Families Gone To Ash
American Nazi Party member, Chicago, IIlinois 1971 ©Dennis Darling
Frank Collins, leader of the American Nazi Party wound at a demonstration, Skokie, Illinois, the home of hundreds of Holocaust survivors 1971©Dennis Darling
American Nazi Party demonstration, Skokie, Illinois, the home of hundreds of Holocaust survivors 1971©Dennis Darling
Andula Lorencova, b.1927, Photographed in her apartment holding her original yellow star, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. While her father was away setting up a medical practice in China, Andula, her brother and mother were deported to Terezin. There they spent the entire war, Andula cutting mica for use by the German war machine and her mother working in the camp’s kitchens. Unable to return to Europe, her father remained in the Far East until 1945 when the entire family was reunited in Prague. © Dennis Darling
Toman Brod, b.1929, Photographed in a WWII vintage rail building located in Bubny Rail Yards from where he was deported, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. After a year at Terezin, Brod and his family were once again deported, this time to Auschwitz, where every family member except Toman would perish in the gas chambers. Brod cheated death by being selected from a pool of hundreds of young boys by Josef Mengele, the notorious “Angel of Death”, to work along side adults as a slave laborer. © Dennis Darling
Irena Lustigova Ravelova, Photographed in the Hanover Barracks, Terezin, Czech Republic, April 2012. Irena was born in Kolin, a small town east of Prague. Before the war Kolin had the second largest concentration of Jews (2,200) in Czechoslovakia, however by 1944 not a person of Jewish decent remained. Irena's entire family was deported to Terezin. Her grandfather committed suicide there. Her mother, husband and sister were deported to Auschwitz. Irena stay in Terezin because of her war-related job. Her sister was the only other family member to survived. © Dennis Darling
Pavel Stransky, b.1921, Photographed at Bubny rail station from where he was deported, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. During the war more than 46,000 Czech Jews reported to Bubny for transport. Pavel's next train ride after Terezin was on his wedding night. His new wife and her mother accompanied him. Before the order to be deported, the couple decided to quickly marry because those deported were allowed to take family members. The train’s destination was Auschwitz. The trio had no idea of the consequence of their decision. Once there the trio was separated. Pavel did not see his bride again till after the war. No other members from either family survived the Holocaust. © Dennis Darling
Helga Weissová-Hošková, b.1929 Photographed at the Liben Synagogue where she took Jewish Studies as a child, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. Weissova is perhaps the most well-known living child chronicler of Terezin. Hidden in her parent’s luggage were their daughter’s paints, brushes and notebooks. Helga produced more than 100 scenes of life and death over her three years in prison. She and her mother survived Auschwitz, however her father died just days before the war ended. © Dennis Darling
Frank Bright (Frantisek Brichta), b.1928 Photographed at a former WWII airfield where his home now occupies land where a runway once was, Ipswich, England, February 2012. Bright passed a comfortable childhood with a Moravian Czech father and German mother. After moving from Berlin to Prague to escape the Nazis, the family was eventually deported to Terezin. Bright's parents would be killed at Auschwitz. Frank was "rented out" as slave labor to a German firm working for the Luftwaffe. In poor health at the end of the war, Bright was flown to England to recover and never left. © Dennis Darling
Michaela Lauscherova Vidlakova, b.1936, Photographed at the Jewish Cemetery with the toy her father made that saved her family’s life, Prague, Czech Republic, July 2012. Upon arrival at Terezin deportees were interviewed and appraised for their value. Trade skills were favorably rated. In order to prove he was a carpenter, Michaela's father showed the interrogator the toy he made for his 6 year-old daughter that she had packed for the trip. Michaela credits "Pluto", the string and wood creation named after the popular Disney character at the time, for saving the family from Auschwitz. © Dennis Darling
Raja Zadnikova – Lodinova, b.1929 (Raja Englanderova) Photographed on a loading platform in the Bubny rail yards from where she was deported, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. The Palestine born, twelve-year-old Raja spent her free time at Terezin painting, drawing and writing poetry. Her art teachers hid the children's art and impressed upon those who might survive the war their responsibility to retrieve the art. After the war Raja found the hidden suitcases full of art and delivered it to a surviving teacher. Her artwork now hangs in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. © Dennis Darling
