There are many striking elements in artist Christian Boltanski’s new work, Personnes: piles of clothing under cold fluorescent light, the sound of throbbing heartbeats, numbered boxes and a crane.
Ephemeral yet indelible, this is a work of contrasts. Personnes is about the Shoah and yet it is not. It is about death, and life. About individuals and masses. And about what God might, or might not, be.
“I do not work about the Shoah, I work ‘after’ the Shoah,” said Mr Boltanski, 65. “The real issue in my life is the Shoah. I can work around it, but not directly.”
Ben Helfgott went through “hell” during the Holocaust — and 70 years on, his life is still consumed by it.
Mr Helfgott, 79, was a boy when the Nazis invaded his Polish home town of Piotrkow, Lodz. He was moved to a ghetto, the first in Europe, in November 1939 and worked in a glass factory. At one point, SS guards marched into the factory and rounded up anyone they believed was Jewish. The man in charge saved his life by telling the SS men that he was Polish.
Vienna, 25 July 1947: Anton Sauerwald looked very haggard for a man of 44. His doctor, Karl Szekely, had written many times to the court to explain that his patient was suffering from tuberculosis and the proceedings should be delayed. Sauerwald had spent a month in hospital. However, Judge Schachermayr would have no more delays.
For most of the war Sauerwald had been an officer in the Luftwaffe, not a pilot but a technical expert. In March 1945 he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp at Bad Heilbrunn run by the Americans, but in June he was released and returned to Vienna.
Much of what we’ve seen and heard today was inspired by an extraordinary act of defiance and hope, by a small group of people in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Picture them in your mind. They have been herded together in an enclosed space as if they were cattle, not human beings. They have seen 100,000 of their number die of starvation and disease, 270,000 taken in cattle trucks to Treblinka and other camps to be gassed, burned and turned to ash.