It’s the end of my second day in Poland. I am exhausted, and it has not stopped raining since our 9am arrival on Sunday. Apologies if this is a little messy – I’m working with pens, a rained-on notebook, and a phone.
I’m going to attempt some illustrated highlights…
As I explained in my previous post, I am trying to produce a creative record of this trip. For future publicity, for myself, and some for a web & print publication next week (more on that another time).
Yesterday, we went straight from the airport to visits around historic buildings and memorials around Warsaw. Suddenly the places I thought I knew about so well from films and books – the Umshlagplatz portrayed so vividly in The Pianist, the mound where the left wing resistance fighters at Mila 18 made their bunker during the ghetto uprising – these places that existed only in my imagination – suddenly I was standing right there.
There is nothing religious here for me. Nothing spiritual. What happened here happened between humans. Society. People. What happened here only further trivialises religion for me.
But we must remember that it happened.
The biggest, common fear amongst survivors of the holocaust?
That history will forget.
I am not the child of a survivor. Nor a relative of one. But I am now the guardian of the story and memory of a survivor.
Renée Salt is a remarkable woman of courage and dignity. A survivor of the Lodz ghetto, and of Auschwitz, her entire family were sent to the Treblinka death camp, the site of which we visited with her today.
I spent some time this morning making sure she was happy with me photographing her first visit to the memorial site. Her response? “It is so important that you photograph me here. But please. Please make sure that this horrible rain hat is off and that my hair looks okay.”
As I walked with Renée across the grass at the site of the memorial stones marking the mass graves of Treblinka, I asked if she felt alright.
“Alright…? I am walking on the ashes of my family.”
There are so many museums and memorials across the world, to remember and honour the dead. Memorials which serve to help us find meaning at places we may struggle to understand. To explore and explain what happened here. So that we will remember the dead.
We have as great a duty to remember those who survived.
Today I watched as Renée walked out of Treblinka. As bus loads of students and visitors and youth groups walked away from the site that 800,000 people did not leave.