Tag Archives: Roma

maybe I will feel relief because I have spoken ~ Zabno

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.

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Invitation ~ Sites of Collective Memory Artists’ Talk

Wednesday 16th July 2014
@ Agency gallery
66 Evelyn Street, London SE8 5DD
6.30 – 8pm
Free.
Please join us for this talk where I will be discussing my new film THIS IS HISTORY (after all) with Michaela Crimmin, co-director of Culture+Conflict.
The event coincides with the Sites of Collective Memory exhibition at nearby CGP gallery and all five artists from the show will be participating in the discussion.
The talk will be followed by summer drinks and music in the gallery’s garden until 10pm.
DSC08481a

66 Evelyn Street London SE8 5DD
66 Evelyn Street London SE8 5DD
66 Evelyn Street London SE8 5DD
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This is History (after all) ~ new film premieres in London

My new film, THIS IS HISTORY (after all), made in response to three grave sites in Poland is showing in the Sites of Collective Memory exhibition at CGP gallery, London from 8th July to 10th August.
Do come!
Here’s an invitation

History_05

 

 

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invitation ~ screening at Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month

On 25th June I will be screening a selection of filmed interviews with survivors and witnesses of Roma massacres in Southern Poland that I have collected during my research. The event is part of Hackney’s Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. There will be a panel discussion and Roma speakers from Hackney, Newham and Harringay (who will also be providing Roma food and music).
Do come! Its free, but please book.

 

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the choreography of trees ~ Zabno

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

                                                                      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.

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Bielcza IV – history or memory

On July 16th 1942 in this place, German soldiers shot and killed 28 Roma, all members of the Kwiek family. They were buried in a shallow unmarked grave in this forest clearing on the edge of the village of Bielcza. Three years later, the villagers exhumed the bodies and buried them in a mass grave in the local cemetery.

I am thinking of Nora’s Lieux d’Mémoire, about what makes a place a site of memory rather than a site of history…this place is unmemorialised, but there seems to be a will to remember…firstly from the villagers, then more recently from Bartosz’s initiative the Roma Memory Caravan, and finally from Roma themselves.

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Bielcza III – driving in circles

In Adam Bartosz’s office earlier that day he had pulled out maps to show me the exact location of this place.
He said ‘it’s between the houses and the bushes, you will see an indentation in the earth’ and drew me a diagram on a post it note.
finding Bielcza

It took us 2 days to find. The forest was overgrown. We drove in circles around the village scrutinizing every indentation. Was this the place? Did it feel like the place? Could we feel anything?

On the morning of the second day he arranged for her to be waiting for us. She took me by the hand and led me into the forest. ‘This is the place’ she said. She remembered when it had happened in 1942 and she was distressed that the place had become so unkempt and overgrown.

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Bielcza I

I’m standing in a forest clearing on the edge of a remote village in Southern Poland. There is no marker here, no memorial. The clearing is overgrown and unkempt. It feels important that I am here.
A shaft of sunlight appears and lights the spot.
this is the place

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Bielcza II – sketching the uncanny

I stand for a long time looking this place. The sunlight flickers in and out. Later I began to re-work my footage to communicate something of the uncanny nature of this place.

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Varpalota II – Anna Lakatos

In 1945 there was no lake here, just a snow covered field and a freshly dug trench. Now it is a flooded gravel pit that has a strange luminous beauty.
Standing here listening to the distant traffic and the rushes moving in the wind I am reading the testimony of Anna Lakatos…

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Varpalota III – empty vitrines

There is no memorial here, no visible sign of what took place. Not at the lake, or in the town. I’m here for a few days. I scour the museum looking for a reference, any reference. Nothing.

I know the site used to be a mine, so I go to the mining museum hoping to find out when the lake was created, and the thing that I can hardly bear to ask…what happened to the bodies? But the mining museum is closed down.

I write to the Open Society Archive in Budapest, but they have no records either.

