Auschwitz is the German name for Oswiecim, the Polish town that was renamed after the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, and the center of a network of extermination and concentration camps. Birkenau (Auschwitz II), which means birch tree, was a nearby village. Together they were considered to be the focus of the “final solution to the Jewish question in Europe”. Comprising over 40 sq. kilometers, at its peak the area housed over 200,000 prisoners at one time. Over 1 million people died in Auschwitz-Birkenau; mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, homosexuals, practitioners of various faiths, and others.
I visited the camps in 2009 while touring Eastern Europe. The pervasive sense of sadness and difficult history in that part of the world has stayed with me since my trip. The day of our tour was a surreally beautiful one with clear blue skies, green grass, and flowers blooming – a total disconnection for me from the horror we were learning about and the dim, dirty, and cold interiors of the buildings and ruins we walked through. One could easily imagine how difficult the conditions were for prisoners who had no heat, only cotton pajamas to wear, and who endured other unmentionable treatment.
Although Auschwitz was crowded with visitors that day, I waited until there was no one in sight before taking my photographs. I wanted to have my images convey the idea that anyone seeing them might be able to project themselves into that environment; that any one of us might be singled out one day because of our appearance, beliefs, or practices. For me the landscape of Auschwitz still acutely holds the memory of human suffering, undiminished by the sixty-eight years that have passed since the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops. A review of an exhibit of this series can be found at: http://m.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/looking-back-looking-forward/Content?oid=2139527&issue=2126803#CommentsMobile.