I’m standing at the edge of the cemetery at Zabno watching a Roma memorial service. Everyone is gathered around a marble tombstone that marks a mass grave, one of the few Roma memorials in Poland. It is unknown who is buried here, or how many…47, 49, 59, 61…there is even confusion about the date…June 20th, July 8th…all that is known for sure is that it was 1943.
Zabno, 2012. Pinhole Photograph. © Roz Mortimer
At first it seems like a beautiful day, but a tornado has been forecast, and after the service is over, the vodka has been poured on the ground and everyone has wandered off, I am standing alone by the tomb when the wind swells up as if out of nowhere. I stay filming the birch trees thrashing about in the gale.
Their branches are like tendrils, reaching out to the next tree as the air swirls around.
A choreography of trees.
It is beautiful, but it feels as if the world is angry.
I can’t stop thinking about the trees.
I am in my room in Oswiecim reviewing the footage I filmed today at Birkenau. I spent a long time at the pond where ashes from Crematorium 4 were dumped. I have a picture of this place pasted in my notebook. Its a video still from Miroslaw Balka’s 2003 Pond. His camera peers through the trees at the frozen surface of the pond.
Pond (2003), Miroslaw Balka, video still.
Looking at it again today I am struck by how thin the trunks of the trees are in Balka’s image. They look like fairly young trees. I am wondering when he filmed. The piece is dated 2003, but I suppose he could have filmed it years before.
But still, I can’t stop wondering about the trees.
I keep coming back to it, thinking that those trees must have been planted after the camp was abandoned in 1945.
By who? Is someone landscaping this place?
The next morning I am at Auschwitz I, and notice new saplings have been planted between the huts. An effort to preserve the site as it was? The image on the right is from 1945 with recently planted trees…so the camp was landscaped even then.