections, medical experiments, hanging, shooting, through back breaking work, mental trauma, suicide and diseases. Auschwitz is the largest genocidal site of the modern civilized world. It is a testimony to the extent of cruelty ideologies of hate can cause and the depth of degradation that human beings can fall to’. For anyone who could survive once reaching Auschwitz was a miracle.
A photographic exhibition on Auschwitz by Sudeesh Yezhuvath was held recently titled “Yours is not to Reason Why – Tremors from Auschwitz” at Durbar hall Ernakulam from 16th to the 29th of October. The show was curated by artist Murali Cheeroth and architect Dr. Jayaraj Sundaresan
Persistence of memories
Sudeesh during his travels across the world takes thousands of photographs of what interests him. He chooses the fields to create an independent visual and aesthetic experience often freed from the context.
But for Sudeesh it was different when he visited Auschwitz where a terror played out, turned few thousands of men, women and children each day to smoke and ash – over eleven million people in four years. For him it was to enter the context deep enough to understand possible constructions of the warped minds. Hence the curators say, “It is imperative therefore as viewers that we draw from our present to get a glimpse of Sudeesh’s shock, grief, and fear. It is imperative that we contemplate this time in that place and that time in this place”.
At Auschwitz what we could find are a row of neatly arranged brick buildings, which looked quite peaceful and even serene. Neatly arranged, red brick buildings sitting on nicely arranged lawns with trees to add beauty to the image. These were the barracks that prisoners were housed in. Of course, it was a very different scene when the camp was functional. These are pictures from an archaeological site of extra ordinary crimes against humanity by humanity, executed using pristine reason and industrial efficiency. Sudeesh did not photograph them to share his curiosity of history, but to express and share his grief, shock, and fear due to the ominous tone of parallels from our times.
The photographs of the barbed wire, chimney, railway line, prosthetic limbs, the wagon, the insides of gas chambers where hundreds of thousands of families died together in tight embrace, the prison cells where humans were packed worse than the worst boundaries of our imagination, the hanging bar outside where prisoners stood at minus 25 degrees for hours on end naked before being hanged all remain as silent pointers to what human can fall to. There are reflective pictures that reflect the photographer within the picture as of joining the unspeakable grief.
These photographs re-present the memory of the memory of a situation. These are not something to be looked at, but purpose challenging the viewer to critically enter innards of ones own being, to strip oneself and stand in front of the mirrors that these photographs represent and see how each one of us contribute to the play of terror, knowingly or unknowingly. It is not an invitation to imagine the terror that played at Auschwitz but to mirror the active role we play in our day to day life; a story of terror in making.
A walk through the images would oscillate us between the gravity of the torture to death and the descending doubt on ones own dearly guarded world. A realization of possible vanishing of matters that mattered. Hence, these images purpose us to enter an enigma of our relationship between what is present and what is hidden within.
Sudeesh says “ How could a people have been so cruel? How could a people have supported such an atrocity? How could normal, respectable individuals support such inhuman crimes? How could a whole nation be brainwashed to support the bigotry of a few”?
Many people were taken to Auschwitz only because someone in the neighbourhood informed the secret police. This someone must have been a “normal” Dutch or German person; yet, s/he willingly sent a family to torture and death, just because the family was of particular community. “Throughout the period of the Nazi regime, ordinary decent people did this time and again. this shook me to the core and frightened me” Sudeesh says in his artist’s note. Sudeesh asks himself “How would I have behaved in such a situation? Would I have succumbed to these minds of hatred and gone along with them or would I have opposed them? I comforted myself thinking that I wouldn’t have to ever want to face that question”.
Truth of convenience
“Auschwitz represents the epitome of how subservience, obedience, servility and loyalty to authority made hundreds and thousands of officials, unable to think and act for themselves with moral conscience and how millions of ordinary people all across Germany and Europe, through their silent support, became active participants to racist and eugenicist mass murders of the Third Reich”.
When we think of Nazi we think of one name. We may think it was this one person, like a person who heads a small terrorist group, who did all these what had happened. But he was the leader of a nation, and people like in our times, be it men, women, youth, children, all liked to get a glimpse, listen to his words, touch his hand, work for him, to be in a photograph with him even though as one in the crowd. They all felt his dream was the dream of all of them and many were even proud to give birth to babies for their dream future. No man and woman would have had their sexual conduct with a purpose as many of them had.
Everything was normal life, like ours, for most people who were supporting the Nazi. Each one did one’s own work with a dream for our future. All those who were supporting the regime were not in the job of either shooting or lifting anyone to the concentration camps and then to the gas chambers. “But were just doing their regular government job to only take minor decisions to implement the government decisions and court orders? The clerks, officers, drivers, postmen/women, printers, policemen/women, …? And what about those who helped build the infrastructure including the campus, buildings and chimneys – the architects, engineers, contractors, builders, masons, carpenters, planners, manufacturers.…? What about the chemists, scientists, industrialists and managers of IG Farben the chemical and industrial conglomerate that used slave labour from Auschwitz, that produced ZyklonB, the killer gas used in the gas chambers? What about workers and managers of other industrial conglomerates that supplied ammunition and vehicles and nuts and bolts and spanners and screws…? What about the lawyers and judges who litigated and sentenced? What about the academics, housewives, grocers, teachers, cleaners, butchers, artists, musicians, students and so on who never fired a shot themselves; but either supported and reported or just kept quiet? Didn’t all of them play a part in these mass murders that happened under their noses?”, the curatorial note speaks.
