Saturday, 25 February 2012

# 72 [2 November 2010]

I've been curating an exhibition called 'Rivesaltes: Landscape of Trauma' which is showing locally before it tours. It is a show including the work of artists with whom I have collaborated - sound: Lois Laplace, Blaise Merino; sculpture: Deev Vanorbeek; photographs: Peter Watkins, Chris Webb. My paintings, videos and audio works are also on display. Many of the collaborations are documented in this blog.

Some texts accompany the art: an introduction by me, the interview with Norbert Herz (intern at the camp in 1942), a quote from 'The Journal of Rivesaltes' (1942) by Friedel Bohny Reital, time-line and statements by some of the artists - just enough to give the work a context.

The show has been received well with sympathetic reviews in the local press.

I did a Google search for it and discovered that it is advertised on a site called 'Harkis and the Rights of Man' - which was a nice surprise. The Harkis (Algerians who fought against their countrymen for France during the civil war and thus not able to return to Algeria) were held / housed at the camp during the 70s.

I have been invited to take the show to Toulouse to be part of the CineEspagne film festival next year.

So, it is generating some interest. The director of the Rivesaltes memorial organisation in Perpignan is planning to visit, I'm hoping she will adopt the exhibition and help me organise the tour.

I'm looking forward to reading the comments made by the visitors - there may even be locals who have particular associations with the camp.

In my introduction to the show I wrote:

'Some people might say "Whatever happened half a century ago during the occupation is in the past." But now I see that my work is surprisingly relevant because the French Government is repeating history, seeing that we have arrived at the point where the Roma must be rounded up in accommodation centres or sent back from France to Romania.'

I'm hoping it will touch those who visit.

# 70 [28 June 2010]

At last I've done it... made a video featuring my interview with Norbert Herz, the intern at the camp at Rivesaltes during 1942.

I have been debating whether or not to make my videos self-explanatory, less abstract and more descriptive. A while back I posted on the AN forum how much information should you give in a work of art... My videos are usually quite abstract, so need some sort of context, which I usually provide at the start with a few lines of text explaining where the video was made and a little history of the camp, this time I've built on that.

The new video is entitled simply: 'Rivesaltes' (rather than my normal 'RQV' or 'RSA'); at the start is the usual text with the addition of a quote from the memorial stone at the camp which reads:

Delivered to the Nazis in the occupied zone by authority of the French government, deported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz, and murdered because they were Jews. We will never forget these victims of racist and xenophobic hatred.

Then dispersed throughout the video are five sentences spoken by Norbert Herz, for example:

People lost their lives, and many children, many, many children lost their mothers and fathers.

The images and sound are evocative, made at the camp, the sound is the howling wind and sometimes crunch of a footstep, the images are presented as a triptych... moving forms, occasionally a glimpse of a hut, but mostly shots of trees, bushes, grass and stones.

The images present a blurry indescriptive view of the camp... I've explored how we perceive the world and how we sometimes have a vague memory of something. I filmed a random walk in the camp - trying to avoid my personal reaction to it. Nothing is focused - I've not sought to emphasise any aspect of the filming, it's just a walk, not necessarily mine - a walk anybody could make at the camp. The images aren't ones I planned to make... just 'open' images for anyone to interpret.

This is all sounding a bit 'Death of the Author'... and to a certain extent that is what has guided the development of the video.

Norbert Herz is talking, explaining his experience of the camp, an experience he had 70 years ago, a strong memory, but more recollections of experiences and feelings.

Is there suspense in the video? I'm not sure there has to be, but it is a film, with a beginning, middle and end... the viewer may wonder who is talking and it is only at the end that this is revealed - I'm hoping it works.

So, I'm frantically promoting 'Rivesaltes' now and hoping there is some interest.

I hope to create my own vimeo channel and spend some time interacting with other members - all good networking - so little time though. I'm also bogged down with framing the new series of paintings on metal that I've just completed. They are quite fragile so need to be protected, quite good timing though as it's good weather now and I can work in the studio without a coat (at last).

# 68 [8 May 2010]

It is the Athens Video Art Festival this weekend - seems like bad timing; I've been following the terrible events on the news and contacted them via Facebook, as have other artists, to find out if it has gone ahead, but not yet had a relpy.

I also was part of a screening in Crouch End last Thursday: One Minute Volume Four - they showed RSA4. The programme will also be shown at PRISM hosted by S1 Artspace next week. I received an email this morning saying that it will also be shown at the Big Screen in Manchester and Liverpool, organised by the BBC.

I remember now that I sent the organiser of One Minute an email on the day of the deadline asking if I could submit a link to my website - she replied immediately and accepted my work... all was decided within five minutes - the fastest response I have ever had. I was pleased to be accepted for the screening in the bar at Crouch End - and now it has evolved into greater things - isn't it great when things work out.

# 67 [19 April 2010]

A year or so ago I read 'Love and War in the Pyreness' by the travel writer Rosemary Bailey - a good read and full of her personal encounters with ordinary folk who lived in this region during the war. One section of the book is dedicated to the camp at Rivesaltes. When I heard that she was giving a talk in a local restaurant / conference centre and that it coincided with my wife's birthday I booked us in immediately.

