Sarah Pabst

2015 - 2017




"I was still standing on a northern corner.

Moonlit winter clouds the color of the desperation of wolves.

Proof of Your existence? There is nothing but."

(Franz Wright)

Between 1933-1945 Germany and many parts of Europe were dominated by Nazism and World War II.

71 years later, the traumatic experiences of this period are still present in Europe. Memories are associated with pain, violence and threat. In Germany in particular, this legacy took the form of guilt in post-war generations, ashamed by the events and their place in history.

This work is traversed by that history and is my attempt to build and shape my own memory.

I found a box of photos taken by my grandfather during World War II, witnesses of an era that I only know through stories and images of others, but which nevertheless influenced me to the point of having nightmares about the war when I was a girl.

My grandparents survived the war and just as many of their generation they have passed away and now their memories will soon be part of the past. Through the diaries of my grandmother and her narrations I heard the stories of life, suffering, hunger, guilt and death, and not only obedience but also resistance against the Nazi regime. My grandfather on the other hand only spoke once of the past, of the horrors he had seen, of his near-death experience and then has never talked about it again. Finally, these memories, their memories, became part of mine, as an inherited memory.

Through these memories I build my own memory, the past, the present and thereby, also the future.

In September 2016 my brother died of sudden cardiac death. Suddenly, the future came down on us.

This project is dedicated to him.

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  • A photo my grandfather took in 42 in Russia. The dot resembles the holes in my inherited memory.

  • My father wearing a white shirt. To me, it was always a symbol of my childhood. My grandfather and the Rumanian prisoners of war wore the white shirts as a sign of peace when they tried to escape towards the American army.

  • The letter my grandfather wrote as an American prisoner of war from France. In the letter, which arrived 6 month later, he asks about his brothers and sister. He still didn't know that his younger brother had died in '44.

  • In 1944, my grandfather tried to escape from the German army together with Rumanian war prisoners. They tried to run through a forest towards the Americans. They were caught, the prisoners shot and he sentenced to death by hanging at daybreak. In the same night, the American army took the german war camp and he survived.

  • My mother Barbara two month after my brother Milan suddenly died.

  • My grandmother, 18 years old, 1938. She already had lost a brother in a military accident. She also had just met her fiancĂ©, who went missing in 1943. In 1947 she met my grandfather who had survived his death sentence by the German army and was released as prisoner of war in France in 1946. My own existence is the result of the one split of a second where things can take different ways.

  • A bunker, left over of German occupation in Zeeland, Netherlands. They stand like silent testimonies in the landscape.

  • The Gestapo prison in Cologne, Germany. My grandmother was in Gestapo prison for one night, her father for month until the American forces liberated him.

  • A photo of my grandfather's archive, a german plane in Russia. The dots resemble the holes in my inherited memories.

  • The view from my childhood window and a portrait of my grandmother in the 1950s, after the war.

  • My brother Milan and letters my grandfather wrote to his family as a prisoner of war of the American army.

  • A small piece of a photo of the bombing of Kiel out of a book I found on the streets of Buenos Aires on World War II, intervened by the dots that resemble the holes in my inherited memory.

  • My little niece Reem. My sister married Ran, an Israeli jew,they have three kids. After more than 10 years in Israel, they now live in Germany. 80 years ago, her whole family would have been deported. It's impossible for me to understand, how people where capable of doing that.

  • My younger sister Lea. After the war my grandmother waited for her father, a political prisoner of the Nazis, to come back home. American soldiers occupied her house. It was a dangerous time for a young woman alone. She was lucky and an officer saved her from being raped by another soldier. Lea very often reminds me of my grandmother - both at the same time fragile and incredibly strong.

  • Flowers on a grave in winter.

  • Birds cover a winter sky. My grandmother always said that the bombs sometimes looked like pearls falling down from the sky, blinking in the sun. When they fell on her family's house, she was alone, getting ready for bed and survived my miracle.

  • Graves with the inscription "unknown" in German in a cemetery in Engelskirchen, Germany, of World War II. Engelskirchen is a small town where I grew up. It was heavily bombed shortly before the end of the war.

  • My brother Milan and his youngest daughter. My grandmother had lost two brothers in the war. As a child I listened to her stories, saw her grief and was always scared my brother would not come back. Many years later one of my biggest horrors would become reality. He died of sudden cardiac death in September 2016.

  • Small paper boats folded on New Years Eve with wishes for 2016. They are a symbol as well of me living 12000km away from my native country. Maybe I needed the distance to be able to photograph my families' story, to be able to see.

  • Portrait of my grandfather, 1937, 19 years old, still not knowing what was going to happen.