It’s not surprising that the Holocaust remains a highly emotional subject. But all emotions, even the strongest, soften with time. We have seen the shocking documentaries showing mountains of corpses and visited concentration camps, creeping through the long barracks in pathetic silence. And now this: Majdanek is spinning around me. Or I’m spinning around in Majdanek as if on a carousel.
The connection between innocent fun and crime against humanity
I’m in the middle of the space. On each wall is a projection showing the long barracks that became an iconic image of the suffering of millions. But this time the perception is very different – simply because of the wild, breathless, circular movement. Memories of innocent childhood are evoked, the joy of spinning around and seeing the world go mad around you. No pathetic silence is possible – not a chance.
There is a historical reference for that shocking connection between the utmost crime against humanity and innocent fun. At the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the spring of 1943, a traditional carnival in Warsaw was underway. So while thousands of Jews were being killed in the ghetto, Polish kids were enjoying rides on a colorful carousel right outside its walls.
The banality of the evil
Walt Disney had released Bambi one year before in 1942, the year of the first deportations to the extermination camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest one, is shown in Miros?aw Ba?ka’s 2010 video installation Winterreise (Winter Journey). The tower of the camp can be seen in the background – but only upon careful inspection, as the cute fawns in the foreground, grazing peacefully on a green meadow, provide distraction.
I am reminded of the quote about the “banality of the evil,” even though Hannah Arendt was not talking about deer. The Polish “inherited” most the sites of the Holocaust from the Nazis. They live in close proximity to those sites of horror. So how is everyday life next to Auschwitz-Birkenau? Or how was it 1942?
The sound of flowing gas has lost his innocence
A third room shows BlueGasEyes (2004): Two ordinary gas flames are projected onto the floor. A meal is about to be prepared. Feelings of coziness, harmony and well-being are evoked. But the sound of flowing gas has lost its innocence since Auschwitz. Miros?aw Ba?ka is playing with my emotions. And I let him do it, in order to gain an invigorated and intensified perception.