I chatted to Rosemary briefly before she gave her speech and told her about my current interest in the interaction that the Jews at the camp had with the Jewish community in Perpignan and the locals of the town of Rivesaltes. I told her that I had interviewed Norbert Herz and she was quite interested. I also mentioned that I had experienced more success with my videos on the theme of Rivesaltes in the UK than in France and she responded that that spoke volumes.

The talk was an overview of the book and focused on some of the personal encounters that she had during her research. Rivesaltes was referred to whilst she was explaining about the aid workers who helped the condition of the refugess in this area.

The conclusion centred on a quote from her book concerning the horrors of Rivesaltes - it was a poignant note to end on.

The questions which followed included one regarding the on-going research and accessibilty to information on Rivesaltes... Rosemary mentioned our chat about my research at the start of the event, which was great.

Following a great meal we spoke again and she said she'd be keen for us to be in contact - so I'll be sending her a link to this blog.

The prevailing memory of the day was Rosemary's reaction to the research on Rivesaltes and the harrowing stories that she came across, she found it particularly difficult emotionally... which is something that I can relate to.

# 63 [2 February 2010]

Wilried Agricola has kindly included my project on the camp at Rivesaltes in his Shoah Film Collection.

For those of you who have been directed from his site: Draft Title Shoah, please click on 'Reverse Order' at the top of the blog. Post number 1 gives a brief history of the camp, following that are sporadic bursts of information which put my videos made at Rivesaltes in the context of The Holocaust.

My videos made at the camp can be found here:

Wilfried'd site can be found here:

# 60 [29 January 2010]

Yesterday Georges Frêche, the President of Languedoc Roussillon (one of the 26 regions of France), said of former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius (of Jewish origin): "voting for this guy in Haute-Normandie would be a problem for me, his face isn't Catholic".

He later claimed in a press release: "When questioned about not supporting Laurent Fabius, I answered with a popular expression which has been used by all the French for centuries".

Needless to say, this has caused a huge public outcry. The fact he is a Socialist is surprising. It seems that anti-semitism continues in the south of France.


# 59 [27 January 2010]

Today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Netanyahu spoke at Auschwitz today:

“From the cursed ground at Auschwitz, Birkenau and other camps rise the voices of our brothers and sisters, our people who choked to death and were burned and murdered. . .

I have come here today from Jerusalem to tell you: We will never forget. We will not allow the Holocaust deniers or those who desecrate [Jewish] graves and signs to erase or distort [our] memory. . .

We will never forget and always stand guard. . .

Murderous hatred must be stopped in its tracks, stopped right from the beginning. All countries in the world must learn this lesson, just as we did after losing a third of our people in blood-soaked Europe. We learned that the only guarantee for the protection of our people is the State of Israel. . .

I promise, as head of the Jewish state, that never again will we allow the hand of evil to sever the life of our people and our state. . .

Am Yisrael Chai, we have returned to our homeland, to the land of our forefathers, to Jerusalem, our capital. We have converged from all corners of the world, Holocaust survivors, Arab Jews, Jews from former Soviet Union states, Ethiopian Jews. . .

We bow our heads in memory [of Holocaust victims] and raise our heads as our flag waves with its two blue stripes and the Star of David at its center. We still haven't lost our hope.”

In France Sarkozy sent a letter to European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor. The French president wrote that his country will continue taking action to remember the Holocaust and to commemorate the victims.

"This memory is a human obligation, it is a requirement, a sacred mission to restore the human dignity and the unique characteristics of the children, women, and men who encountered the unspeakable, the inconceivable. . .

Auschwitz is the symbol of absolute evil inscribed in a red flame upon humanity's consciousness."

Pope Benedict XVI has marked Holocaust Remembrance Day by denouncing the "horror" of the Shoah and the "unheard of brutality" of death camps created by Nazi Germany.

The German-born pope issued an appeal Wednesday "that such tragedies never repeat themselves."

Benedict called the death camps "abhorrent and inhumane places" and turned his thoughts to the "countless victims of a blind racial and religious hatred."

I couldn't find anything commemorating today on the Rivesaltes Memorial site, which is a shame.


# 58 [26 January 2010]

Following on from the previous post, the downside of working out in the sticks is that it makes it very difficult to attend openings and screenings - I could spend a lot of time travelling to screenings and shows across the world, but realistically I can't afford the time away from my family, nor away from my studio and it also would cost the earth to visit every show.

Of course I prioritise and attend openings for solo and small group shows, but there are many shows I really wish I could attend. Like the projection in Croydon that started last night for example.

Ottica TV is an online TV channel for video art:

Paul Malone, the curator and organisor of the channel, set up Ottica TV in 2008 and he arranges screenings in addition to the online presence. This week's screenings onto a tower-block in the centre of Croydon are going to be photographed and filmed, so even though I won't be able to attend I'll be able to use the images on my website.