Doris Grozdanovicova, b.1926, Photographed in front of the former military hospital where her mother died nearly 70 years to the day, Terezin, Czech Republic, June 2012. Doris' mother was the first to die. She slowly succumbed to the hardship of prison life and waves of infectious disease. Shortly thereafter Doris lost her father to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Her uncle and his family were shot in Poland. Fourteen-year-old Doris spent the war caring for the Nazi's geese and sheep in the fields that spread out beyond the moats and parapets of Terezin. She and her brother were the only members of her extended family to survive the war. © Dennis Darling
Tommy Karas, b.1932, (originally Katz), Photographed looking towards his former apartment building boarding the Bubny Rail Yards, Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. From the vantage point of his fourth floor apartment nine year-old Tommy Karas regularly watch hundreds of Jews being loaded into rail cars. He was destined to join them. At Terezin Tommy became interested in children’s theater. His most notable role was playing the “schoolboy” in the children’s opera, Brundibar. Karas and his mother survived the war. A majority of his family did not. © Dennis Darling
Hanna Zentnerova Travova, b. 1925, Photographed in the Old Riding School where she worked as a woodworker, Terezin, Czech Republic, July 2012. Hanna worked the night shift among an all male staff in this repurposed structure where she was assigned to construct coffins. Her mother volunteered to work the typhus ward of the hospital in hopes of keeping the family together at Terezin, however in 1944 Hanna’s entire family was sent to their death in Auschwitz leaving Hanna alone building coffins in a space she later referred to as "A Cathedral for Horses". © Dennis Darling
Anne Hyndrakova (Anne Kovanicova), b. 1928. Photographed at the Bubny rail yards from where the Terezin transports departed Prague, Czech Republic, June 2012. During the 18 months she and her family lived at Terezin, Fate intervened twice to abort their transport to Auschwitz. But the third time Fate was elsewhere and the trio was placed onboard a cattle truck with fifty other prisoners and driven to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, Anne and her parents were billeted next for the camp’s gas chambers and the crematory’s chimneys. A month later the family was separated–Anne assigned to a Birkenau work camp, her parents to the ovens next door. © Dennis Darling
As a student, Darling's first documentatry project was a series on the activities of the American Nazi Party. Forty years later he returned to related subject matter by documenting a group that endured the unprecedented horrors of Nazi Germany. (See the first 3 pictures)
Little Big Man, directed by Arthur Penn, opens with a young reporter interviewing a wrinkled, withered nursing home resident about his alleged participation in the battle of Little Big Horn and his life during the years of western expansion. Jack Crab, the ancient frontiersman, recounts his century-long life with firsthand knowledge of the people and events of the period. He does so without fear of contradiction. Jack is secure in the knowledge that there is no one else left that has experienced those same events or interacted with those same people. He realizes that he is the sole source for primary research on the subject, a final window to a particular past–the last of living memory. He is unique.
Writer Jorge Luis Borges has explored the same theme; the idea that something unique dies with each of us. What each person has experienced in this world leaves with him, never to be duplicated in quite the same manner by another. Imagine, Borges asks, what it would have been like to be the last man to have actually seen the face of Christ? That person took to the grave an experience shared by no other.
This state of becoming the last living member of a group, or at the least, the last few of a particular category, touches an emotion within many of us. We bestow a certain kind of reverence on the last of a line - that single thread that binds the past to the present, that tangible link of human history that will soon vanish leaving no flesh and blood reminder of what came before. In many cases, the honor and interest generated toward a survivor is not bestowed upon the recipient for any significant achievement in life, but simply from the fact that the person has survived longer than any of their peers. For instance, the last Confederate widow, final diminutive actor from the Wizard of Oz or, the last Native American speaker of Coos, a language once spoken by a tribe in Southern Oregon.