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Varpalota

I am in central Hungary looking across the water of a man-made lake. It took me ages to find this place, poring over books in the library trying to piece together references and clues. In 1944 there was no lake here, just a snow covered field and a freshly dug trench. Now it is a flooded gravel pit that has a strange luminous beauty.

This anonymous lake lies on the site of the genocide of 118 Roma women and children. It is unmarked. There is no memorial. No record of this one small moment that is part of the ‘Pharrajimos’…The Roma Holocaust.

Pharrajimos: n. Romani, meaning the devouring or destruction.

After weeks in the British Library I had found a picture of the lake taken in 2004. The text is Hungarian and the heading is ‘Jeltelen sírok’. Boldi, my researcher tells me it translates literally as ‘Unmarked weep’. Later I type it into Google which gives me ‘Unmarked graves’. I like Boldi’s translation better.

Two women survived the massacre. This is the account of Angela Lakatos…

There is no memorial here, no visible sign of what took place. Not at the lake, or in the town. I scour the museum looking for a reference, any reference. Nothing.

I know the site used to be a mine, so I go to the mining museum hoping to find out when the lake was created, and the thing that I can hardly bear to ask…what happened to the bodies? But the mining museum is closed down.

I write to the Open Society Archive in Budapest, but they have no records either.

I’m back at the lake. For now it is all I have. I am drawn back to it again and again. The small island visible in the 2004 picture has become bigger and now there is a house on it. Someone’s summer house. A wooden boat sways in the breeze, banging against the jetty.  The roar of cars from the road is constant, and backing on to the far side of the lake is a retail park. Tesco and Lidl. Life goes on. It seems peaceful and tranquil. Birds are singing and occasionally a fish plops, breaking the glass-like surface of the water. Jerry says ‘its a battle for life and death under the water’. He’s talking about the fish. I am thinking about the women and children.

What happened to them when they flooded the gravel pit? I know there was no lake here then, but Philomena Franz’s testimony from Auschwitz keeps coming into my head…’and we threw these human ashes into lorries with our bare hands, and the child helped us. It all looked like gravel and it still smelled of corpses. And I felt as if I was standing in water and had to hold back the river.’

The river…I am thinking of Lethe, the river of forgetting. Lethe translates from Classical Greek as oblivion, forgetfulness or concealment, but comes from the root aletheia meaning truth. In Greek mythology the dead were required to drink from the waters of the river Lethe to erase their memories of earthly life.

Here in Varpalota its all about forgetting.

Philomena Franz, Lethe, 118 Roma women and children…an image keeps coming into my head of the women and children plunging down though the water of this lake. Its a frenetic scene, totally at odds with the tranquil idyl above the surface.

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Bielcza

On July 16th 1942 in Bielcza, Poland, German soldiers shot and killed 28 Roma, all members of the Kwiek family. They were buried in an unmarked grave in a forest clearing in the centre of the village. Three years later, the villagers exhumed the bodies and buried them in a mass grave in the local cemetery.
this is the place
There is no marker here, no memorial. The clearing is overgrown and unkempt. It feels important that I am here. A shaft of sunlight appears and lights the spot.
In Adam Bartosz’s office earlier that day he had pulled out maps to show me the exact location of this place.
He said ‘it’s between the houses and the bushes, you will see an indentation in the earth’ and drew me a diagram on a post it note.
finding Bielcza

It took us 2 days to find. The forest was overgrown. We drove in circles around the village scrutinizing every indentation. Was this the place? Did it feel like the place? Could we feel anything?

On the morning of the second day he arranged for her to be waiting for us. She took me by the hand and led me into the forest. ‘This is the place’ she said. She remembered when it had happened in 1942 and she was distressed that the place had become so unkempt and overgrown.

I am thinking of Nora’s Lieux d’Mémoire, about what makes a place a site of memory rather than a site of history…this place is unmemorialised, but there seems to be a will to remember…firstly from the villagers, then more recently from Bartosz’s initiative the Roma Memory Caravan, and finally from Roma themselves.

 

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