I'm disappointed though not to see my video of rapid movement across the sand dunes on the beach at Argeles projected onto Britain's only skyscraper (well. . . that's what it looks like), a surreal transformation from its insignificant origins.

# 56 [12 January 2010]

I frequent a forum for guitarists - I took part in its Christmas quiz. I had a few queries to pose to the quizmaster and following a few private-messages he asked what line of work I'm in:

Just had a look at the website and your CV to get a feel of what you do. I loved some of your stuff particularly your latest project it made me think of the Pastor Martin Niemöller poem

They Came For The Jews

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

My father who is still alive at 90 was in WW2 . . .

My dad was born in 1919 in Liverpool, his father died when he was 7.

The family name was Abrahamson which, like many Jews, my father changed in the 50s to Graham.

He spent his 21st birthday in a trench at Dunkirk being straffed by Stukas; he then had to go on the run for three weeks having not been able to get on a boat, coming back and getting on one then. He ended up fighting at the Battle of el Alemain where he was wounded driving an ammunition truck.

His father's family owned tobacco plantations in the Dutch East Indies in the early 19C, which were annexed by the Germans.

He is real fighter even now . . . He married my mum on 2/1/48, they celebrated their 61st wedding aniversary last week. I put their longevity down to the chicken soup.

My mum was born in Brick Lane and is Jewish. I am Jewish. I grew up in a mainly Jewish enviroment in NW London but I do not practice, although as I get older I am more aware of my Jewish history.

I have heard people who have been to visit concentration camps being moved to tears by their visit. . . I was very moved by your interest in the camp near you. I want to go to the Holocaust museum which is near me, but I have to go when I feel that I can deal with it.

I have the " I Came For The Jews "poem engraved on my heart and on the wall in my house, it has been my compass throughout my life, not really to do with anything Jewish, but because I have always stood up for the underdog, minority and protested and fought for what I believed to be right. I suppose that's why I became a lawyer.

The saddest part of all is that the human race have never learnt from the lessons of the Holocaust they still happen. Look at Africa.

Following an innocent exchange regarding an online quiz (I came 2nd incidently) I stumbled upon something much more rewarding. Paul is now going to advise me on the best way to research my Jewish family, the Moscovitchs and Abrams.

# 55 [21 December 2009]

Today I visited the camp with my friend Deev, a sculptor. I've been invited to put on an exhibition in our local town on the theme of Rivesaltes. Instead of a solo show, or something purely information-giving, I've decided to show all the collaborations I have made on the theme.

All the work is wall-based, apart from the sound-art - so I thought I'd ask Deev to make a sculpture from found objects at the camp.

It went well and he took away a fallen wall section made from reinforced concrete - in three parts joined with iron bars. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with it.

The light today was extraordinary, brilliant sun and dark sky, the atmosphere was very still. Sitting quietly, reflecting on the heavy weight of the past, I took a few more photos of the huts.

# 53 [25 November 2009]

I was pleased to hear Matthew Collings' views on video-art earlier this week on 'School of Saatchi': "Video-Art at the moment gets you brownie points if you do it".

Everybody is doing it now. I remember four years ago I applied to be part of a BBC2 production on contemporary art (I saw the advert in a-n). I was accepted and when I asked one of the team why, she responded that they needed a video-artist in the group. I recall saying to my wife that I thought it would be a docu-soap and not my sort of thing, but I was pleased to be accepted and thought that the exposure could only be good. Shortly after that there were huge cuts in programming on the BBC, so the show was postponed.

Whilst we were watching 'School of Saatchi' Helen said to me: "Isn't this the programme you were accepted for?". Well, the format has changed a lot, its more glam and more 'X-Factor'. I saw the advert for 'School of Saatchi' last year and would have applied but only UK residents were eligible. However, the point is, this time round there were 1000s of applicants, including probably 100s of video-artists. When I applied four years ago I got the impression that I was accepted because video-art was a bit different . . . how times have changed in such a short period. I put it down to the ease, accessibility and affordability of new technology amongst other things.

Throughout the programme the panel analysed the videos of some of the candidates. The prevalent debate was: "What makes this video-art and not film?", an issue I've had to deal with a lot. Could my videos be categorised as film? I come from a totally different background to a film-maker. I am a painter and see my videos as an extension of my paintings. In my videos I address the same visual issues: colour, form, composition and texture but with the exciting additions of movement and sound.

Linked to this discussion is some good news. Whilst I was transcribing the interview with Norbert Herz yesterday I received an email from Bangkok confirming that one of my videos will be screened in a festival of abstract video: FRESH ABSTRACTIONS organised by the School of Architecture and Design at the University in Bangkok. Rarely does such an opportunity arise for abstract video-art.

Ten minutes later I received another email, this time from Ottica TV, a video streaming web channel of which I am a part. There is to be a screening in February at Bankside and a possible projection on a building in Croydon. So, back to work preparing disks for presentation . . . strange, as just this week I decided to get back to messing about with paint in my studio.

# 52 [24 November 2009]

Please click on 'Reverse Order' to read all five sections of the interview in order.

