“Where water comes together with other water” is a project about history and memory. Based upon the polish town of Oświęcim, the work tries first, to restore dignity to a place marked by a handful of years of Nazi occupation, showing it as it is, a normal place, with an ordinary life, as everywhere else, but also, through this, suggesting how much forgetting is important, to better remember, and how photography could help doing this, together with memory and history, as fundamental tools for the future of society. It is a story without a plot, a modern tale about a place. An occasion to talk about Auschwitz from a completely different perspective, the temporal one, to make a mirror out of our contemporary society as a way to acknowledge the existence of the event, even if not showing any trace of it photographically. Looking at the past from the perspective of the present moment shows how the past is not something detached from today, but extremely contemporary, and how actually history and memory represent those tools able to depict the present as the only place in which everything confluences and exists.
Germans first moved to the area around Oświęcim in the late thirteenth century. They began a settlement project whose ‘completion’ almost 700 years later became the impulse for and goal of the Nazis’ brutal ‘Gemanization’ policy’. Oświęcim, first mentioned in writing in 1178, lay on the dividing line between Slavs and Germans. Its name, derived from the old Polish święty, meaning ‘saint’, points towards the town’s early adoption of Christianity.
Medieval colonization of the east arose out of the desire on the part of Poland’s rulers to expand, to enhance Slavic culture through social, legal and economic systems, and thus bolster their power. The acceptance of German law – ‘German’ being less a national than a legal term – was a peaceful assimilation process that maintained, respected and promoted Slavic traditions. The settlers introduced German municipal law, because by medieval tradition legal systems were tied to people rather than territories; they established the laws where they happened to live, and they did just that in Oświęcim around 1260.
The town at the confluence of the Vistula and the Soła soon became a small trade centre; it was the seat of the court and the capital of the duchy that bore its name. Oświęcim switched political allegiances many times over the centuries: in 1348 it was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire, and German became its official language. But with the first medieval agrarian crisis, the German settler movement came to a stop in the middle of the fourteenth century, the Hussite wars brought the colonization of the east to a halt, and under Bohemian rule Czech became Oświęcim’s official language. In 1457 the duchy – sold for 50.000 silver marks – came under the rule of the Polish crown, but temporarily maintained Silesian law before finally becoming a feudal possession of the Polish kings in 1565. When Prussia, Russia and Austria broke up the Polish state in 1772 and Austria annexed the areas between the Biała in the west and the Zbrucz in the east, including the great trading and cultural centers of Cracow and Lwów, the competing powers deployed their troops across the region, and in the same year Oświęcim passed into Austrian possession. German became the official language once more, the town bore the name Auschwitz, and it was in the new kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, within the Habsburg Empire. In the wake of a new revision of the boundaries – the second division of Poland in 1793 and the third in 1795 did not affect the town – Oświęcim entered the German Federation after the Vienna Congress in 1815, and remained part of it until the Federation broke up in 1866. The town supported the Habsburg until the collapse of the monarchy in 1918, and the Emperor bore the title ‘Duke of Auschwitz’ until the very end.
Attracted by the trade routes leading towards Lwów (Lemberg), Cracow, Wrocław (Breslau) and Zgorzelec (Görlitz), Jews first settled in Upper Silesia in the tenth and eleventh centuries. It may also have been at this time that they moved to Oświęcim, which lay at the crossroads of the main routes, but their presence is first recorded in 1457. Unlike the surrounding towns, Oświęcim had no law forbidding Jews to live and trade there. The Catholics did not unleash pogroms or carry out mass executions; they did not force the Jews to live in a ghetto, or drive them out of the city walls. During the first bloody wave of persecution in the modern era, the Chmielnitsky pogrom launched by the Cossacks in 1648-9, Jews were banished from the neighboring towns, but in Oświęcim, perhaps because they were relatively few in number, they were left unmolested.
Unlike Prussia, which in the nineteenth century subjected the Polish inhabitants of the eastern provinces to unadulterated Prussian rule, Austria – under the pressure of political defeats abroad, and striving for reconciliation with Hungary – gave relatively free rein to the Galicians in their efforts to become Polish again and to achieve independent statehood. The Cisleithan crown territory of Galicia was awarded extensive rights of self-administration by the 1866 statute of autonomy. Poles took over the jobs of the Austrian officials, and the Polish language found its way back into the region’s schools and administration. Oświęcim reacquired its original Polish name, and the street names became Polish as well.