But for some, the journey along the arc of one’s life has been laden with difficulties and challenges encountered by few others. There are lessons to be learned from these people and compelling reasons to document as much as possible before the last living memory becomes irretrievable. Like frontiersman Jack Crab, these survivors embody the last opportunity for primary research. They too are unique. This act of recording living history about to vanish has shaped much of my career as a photographer and has fueled a life-long interest in history.
The ranks of the generation that lived through the horrors of World War II are rapidly thinning. Within the next few years, all the people who have experienced the wars seminal events will be gone. Living memory will cease to exist. I have recently become involved in visually documenting U.S. combat veterans who fought in that conflict. I have also recorded their oral histories.
There is another much smaller group of survivors from that same period that I am extremely interested in documenting as well. They are remnants of a group that endured the unprecedented horrors of Nazi Germany – the survivors of Terezin; the Nazi concentration camp located in the Czech Republic, forty miles north of Prague.
Nazi Germany began establishing an extensive network of concentration camps across Europe in the 1930’s. It has been estimated that there were nearly 1,500 camps during the Third Reich. Theresienstadt (later to become known as Terezin) began as a walled military town in the 17th century. In 1941 the Nazis began using the town’s military facilities as a holding prison for those deemed enemies of the German Reich. Within a year the entire town was converted into a prison. At its inception, the majority of those imprisoned at Terezin were Jews who had been rounded up from Bohemia and Moravia after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. This included many prominent Jews, especially those in the creative arts.
There were no gas chambers at Terezin (although some were under construction in 1944 when it was liberated). Terezin was classified as a transit camp where inmates were collected, then routed to the death camps to work as laborers or simply be exterminated. Most of the 88,000 prisoners transported from Terezin were killed at Auschwitz.
But death was far from a stranger at Terezin. Terrible conditions of perversity and horror prevailed there as well. More than 35,000 inmates perished at the camp while awaiting transport. Of the 155,000 Jews who initially arrived at Terezin, less than 8 percent survived the war
There has been a wealth of research and documentation in the past 65 years on Nazi concentration camps. But there are still stories to be told and images to add to that body of documentation. Each camp was somewhat unique from the others in the system. Terezin, by most accounts, had important features found at no other camp; the large numbers of artist and creative types imprisoned there, the legacy of art they produced while interned, and the use of the camp by the Nazi propaganda machine to deceive the International Red Cross are all unique to Terezin.
Yet the most important and timely part of this project is making portraits and recording the oral history of the small group of Terezin survivors who are still alive. Most are in their 80’s and 90’s. Most are child prisoners who lost one or more family members to the ovens of Auschwitz. What do they have to tell us now that they have had a lifetime to reflect on their childhood spent at Terezin? How did those experiences shape their lives? What do these people look like? Writer Lance Murrow has observed, “Photography puts marrow into the old bones of history.”
Photographs combined with personal narratives are the most powerful records that can be left for future generations. Primary sources trump everything else available.
Author and Holocaust survivor Samuel Pisar in an editorial in a January 2010 issue of The New York Times laments, that after 65 years, the last living survivors of the Holocaust are disappearing one by one. He points out that at best, only the impersonal voice of a researcher will soon be left to tell the Holocaust story. At worst, he warns, it will be told in the “malevolent register of revisionists and falsifiers.” He cautions that this process has already begun. “This is why those of us who survived have a duty to transmit to mankind the memory of what we endured in body and soul, to tell our children that the fanaticism and violence that nearly destroyed our universe have the power to enflame theirs, too.”
I desire to be one of those who records what they transmit – their images and their oral history.
Dennis Carlyle Darling. B.1946 Austin, Texas USA