Interview with Norbert Herz, Holocaust survivor and Rivesaltes intern.

Section Five

JMI’m finding the recent interest in the Holocaust fascinating, but in France it is extremely difficult to talk about the Holocaust.

NHWho are you talking to? French people?

JMThey always say: “Why are you making work about that? That’s in the past?”.

NHAre they Jewish or non-Jewish?


NHThere you are, of course, that figures because it is a nasty past and it is a past they they don’t want to think about. Yes, yes . . . yes.

His experiences have provoked many thoughts and feelings in me:

I have visited the Alexanderplatz in Berlin many times from our house near Rivesaltes - he made the journey from Berlin under traumatic circumstances not knowing what lay ahead. His experiences must have been difficult for a young boy.

I looked up all the places that he lived in during the war, what struck me is that they are in idyllic parts of France. He managed to eek out an almost 'normal' existence in the 'Residence assignée' and foster homes only then to be taken to another internment camp, not far away physically, but far removed from the safety of the homes.

Fortunately the ending is a relatively happy one as he was reunited with his parents and was able to settle in Palestine.

I wonder though, whilst he was a teacher in Manchester, did he ever disclose his story? Did people know the horrors he had experienced?

And finally, visiting the south of France in the late 80s / early 90s must have been difficult for him, the same place but under very different circumstances. When I asked him if he would visit the camp again when the memorial is finished he said that if he is still able to travel he would be interested to come.

# 51 [24 November 2009]

Interview with Norbert herz, Holocaust survivor and Rivesaltes intern.

Section Four

Rivesaltes was a camp that didn’t only have Jews, it had Gypsies, it had all kinds of what they called undesirables, but the Jews were concentrated in Ilot K.

JMWere you able to mix with the other interns?

NH No.

What I remember clearly is that we were always waiting for the post, that was the only connection with the outside world – for parcels. We were always very hungry, the conditions were appalling and we always wanted some sign from somewhere.

Rivesaltes where the camp was, is military terrain ... they were trying to eradicate it, they were trying to make out that nothing happened there. I came across an army officer when I visited it in the late 80s or early 90s as a tourist whilst I was in the Pyrenees and we went to Rivesaltes. We walked in the camp in the area that was still ruins of barracks and all kind of things and an army officer came from out of the blue and said: “This is military terrain. What are you doing here?”. I said: “I beg your pardon, I was interned in this camp!” and he tried to make out there was no camp, there was no such thing.

JMI find that locals don’t want to talk about the camp and the things that went on there during the war.

NH - Nobody talks about it? I’m not surprised.

JMTell me a little more about your mother.

NH - My mother was liberated from Gurs. My mother survived because ... in the barrack for sick people, people were dying and they needed women who would sit with the dying. My mother wasn’t qualified for anything, but she sat with the sick and dying. People used to say to her: “You’re a fool. Why are you doing that”. She said: “Well, if I do that I shall survive”. And she was right.

When the deportation took place my mother had already been put on the lorry on the convoy supposed to take them to the station to ship them off. The doctor of the Ilot was there and wanted to check the list of people going, when he saw my mother’s name he said: “I need this woman to work” and she was taken off. So she was, it was a miracle and she was saved. Many other people lost their lives. And fathers? I don’t know where the fathers were, but certainly the mothers.

My mother was liberated and in 1945 I left Switzerland to go to Palestine, she followed in 1946 because I had decided to go to Palestine and obviously she wanted to be with me. That’s where my father was. My father had left us in 1933/34 in Berlin and that’s how we, if you like, were re-united in 1945/46.

# 50 [24 November 2009]

Interview with Norbert Herz, Holocaust survivor and Rivesaltes intern.

Section Three

Then I was taken out again by OSE and returned to the children’s home where I was. In the morning we went to the village school and in the afternoon we had tuition in the home. I was there till 1943. In 1943 there was a decree that all Jewish children, non-French because I was not of French nationality, who were not with their parents and considered abandoned would be deported or whatever, so they made frantic efforts to get as many children out as they could. I was lucky because I had an aunt in Switzerland, a Swiss aunt and she vouched for me, so I was smuggled across the border at Annemasse [next to Geneva on the French / Swiss border] . . . I was in Switzerland at Zurich for 3 months with my aunt and then she put me in a Jewish childrens’ home which was a Zionist home and from there, at the end of the war, May 1945, I emigrated to Palestine. That’s the story in a nutshell.

JM – When you were at Rivesaltes did you attend a school in the camp?

NH - At Rivesaltes there was no school. In Rivesaltes the conditions were very, very harsh. In our Ilot was a barrack that was allocated to the Swiss Red-Cross and the Swiss Red-Cross had sent over two nurses, not Jewish ones. They tried to make the lot of us children a little bit easier, I remember what they did was bright and nice in that place. Outside it was horrible and they even made us a little Christmas party, it brightened a bit of the daily existence.

Rivesaltes was a very harsh camp, it was a notorious one. Interestingly the village of Rivesaltes is just next door to it, the French saw everything that was going on. I never realised the village was just next door, I was too young of course.

