After I had filmed the choreography of trees in the cemetery at Zabno and was packing my camera away, a woman approached me. I’d seen her hovering around during the Roma ceremony earlier, but she hung back, not participating. Now it was quiet and I was the only one there, she came and nervously stood by me. Magda translated – the woman knows the location of another mass grave, one she has never told anyone about. She can show it to us.
The next day we returned to interview her. I thought she’d be taking us out of town, but she leads us across the road. There, underneath a scrubby patch of wheat within sight of the the cemetery, is the grave. She was 12 years old and hid behind a barn watching as soldiers killed and buried a group of Roma including a mother and her baby in 1943. After she had finished telling me her story she was shaking. She took me by the shoulders and said:
‘And..and I have this sight before my eyes. I re-live this…yes. It is good that I have spoken,
that I met you and asked you, so..so that you would hear me out. And thank you very much
for that, because…maybe it will be easier for me now…yes. I think so, I do not know.
Maybe I will feel relief somehow…because I have spoken…yes.’
She had kept the story to herself for 70 years. All that trauma and fear contained. Telling it felt like an exorcism of sorts. Yesterday, when the wind appeared out of nowhere in the cemetery and the trees were thrashing about, I could hear the wheat across the road too. Angry. Thrashing. Today it is calm.
For van Alphen “The trees are witnesses, but they don’t testify. Their refusal to testify, to serve as a trace of ‘the war,’ determines their guilt” (1). But I don’t think these trees have guilt. Here, in Zabno, they seem to have become material manifestations of the trauma and fear that has been contained for 70 years. Not guilty, but like her, traumatised. Secrets have to come out in the end.
8 minute preview clip ~ This is History (after all). 31′ 2014. ©Roz Mortimer
1). Ernst van Alphen (2000). Armando: Shaping Memory. NAi Publishers. pp 10-11. From Prism: Understanding Non-Sites of Memory, Roma Sendyka 2013.