With the economic revolutions that were taking place at the same time , the ‘good Austrian era’ began for Oświęcim’s Jews. A number of decades followed in which the previously rather insignificant and poor Jewish community developed strongly in demographic and economic terms. The feudal and agrarian social order faded away, and with it went the old intermediary function of the east European Jews. Standing, as small shopkeepers, craftsmen, travelling salesmen, pub landlords and leaseholders, between the landed gentry, the peasantry and the state, they had been exposed to the corresponding social conflicts. This relationship, which had unfairly governed how Jews made a living and had for centuries denied them any economic advancement, disappeared. Jews were able to abandon their uncertain legal position, achieve complete equality as citizens, and exert considerable influence on culture and politics. A flourishing Jewish community emerged, and Auschwitz soon became an intellectual centre of orthodox Jews and also a site of significant Zionist associations. Even contemporaries spoke proudly of their own ’ Oświęcim Jerusalem’.
While Galicia remained an agrarian country at the end of the nineteenth century, with almost 80 per cent of its inhabitants making their living through agriculture, and with a great deal of unemployment and poverty, Oświęcim developed into a prosperous town because of its proximity to the newly developed industrial belt of Upper Silesia and north-west Bohemia. The industrialization process gained pace when the town acquired a railway station in 1856. Thanks to its location between the coal-mining area around Katowice (Kattowitz) – Dombrowa and the industrial area of Bielsko (Bielitz), Oświęcim became a railway junction in 1900: three lines of the Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway led directly to Cracow, Katowice and Vienna.
While Oświęcim’s Catholics remained stuck in their agricultural jobs and rejected industrialization, only a small proportion of Jews continued working in their traditional trades. Most of them worked in the professions, particularly in the industrial sector. Many became big businessmen and opened banks and factories in Oświęcim and the surrounding area. Others even founded chemical factories and processing plants in the new industries. The oldest Jewish business was Jakob Haberfeld’s distillery, founded in 1804, which made the town famous for many miles around with its trademark ‘Schnapps from Oświęcim’.
Waves of immigration brought more Jews to Oświęcim than anyone else. By 1867 a total of 4.000 Jews had moved to the town, more than half the total of new incomers. Subsequently, the number of Jews came to exceed that of Catholic inhabitants. For a long time cooperation defined communal politics – although the Jews were expected to impose certain restrictions upon themselves. Only the post of deputy mayor was reserved for a Jew; the mayor was always a Catholic.
Before the Second World War the number of Germans and people of German descent in Oświęcim was insignificant. In the multi-ethnic Austrian state, and in the non-homogeneous Polish national state, the subjective sense of belonging to an ethnic group was defined by the language one spoke. In the censuses held during the Habsburg period the inhabitants basically spoke only Polish. In 1880 only one resident gave German as his spoken language, in 1900 there were ten, and by the time of the 1921 census three inhabitants gave their ethnic identity as German. No real German minority group existed in Oświęcim, even though, in the census of December 1931, 3 per cent of the population declared German ethnicity. Nor did the town have German schools, German organizations, German churches, German associations or German newspapers. But three editorial offices in the town published Polish newspapers; there were also Jewish papers, some of them in Yiddish, including the journals of several Zionist groups.