JM – Do you remember any of the locals visiting the camp, did the Rabbi from Perpignan visit?

NH – To visit what?

JM – The camp at Rivesaltes.

NH – At the time? No. Why would they? A Jewish person visit? They would be hidden, They wouldn’t be allowed to. It was very, very harsh, I can assure you. Also, initially it was guarded by Vietnamese from the French colonies.

# 49 [24 November 2009]

Interview with Norbert Herz, Holocaust survivor and Rivesaltes intern.

Section Two

Then in 1942, summer, I had the bright idea to visit my aunt and uncle. My uncle was a very unwell person. In those days it was possible for unwell people not to be interned. He got a ‘Résidence assigné’ in Gaillac-sur-Tarn. I wanted to go there, so they gave me a train ticket and I was able to go to Gaillac-sur-Tarn. I was there in the summer with them and I had a very nice time, you know how it is in French little towns with the foire and all that. Then in the middle of the night there was a knock on the door. Two Gendarmes said: “You’ve got half an hour to pack your things. We are taking you to an internment camp in Albi”. When we arrived in the middle of the night in Albi, I said to the Gendarme: “If I have to be in an internment camp I want to be with my mother”. They assigned a Gendarme to me and we travelled through the night to Rivesaltes. In those days it had a train station. When we arrived in the morning he took me to the Ilot which was reserved for the Jews, Ilot K. He posited me there and off he went. Then I started looking for my mother. Quite by chance I saw my mother, so . . . you know, the emotional thing.

We slept in wooden barracks and in bunks, she put me next to her. The second time I was there people were dying from hunger, from disease, all sorts. They also had started deportations to, I don’t know where initially, perhaps Drancy and then from there to the extermination camps. They put us, as children, in a children’s barrack for the day until the deportations were over. When it was finished those mothers who were there who had not been deported came to collect the children and my mother among them. There were a lot of children who never saw their mothers again, it was very tragic. Some of these kids were even younger that I was at the time.

# 48 [24 November 2009]

Last Friday I was privileged to interview Norbert Herz (now 78), Holocaust survivor and Rivesaltes intern. I have applied for a grant to visit him in Manchester, but for now we spoke over the phone. I plan to use extracts from the interview as a soundtrack for a video (I am working on it at the moment).

I shall include everything that he said, unedited, as it really gives a shocking insight into life in 'Free France' during the war.

Section One

JM - How did you come to be at Rivesaltes?

NH - I was at Rivesaltes twice . . .

I was born in Berlin in 1931. In 1938 on the 9th November was the Kristallnacht; the morning after my mother and I and aunt and uncle left from the Alexanderplatz . . . We travelled by taxi to the Belgian border and at the Belgian border the German border guards let us go. In a field, what you would call somebody who helps you pass the border clandestinely, a smuggler if you like, was waiting for us. We walked with him in the night across to Belgium and he had a farm house on the Belgian side. There we waited till daylight and we got the train to Antwerp and in Antwerp I was a year and a half. I went to school there and in 1940 when the Germans invaded Belgium my mother and I and my aunt and uncle got the train to France. Many people, not only Jewish people, got the train to France, the train took us to the south of France.

We went to a village called Boulogne-sur-Gesse [near Toulouse], which is called in French ‘une résidence assignée’ a kind of apartment in that village so that the authorities knew where we were. Then after some time they started putting foreign Jews into internment camps. The first internment camp was called Brens which is next to Gaillac-sur-Tarn [near Toulouse]. There I was for a few months with my mother and then we were all transferred to Rivesaltes, an entirely different camp.

We were in Ilot F. Rivesaltes . . . a flat plain surrounded by hills, it was always very windy and in winter it was extremely cold and in the summer it was too hot. The conditions were very harsh and then I was taken out from Rivesaltes by an organisation OSE, a French Jewish organisation which took out children from the internment camp and placed them in homes. They took me out from Rivesaltes and put me in a home in Brout-Vernet which is near Vichy. I was there some time.

# 45 [11 November 2009]

Journal de Rivesaltes. by Friedel Bohny-Reiter, Published 1998, written whilst she was a Red-Cross worker at Rivesaltes during 1941 - 1942:

13th September [1942]. It is 12.30 and we have only just got back from the station. We have been there since 3pm. It was horrible today. Such scenes. The people were left standing up for the roll call under a leaden sun, from 7am to 11am. Then they separated those who had to leave from those who stayed. I can still hear the cries of the women. I managed to free the children of one of the mothers. When I wanted to take them she pulled them to her. I lifted the children in my arms and took them to our quarters. When the mother refused to get into the truck the guards pushed her in.

Wagon after wagon was filled. Two were still empty and they had to find more to fill them. A woman who was a Belgian Protestant had come to the camp with her two children to look for her Jewish husband. Three more were needed to make up the convoy and they seized her and her children. The guards held her down as they took her and her to the wagon and shut the iron door behind her. ‘I am not a Jew’, she screamed.

Sometimes I feel afraid that we are implicated in this terrible betrayal.

The journal cites many incidents of children being separated from their families, some with a happy ending.

