2015 - Ongoing
On the 15th of January 1943, my great-grandmother was transported with other prisoners to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp back then occupied by Nazi Germany Poland.
In the summer of 1942 in a very dramatic circumstance, she was taken away by Gestapo from her 12 kids and a husband. Soon after that, her husband was also taken away but to prison in Rawicz, where a year later he was a victim of persecution and stabbed to death with a pair of scissors. Due to his illness and beating he already received, he couldn’t catch up with the production of the Nazi army uniforms. Jozefa Bera the wife and mother after surviving almost 6 months in the women prison in Fordon, Bydgoszcz was transported to one of the cruellest places ever created by humankind – Auschwitz-Birkenau.
She was put into a tight, cold and dark cattle wagon with other prisoners for a distance of almost 500 km. On the day of her arrival at the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, her identity was simplified to five digits “28955”.
A month after her arrival she died.
In this cruel way, 12th kids lost their parents. What they were left with are two letters one from their mother send home and the other one from father.
I went back to Poland for a few weeks to explore my origin and history connected to my family. Where my family, sadly as many others in Poland had the first-hand experience with the Holocaust. I felt it was extremely important for me to travel to the Auschwitz-Birkenau to find a way to connect with them.
During my visit I performed a small piece with each of my close family members, (including me) we wrote one of my great-grandmother's prisoner number starting from my father since she comes from his side of the family tree.
What differentiates these numbers is the handwriting of each one of them. Each number introduces each member’s personality and feelings that come with the process of doing it.
This piece we created together, for me has a very symbolic value when it’s probably the most important thing we did as a family. Later on, I got it tattooed on my left arm. There’s plenty of reasons why I did it but probably the one that is significant to me was the idea of connecting with the past.
That’s when I decided to start my work on the archives and to create content that captures the story of my but also other families in Poland. I’m planning to reconnect with more family members creating portraits of them during the research process. Capturing their emotions while reading the two letters and shooting a series of portraits of their reactions.
As a part of the research for one of the pieces, I want to send out the two letters to a graphologist who will analyze the handwriting to state the emotions of the person writing it at that time. Based on the answer by using mixed media I want to produce a body of work which is a combination of photography and video.
This year is the 75th anniversary liberating the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. We live in times when some can only imagine what people went through in the past. During the beginning of my research, I felt quite surprised to see that people just want to forget about the past and their family history.
I personally believe that we should always remember who we are, where are we from and what our ancestors did for us. If we stop to communicate we will stop teaching history and maybe let the mistakes happen again.
It's important to capture these stories to retell them to generations that can only learn them from school books.