How this exhibition came about

My husband and I spent a weekend in Hamburg. I wanted to go to church on Sunday as usual, but decided to go to the local protestant church of St. Thomas‘ in the Rothenburgsort district of Hamburg, and not the big St. Michael‘s church where I normally go when we visit the city.

I picked up a copy of the parish newsletter on my way in to the service.

I don‘t have a great voice so I began to leaf through the newsletter during the first hymn; I came across an introduction from pastor Blum for the remembrance service on 20th April 2014 for the Society of the Children of Bullenhuser Damm (Vereinigung Kinder vom Bullenhuser Damm e.V.), held at the gym of the old school on the Bullenhuser Damm road.

I didn‘t understand what was being referred to and so - bad form, I know - I googled it.

I was shocked by what I read on the German Wikipedia site. Here is an extract from the English-speaking version of Wikipedia (as on 18th November 2014):

‘The SS physician Kurt Heissmeyer desired to obtain a professorship. In order to do so he needed to present original research. Although previously disproven, his hypothesis was that the injection of live tuberculosis bacilli into subjects would act as a vaccine. Another component of his experimentation was based on pseudoscientific Nazi racial theory that race played a factor in developing tuberculosis.

He attempted to prove his hypothesis by injecting live tuberculosis bacilli into the lungs and bloodstream of "Untermenschen" (subhumans), Jews and Slavs being considered by the Nazis to be racially inferior to Germans.

He was able to have the facilities made available and to test his subjects as a result of his personal connections: his uncle, SS general August Heissmeyer, and his close acquaintance, SS general Oswald Pohl.

The medical experiments on tuberculosis infection were initially carried out on prisoners from the Soviet Union and other countries at the Neuengamme concentration camp. The experiments were then extended to Jews. For this he chose to use Jewish children. Twenty Jewish children (10 boys and 10 girls) from Auschwitz concentration camp were chosen by Josef Mengele and sent to Neuengamme. Mengele allegedly asked the children, "Who wants to go and see their mother?"

The children were accompanied to Neuengamme by four women prisoners. Two were Polish nurses and one was a Hungarian pharmacist, and they were killed upon arrival at Neuengamme. The fourth woman, Polish-born Jew Paula Trocki, was a doctor. […]

The children were injected with live tuberculosis bacilli, and they all became ill. Heissmeyer then had their axillary lymph nodes surgically removed from their armpits and sent to Dr Hans Klein at the Hohenlychen Hospital for study. All the children were photographed holding up one arm to show the surgical incision. Dr Klein was not prosecuted.

The collapsing western front and imminent approach of British troops prompted the perpetrators to murder the subjects of the experiment to cover up their crimes. The orders for the murders were issued from Berlin.

The children, their four adult caretakers and six Soviet prisoners were brought by truck to the Bullenhuser Damm School in the Hamburg suburb of Rothenburgsort. The school had been taken over by the SS to house prisoners from Neuengamme used to clear rubble from the surrounding area after Allied bombing raids. The SS evacuated the building around April 11, 1945 leaving a skeleton crew of two SS guards: Ewald Jauch and Johann Frahm and a janitor. They were accompanied by three SS guards (Wilhelm Dreimann, Adolf Speck, and Heinrich Wiehagen), as well as the driver, Hans Friedrich Petersen, and SS physician Alfred Trzebinski. The children as well as others were told they were being taken to Theresienstadt. Upon arriving at the school they were led into the basement. According to one of the SS men present, the children "sat down on the benches all around and were cheerful and happy that they had been for once allowed out of Neuengamme. The children were completely unsuspecting."

They were then made to undress and were then injected with morphine by Trzebinski. They were then led into an adjacent room and hanged from hooks set into the wall. The execution was overseen by SS Obersturmführer Arnold Strippel. The first child to be hanged was so light that the noose would not tighten. Frahm grabbed him in a bearhug and used his own weight to pull down and tighten the noose. The adults were hanged from overhead pipes; they were made to stand on a box, which was pulled away from under them. That same night, about 30 additional Soviet prisoners were also brought by lorry to the school to be executed; six escaped, three were shot trying to do so, and the rest were hanged in the basement.‘

No one knows what happened to the bodies of the twenty children:
• Mania Altmann, 5 years old, Polish
• Lelka Birnbaum, 12 years old, Polish
• Sergio De Simone, 10 years old, Italian
• Surcis Goldinger, 10 years old, Italian
• Riwka Herszberg, 7 years old, Polish
• Alexander Hornemann, 8 years old, Dutch
• Eduard Hornemann, 12 years old, Dutch
• Marek James, 6 years old, Polish
• W Junglieb, 6 years old, Yugoslav
• Lea Klygermann, 8 years old, Polish
• Georges André Kohn, 12 years old, French
• Bluma Mekler, 11 years old, Polish
• Jacqueline Morgenstern, 12 years old, French
• Eduard Reichenbaum, 10 years old, Polish
• Marek Steinbaum, 10 years old, Polish
• H Wassermann, 8 years old, Polish
• Eleonora Witonska, 5 years old, Polish
• Roman Witonska, 7 years old, Polish
• Roman Zeller, 12 years old, Polish
• Ruchla Zylberberg, 9 years old, Polish

[Vereinigung Kinder vom Bullenhuser Damm e.V.]

I wasn‘t sure after reading that if I still had the strength to follow the service, let alone take the few steps to the altar to receive the Eucharist.

During the process of completing the work for my recent photographic show "Wireman" ("Auf Draht. Der Drahtmann unterwegs in…"), I had played around with two small bronze figures by Heinrich Janke of a praying woman and a stooping man, "Die Betende" and "Der Gebeugte".

An idea struck me to take these two figurines and photograph them on location at concentration camps, memorials and places of Nazi crime.

"Die Betende" and "Der Gebeugte" are small, plain figures; in contrast to these giant sites and edifices, they become humble, sometimes even almost indiscernible.

Sometimes alone, sometimes together, sometimes turned towards each other, sometimes turning away, the two interact with the space, its history and the stories of the people who - more often than not - died there.

My approach to the locations as a photographer

The challenge was to make quick compositional decisions about where and how to place the bronze figures, especially as many of the locations were thronged by quiet, pensive visitors.

I deliberately avoided having people in the picture, as much a way to keep a sense of intimacy in the work as to avoid disturbing anybody in their prayers or thoughts.

Technical perfection was not the main criteria of my shots and so I did not digitally manipulate or enhance them afterwards in any way either. As such, they better reflect the atmosphere and reality of the places I went to.