Whilst researching Holocaust survivors who were interned at Rivesaltes I came across Norbert Herz who was a child at the camp. He is 78 now, a retired teacher living in Cheadle, Manchester. He escaped from Nazi Germany to France, where he was interned at Rivesaltes and then fostered into a Jewish home at which time his mother was kept prisoner by the French administration.

He escaped to Switzerland and then headed for Palestine and eventually settled in Manchester.

Yesterday I contacted Dr Jean-Marc Dreyfus a lecturer in Holocaust Studies at Manchester University who invited Norbert Herz to give a talk last year at a conference on Holocaust education at the university. He is kindly going to request that I meet Mr Herz - I would like to interview him, not only as an important part of my research but with a view to form a new series of works. Watch this space . . .

# 44 [11 November 2009]

I've just returned from an Armistice commemoration in our village - most of the villagers attended (about 20 people). Amidst a shambolic (and strangely entertaining) ceremony including a very loud and distorted recording of The Marseillaise played on the village tannoy the mayor read the following which was written by Hubert Falco (Secretaire d'Etat a la Defense et aux Anciens Combattants):

. . . peace, which seemed to have been acheived on the day following 11 Nov 1918 did not last. Twenty years later the Second World War broke out. The generations of people who suffered greatly during the Great War had to live again through terrible times.

Throughout the 20th Century, there have never been two nations who were so affected as France and Germany. Let us consider together the road travelled since the Second World War thanks to the work of the Franco/German fathers of reconciliation: Robert Schumann, the Adenauer Chancellor and General de Gaulle. There are no other nations in the world today other than France and Germany who are so driven by such an intense desire to pursue the establishment of a common future.

Franco-German reconciliation, the shared determination to build a united Europe, all of this is not being constructed on an attempt to forget or deny the past, but as a consequence of it.

Today the Pesident of the French Republic and the German Chancellor have come together in Paris. United, they respectfully honour the dead and the soldiers of the Great War. They are also celebrating the long-lasting links which France and Germany have sealed. For the greatest honour we can give to those who lost their lives in the First World War is to construct that which they hoped for but did not know or see: a reconciled Europe, a peaceful Europe.

Considering that a large proportion of the villagers in attendance were not French, this was met with some bewilderment, however, it was swiftly followed by an aperitif in the village hall. As we drank Pastis at 11.15 in the morning, nobody commented on the speech, rather, the topic of conversation was that good old favourite: the weather.

# 43 [4 November 2009]

Pat Weed from Kansas came to the studio today. She stumbled across the blog whilst researching the history of this area of France before her holiday to the area. She is Judeo-Christian and takes a deep interest in the Holocaust. Having read this blog she wanted to visit the camp with me which she did this afternoon.

She arrived at 1.00 with her husband and daughter. Following a good while getting to know each other better the conversation veered towards the Holocaust; as we were discussing the nature of Rivesaltes as not only a transit camp, but as a concentration camp and the implications of both names, Louis burst into the room dressed as Darth Vader, it was clearly time to start looking at my videos.

Pat asked where the images that I painted originated, so I showed her the video RQV2 and explained that my work is more evocative than descriptive, the context giving the work meaning rather than it emerging from the images. I would say that my work is 'difficult' to view/interpret if not allowing yourself to be absorbed by the ethereal sound and images on a meditative level, which they seemed to appreciate. Then we got on to the paintings.

They listened attentively as I explained how I interpreted the video-stills through using various materials in the studio. They seemed to like the work as they left with one of the new red drip paintings 'Argeles. 1.i' based on the Argeles video.

Helen dropped the children off with the grandparents and off we went to the camp. As usual wind and rain featured, but even on a sunny day the camp is grim. Following a tour of a small section of the camp we headed for the railway siding where Pat wished to place a stone from the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) which she collected earlier in the year. She handed out sheets for us to follow the Kaddish mourning prayer, which she then prayed and we all finished with an Amen, it was moving. Before we parted we went to the memorial stones to each of the peoples held at the camp for a photo opportunity.

The memorial stone for the Jews, vandalised in 2003 reads:

... Delivered to the Nazis in the Occupied Zone, by authority of the French government, deported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz and murdered because they were Jews. We will never forget these victims of racial and xenophobic hatred.

She is going to speak with a friend at the Mid-West Centre for Holocaust Education in Kansas about the work I'm doing based on the camp, so a longer-lasting link may have been formed... all due to this blog.

# 42 [23 October 2009]

Nick Griffin (BNP leader) on BBC's Question Time was controversial and caused violent protests. People say to me that the Holocaust is not a relevant subject today, so why did a Holocaust denier stir up so much anger?

Before QT, BBC news broadcast the following:

Although he now says Hitler was wrong, he once said about the Holocaust:

Orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat.

But without a formal ban on the BNP and with the party polling 6% in the European elections the BBC felt he could be allowed an occasional slot on Question Time.

Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor, commented:

He's also been given the chance to deny that he is a Holocaust denier, to simply confirm that he thinks that the Nazis did kill millions of Jews. He failed to do that tonight...