Do we hide seeds of hate
Are we the ‘wise’ people, learned to work well, earn money and respect, take our right amount of carbs and protein, do the exercises and make our visit to the gods and places of entertainment, but are also hiding something within without our own knowledge for our convenience.
Each step of our way, what we think, do, or cherish, all can be steps towards something from which we can not retreat even if we wish one day. We work hard to strengthen the system for the sake of small individual gains, by which the system tighten the noose tighter and tighter. Like broiler chicken eating more and becoming fatter to the advantage of the feeder.
When we learned our academics with pride, sacrificing our play times, warm moments with our fellow children, adults, grandparents of all communities, and also with the earth, did we forget to learn from the wisdom of our bodily coexistence. When we learn to succeed often we tend to forget to preserve our inner light, and allow ourselves to be indoctrinated. And it looks like our own desire that serves as a bait to metamorphose us into something ugly. Many robbers find their tools of operation from the very same house they come to rob. Similarly the tools of nastiest action human can commit to others and the earth would be found within. We nurture it without knowing what that would serve against our own will when times come.
How small its seed lies within us. When the time comes, burst out. People who present themselves as atheists become the most fanatic blinded watchdog of certain warped religious dogmas. Similarly the most religious people become the cruellest ones. One who is notorious turns out to be the protector of life. It is not someone from outside coming to kill us, but we ourselves release the devils from within.
When do we know the alarming nature of the truth that we hold as much as the convenience we cherish, the knowledge that we pursue, the joy of work and the beauty that we seek. When do we know our humble temptation for small things within in which lies the terror.
At what point in time, we decide some people living among us, not as one among us, and to be avoided. How an authority of a place decides certain people should not be of that place. How causally and freely, like a mono crop farmer decides to clear a land for the specific crop cultivation, we try to clear everything and everyone that do not fit our narrowed convenience. Whose question and the reason serve as the decisive factor, and what is the place in it for others and their question and reason.
When our eyes be open
How could we understand the value and beauty of a person around us regardless of religion, language or politics, even if he or she is not ‘good’ as we would like to be. Probably only when we recognize what it means for us to have names and there are people who still call our names and speak rather than are reduced to a number on a clipboard. Or only when we recognise everything that help us to think can be taken away, we may recognise the opportunity we have to think differently and love. Or probably only when our elders, the healers, listeners, children, gurus, trees, birds, the shines of sun, poems, and all sources of equilibrium and grace are removed from us, we may recognise how we have been taking the wrong sides of everything around us. Only when we are left with nothing to eat, no water drink, we may realise all that was spread on the table was the product of labour of love, and was beautiful and alive to keep our body alive.
Only when our homes are broken by isolating us from all others, we may realise how shamefully we spent our times when we had a chance to be together. Only when our spirits are broken by innumerable ways: by humiliation, taken away our identity, no place to rest our head, no place to pee or shit, or by moving us constantly place to place like a herd of sheep for slaughtering, then we may realise the beauty of our home and community around and how we disregarded all our chances of loving and honouring the other.
Only when we see people one by one are taken away from us for reasons that we don’t know, we may recognise how we all need each other. Only when we see corpses around more than the living people, then we understand our desire for people who are alive. Then there would be no place for dislike or hatred in our mind but only love because you see them alive. Then you will turn all to love. When we are freezing and in need of warmth then we will hug tight a body that just had left its soul. There will not be a place for hate, we will take the warmth of love from that body and become love.
Only when we are enveloped by secrecy and terror, and needing to hide, remain quiet, and breathe in silence, do we realise how beautiful it is to stretch our hands and shout aloud how we need each other. Only then we would realise that to love and embrace is not a sacrifice with regret but is to enter the love of things and to be free. Only then we would realise that this would the lesson, the only one, our life can depend on.
Our skin is close to our body as love and it is not used to make lamp shade. We use soap to wash our body and our fat is not used to make soap. Our bones are holding our flesh. Our lungs and heart have rib cage. Eyes to see. Hands to touch. If not in this body, in this bodily connections, where else could we show our love?
It is worth dying in love
Hatred and suspicion of the other lead to something much grave because that is what children would remember. People who recognise the possibilities of terror would build the nation on the foundation of love. How much ‘thank you’ we need to say to become a life of gratitude. Only then we can resurrect and bring to life all who have died. To live is the purpose of life. To live we have to save each other, that is the only way we can live fully. Whether we believe in god or otherwise, this truth would be the same for everyone.
What is the way we can understand undying love. We have wife, husbands, children, is it not a miracle, like birds on trees in a nest. What price we can pay for us to be able to survive today, each day. When we have people and earth to express our love even if there are many who hate us, it is a miracle to live. To be able to love the people who hate us, is the ultimate joy and miracle we can experience. To smile, to the world is in our individual agency, no one else can do it.
We don’t want to live every moment fret thinking of the worst. It also would not be worth living a life staying prepared to fight. Our pursuit could be to confront the seeds in day to day life that feed an ugly metamorphosing of our mind. Because if you hate someone, you torture yourself. If someone kills you out of hate, it is worth dying in love rather than holding hatred within.
C.F. John is an artist