- from “Auschwitz, A history” by Sybille Steinbacher
AUSCHWITZ, Sybille Steinbacher
VISITARE AUSCHWITZ, Carlo Saletti, Frediano Sessi
THE MAN WHO BROKE INTO AUSCHWITZ, Denis Avey
THE KINGDOM OF AUSCHWITZ 1940-1945, Otto Friedrich
LA STRADA PER AUSCHWITZ, Giovanni Gozzini
EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM, Hannah Arendt
L’UMANITA’ IN TEMPI BUI, Hannah Arendt
SULLA VIOLENZA, Hannah Arendt
I ESCAPED FROM AUSCHWITZ, Rudolf Vrba
THE DIARY, Anne Frank
SHOAH, Claude Lanzmann
IMMAGINI DEL DISASTRO PRIMA E DOPO AUSCHWITZ, Franco M. Fontana
LE PAROLE DEL LAGER, Leoncarlo Settimelli
L’INFERNO DI TREBLINKA, Vasilij Grossman
AUSCHWITZ E’ DI TUTTI, Marta Ascoli
LA VIOLENZA DEL MONDO, Jean Baudrillard – Edgar Morin
POURQUOI TOUT N’A-T-IL PAS DEJA DISPARU, jean Baudrillard
UTOPIA AND ETEROTOPIA, Michel Foucault,
THE BIRTH OF THE TRAGEDY, Friedrich Nietzsche
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, Friedrich Nietzsche
LO SPECCHIO DELLA MEMORIA, Ando Gilardi
ATLAS DE LA SHOAH, Georges Bensoussan
LA NUIT, Elie Wiesel
AUSCHWITZ EXPLIQUE’ A’ MA FILLE, Annette Wieviorka
ECORCES, Georges Didi-Huberman
IMMAGINI MALGRADO TUTTO, Georges Didi-Huberman
IL TRENO DELLA MEMORIA, Antonio Rinaldis
IL N’Y A PAS D’ENFANTS ICI, Thomas Geve
SONDERKOMMANDO AUSCHWITZ, Shlomo Venezia
THE AUSCHWITZ PHOTOGRAPHER, Anna Dobrowolska
WILHELM BRASSE: PHOTOGRAPHER 3444, AUSCHWITZ ‘40-’45
RAPPORTE, Peter Weiss
QUEL CHE RESTA DI AUSCHWITZ, Giorgio Agamben
MEIN KAMPT, Adolf Hitler
KONTAMINIERTE LANDSCHAFTEN, Martin Pollack
AUSCHWITZ – OSWIECIM, Hans Citroen – Barbara Starzynska
DOCUMENTARY, Julian Stallabrass
OUR TOWN, Thornton Wilder
TRE SAGGI SULL’IMMAGINE – Jean-Luc Nancy
SE QUESTO E’ UN UOMO, Primo Levi
I SOMMERSI E I SALVATI, Primo Levi
COSI’ FU AUSCHWITZ, Primo Levi
LA RICERCA DELLE RADICI, Primo Levi
MATTATOIO N°5, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
IL RICORDO DEL PRESENTE, Paolo Virno
MODERNITA’ E OLOCAUSTO, Zygmunt Bauman
MEMORIA DEL MALE, TENTAZIONE DEL BENE, Todorov Tzvetan
MEMORIA DEI CAMPI – Contrasto
OŚWIĘCIM / AUSCHWITZ - Kazimierz Smoleń
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU – Andreas Magdanz
7/7 (chapter 3/7 – Oswiecim) – Guillaume Herbaut
LAND OF OS – Danny Ghitis
THE SOUND OF TWO SONGS – Mark Power
BERLIN - Mitch Epstein
NIAGARA – Alec Soth
EMPTY LAND, PROMISED LAND, FORBIDDEN LAND – Rob Hornstra
LA LINEA INESISTENTE – Davide Monteleone
THE LAST DAYS OF SHISHMAREF - Dana Lixenberg
THE MAZE – Donowan Wylie
STEEL WORKS. CONSETT, FROM STEEL TO TORTILLA CHIPS - Julian Germain
RAISED BY WOLVES – Jim Goldberg
IN FLAGRANTE - Chris Killip
THE BOOK N°9 – Hans-Peter Feldman
WAFFENRUHE - Michael Schmidt
ATLAS – Gerhard Richter
LIST OF MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES
SHOAH, Claude Lanzmann
THE SON OF SAUL, László Nemes
LES MISERABLES, Claude Lelouch
LA TREGUA, Francesco Rosi
LA VITA E’ BELLA, Roberto Benigni
TRAIN OF LIFE, Radu Mihaileanu
KORKORO, Tony Gatlif
JAKOB THE LIAR, Peter Kassovitz
SCHINDLER’S LIST, Steven Spielberg
THE GREY ZONE, Tim Blake Nelson
THE PIANIST, Roman Polanski
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, Liev Schreiber
NUIT ET BROUILLARD, Alain Resnais
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, Jack Kaufman
GENOCIDE, Arnold Schwartzman
LA STRADA DI LEVI, Davide Ferrario
THE LAST DAYS, James Moll
THE MIRROR, Andrej Tarkovskij
FITZCARRALDO, Werner Herzog