The QT show mainly focused on Griffin. Amongst questions from the audience, regarding his comments on race, immigration and the BNP hijacking the image of Winston Churchill, was the following:

David Dimbleby:

Which is the untrue quote that's been said about you? The Holocaust denial possibly?... Did you deny the Holocaust?


I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial.


But you did deny it... Why are you smiling, it's not a particularly amusing issue.


I was very critical for the way in which the Holocaust was and is in fact abused to prevent serious discussion over immigration.


Just you say you're misquoted...

[Quoting NG]:

I want to see Britain become 99% genetically white just as she was 11 years before I was born.

...I can't find the misquotations and apparently neither can you.

The discussion continued, then came a question from the floor:

Winston Churchill put everything on the line so that my ancestors wouldn't get slaughtered in the concentration camps but here sits a man who says that that's a myth just like a flat world was a myth. How could you say that?


I cannot explain why I used to say those things... anymore than I can tell you why I've changed my mind. I cannot tell you the extent to which I've changed my mind because European law prevents me...


Have you actually changed your mind or do you only say you've changed your mind because the law makes it illegal to be a Holocaust denier?


I have changed my mind, a lot of it is about figures. One of the key things which makes me change my mind is British radio intercepts of German transmissions about the brutal mass-murder of innocent Jews on the Eastern Front...which changes the figures very greatly.

Jack Straw:

What about Auschwitz? Couldn't people see with their own eyes what happened in Auschwitz? You didn't need a subsequent radio intercept to find out that people were gassed at Auschwitz.

Maybe my work is about a contemporary issue afterall.

# 41 [18 October 2009]

Another interesting insight in to the camp was the system of heating used during 1941 - 1942. The huts weren't heated, only the school huts (where the Quakers organised wood stoves), administration buildings and ilot G - the health centre. At one moment the camp staff realised that there were a lot of beds missing and it was discovered that the interns were burning their beds, so desperate were they to keep warm.

Many charities worked at the camp, obviously the Red Cross, but also the Quakers, YMCA and the OSE, a Russian Jewish charity. The last one interests me personally as my Jewish family is from Russia . . . I'll do a little more research.

The hour or so was really helpful, especially discovering the hut where Friedal Bohny-Reitel wrote her journal. Elodie is mainly concerned with giving teachers the tools to teach awareness of the Holocaust, particularly the role of the camp at Rivesaltes in the Final Solution, but is soon off to Auschwitz to take part in a conference. I plan to visit Auschwitz myself sometime in the future, perhaps travelling by train from Rivesaltes to make a new series of videos.

# 40 [17 October 2009]

Some of the Spanish who were held at the make-shift camps on the beach at Argeles were recruited in work parties to extend the already-standing military base at Rivesaltes, little knowing that they would be interned there themselves.

During the '60s when the Harkis were housed at Rivesaltes the huts were in bad repair, most of them uninhabitable, so they slept in tents. When the last Harkis left the camp in 1970 they were housed on an especially constructed estate, unfortunately on a flood-plain, even after flooding they remain there today.

One issue that has interested me is the organisation of the camp during the war, at no time were German Nazis involved in the running of the camp, it was the Vichy administration who were in charge. The Jews who were sent to Auschwitz were sent by Vichy government chief-of-police Rene Bousquet; the Nazis had requested 40,000 Jews to be sent to concentration camps in Eastern Europe from the south of France, he sent an extra 10,000, 2,313 of which were from Rivesaltes. Elodie explained that in this way Rivesaltes played a real part in the Final Solution. The guards were all French, mostly local Gendarmes from Rivesaltes and Perpignan.

The Jews held at the camp were mainly from Germany and Poland, French Jews were not held there (unlike other camps in the south). I found it interesting that the French Rabbi from Perpignan visited the camp. Jewish festivals were celebrated and other interns, Spanish and Gypsies, joined in - language was not an issue. Vivette Samuel, an aid worker for the OSE: With a trembling hand, one of the veteran inmates lights the first small flame of the gigantic Menorah built by the detainees. And the traditional song borne by hundreds of voices ascends in the night that falls on the camps. For a moment the suffering recedes and I allow myself to be invaded by an immense hope.

Another piece of information which had eluded me was what happened to the bodies of those who died at the camp from malnutrition and disease, I knew that the few graves at the cemetry at Rivesaltes did not account for the thousands who died there. Elodie explained that there are a few graves at Perpignan, but it is largely believed that many were incinerated or buried in a mass-grave outside the camp, however no evidence has been found.

Whilst walking around Ilot K, Elodie pointed out the hut where Friedel Bohny-Reiter wrote her journal ('Journal de Rivesaltes'). The hut was covered in frescos on the interior, ones I had not noticed before, a Swiss mountain landscape. On the exterior, covered by bushes a painting of a train (a strange subject to us, but they didn't know their fate) plane and boat. Elodie said that the thinking behind these depictions of transport was to encourage people to consider how they might leave the camp. It is such a shame that soon these may be lost.

