Saturday, 16 May 2009

18 [14 April 2009]

I've spent the last month researching Vichy France, the Holocaust in France and finding the odd respite in painting. To be honest it got me down a bit.

I've been reading original documents from 1942, notices sent to Mayors regarding reporting the Jews living in their towns in order for them to be sent to Rivesaltes and then on to Auschwitz, letters from the Bishop of Toulouse pleading for innocent people not to be interned in the camps, records of those sent to Auschwitz.

One thing that really struck me was that many of the Jews interned in the camps were refugees and were genuinely seeking refuge on their journey away from the anti-semitism of Germany - so at the start of the war they voluntarily stayed at the camps, as the war continued it became harder for them to have a day-pass to leave for the day, have food vouchers and have visitors; in 1942 their liberty was taken away and most of them were sent to Auschwitz. A Nazi collaborator in Petain's government, Laval (who Petain attempted to fire), arranged to send the Jews of occupied and free France to the extermination camps as part of the Final Solution.

I watched Shoah, which is a ten hour documentary made in 1985, made up entirely of interviews of Holocaust survivors, extermination camp guards and local residents who lived next to the camps - powerful stuff. The interviewer pressed the same questions again and again and would not relent until the interviewees went into great detail regarding the events. What came over strongly was the continuing anti-semitism in Europe. I thought that this spoke strongly about the feelings of those of a certain age who had lived during the war . . . However, I've had two shocking encounters recently.

I was eating at a friend's house last week. One of the other guests asked on which landscape my work was based - I started to enthusiastically tell him about Rivesaltes, he just stared at me and said that he didn't understand why Jews still go on about the Holocaust . . . I was taken aback, (he went on to explain that he was brought up living next to a camp) - this was the first time I've come across a view such as this. The following day a middle-aged French lady visited my studio, the same question was asked and I explained that I make work based on walking through the ruins and across the scrub of the camp - her response was of bewilderment: "Why make work on the theme of the Holocaust? That's in the past".

Continued in post 19...

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