How can photography serve to deepen our awareness of the Holocaust?
On September 6, 2016, I was privileged to receive my PhD in Theology from the Vrije University in Amsterdam. Under the mentorship of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre, I focused on how Baptists in the United States responded to Nazi Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. In anticipation of speaking on this topic in the future, I have been taking a series of photographs documenting the Holocaust in various locations. Amsterdam offers many opportunities, if one only takes the time to visit the Jewish Quarter.
The easiest way to make contemporary images related to the Holocaust is to visit memorials. In January 2015, I spent an hour in solitary contemplation in memory of the thousands transported to concentration camps, at the outdoor Auschwitz Memorial. Earlier in the day, dignitaries and no doubt a crowd were there for a ceremony, but the darkness of night reflected my contemplative attitude more fittingly.
A less direct approach entails trying to capture the emotion of the horror, in a symbolic form. Hidden on a post off of Max Euweplein is this evocative memorial to those who were forced to leave the Netherlands under Nazi persecution.
A third commemorative response is to affirm the positive life of the Jewish community that pre-dated the Nazi era. Amsterdam was home to over 100,000 Jews. On my most recent visit, I captured this detail of a painting at the Jewish Historical Museum, which celebrates the vibrancy of the Jewish marketplace:
And of course, there is the spirituality of Judaism, as expressed in the synagogue:
But in the end, one cannot escape the horror of the Shoah. These two paintings express it so very well. The first depicts the Nazi vultures greedily gazing down on condemned Jewish families.
The next uses the image of fire to depict the attacks against Jewish life and community existence:
Every human being matters, because we all share that spark of spirit called the human soul. We are of infinite worth, and thus must mourn the loss of every person who unjustly dies because of prejudice, hate, anti-Semitism and racial bigotry. At its most basic level, the Holocaust is about each individual and family and their journey either toward death or survival. Jeroen Krabbé honored the memory of his father, who died in the Sobibor concentration camp after being heard with other Jews for transport from Westerbrook in June 1943.
At Sobibor, geese were brought in to drown out the screams of Jews forced into the crematoria:
Let us never be tempted to permit noise to obscure the pain and suffering evil political and social movements inflict on others. Even in the 21st century, for example, anti-Semitism finds expression in various ways, and we must oppose it wherever it gains a voice.