# 39 [17 October 2009]

It looks like the summer has ended, it seems difficult to believe we were in T-shirts and shorts just three days ago: it was too hot to sit outside, now all I seem to be doing is stoking the fire. Yesterday we went to the camp where I had arranged to meet Elodie Montes, the education officer for the Rivesaltes Memorial; stupidly I didn't take a coat thinking it would be warmer than our house in the mountains, it was, but was so windy that I could barely hear Elodie talking.

Meeting her was enlightening and helped fill some of the gaps in my research on the camp, she confirmed some of my suspicions and recounted some great anecdotes.

We started at 'Ilot F', the section of the camp owned by the Conseil General of Languedoc Rousillon (regional government). We looked at the devastation of last January's storm, she explained that many of the paintings on the walls were being rescued, dismantled and preserved in the archive before the huts crumbled. I pointed out a drawing of children in striped tunics on one wall, she was not aware of it and is going to bring it to the attention to an historian to see if it dates from 1941/'42.

Elodie confirmed that the large paintings of figures with tools in a hut in Ilot K were painted in 1941/'42 to decorate the interns' workshop (which was established by one of the charity organisations working in the camp with the aim of teaching the young men a trade). Ilot K is owned by the army and the plan is to knock down the huts in the near future; the memorial is in discussion with them to try to save the paintings before the huts are dismantled.

Ilot K was the only hut totally surrounded by barbed-wire, this was where the Jews were held later in addition to Ilot F. At first the camp was open, as it is in an isolated place and was called a 'Centre Rassemblement Familial'. Despite this, mothers and children were separated from the men. Boys of 14 were considered to be men and therefore taken from their mothers, so the mothers with little foresight to lie lost contact with their sons. It was the Tsiganes (Gypsies) who could remain in family units, apparently because they protested strongly and had the energy that the Spanish and the Jews lacked to make their case.

At the edge of Ilot K is the remains of the railway track built especially to take some of the Jews to the main line from Perpignan to Paris; the sleepers are still there, but not the lines themselves. At different times during 1942 interns were transported not only by train, but by lorry to Rivesaltes station.

Mothers-to-be were also transported by lorry to Elne to the Maternite Suisse, but had to return to the camp all too soon.

# 38 [7 October 2009]

Following a stint of DIY preparing the studio for winter (so I can hopefully carry on working whilst it's blowing a gale outside) I got back to some painting, I decided to finish a series that I started last year, they needed something, at the time I didn't know what, then, I suppose with the benefit of a little distance (in time) I could drip over the surface with the red I experimented with in my Argeles series of videos made a year ago. All went well and they seem to have that elusive something that paintings need . . . I need to live with them a little before I give them the necessary tweaks.

So, I plan to spend a few weeks on some new paintings as I seem to be on a roll before I start editing videos again. I need to finish editing the rushes made on the train to Rivesaltes for a screening in the new year, hopefully the software problems will be a thing of the past.

# 37 [7 October 2009]

Since the previous series of paintings I've been taking the opportunity to reflect on what I've been doing artistically. Its been a year since I started the blog and what an aid to the creative process its been; it has helped me focus the themes of my work and how I can best link the experience of the studio with the subject of the camp. I always direct those interested in my work or the history of the camp to this blog and it acts as a great introduction to those interested in the Holocaust in the south of France, I suppose my work gives an insight in to one approach to dealing with the past's influence on the present.

Three interesting meetings are coming up, the first with the curator of the Holocaust exhibition at The Imperial War Museum - I contacted her last year regarding my project and she is planning a visit to this area soon so I shall be giving her a tour of the camp. The second is with an American lady who stumbled across this blog a couple of months ago, she is involved in teaching Holocaust awareness; she too is visiting this area. I plan to take her to the camp at the end of the month where she wishes to say a prayer and lay a stone brought back from the Kotel (Western Wall). I'm looking forward to meeting her and hope she may even allow me to record her whilst at the camp. The third is a long-overdue tour of the camp by Elodie Montes who works for the Rivesaltes Memorial, chatting with her will provide a new insight in to the layout and knowledge of the camp before I show the other two around.

# 34 [27 July 2009]

On Saturday I had my first Rivesaltes video (RQV2) screened at The Tenderpixel Gallery London as part of Rushes Soho Shorts. Unfortunately other commitments meant that I couldn't attend. It will be showing every afternoon until 31st July.

They have also produced a DVD of all the films showing as part of their 'experimental film' screenings which will be sold in their new shop: Tenderproduct.

I'm planning to visit the gallery next month to pick up my copy - it will be good to make contact.

# 33 [21 July 2009]

I had a good week last week - been invited by Ottica TV to show in The Hague at the 'Streaming Festival' in November, had a video accepted to be shown at 'One Minute Film Festival', Aarau, Switzerland and sold a painting (one from the new Argeles series based on the 'spinning' videos made on the beach last year).

I am making a new video for Ottica TV - I was invited by some friends living in the village to help celebrate a 60th birthday by spending the day on a tourist train to Rivesaltes with their friends visiting from Germany.

So, off I trundled to the station at Axat (20 mins from my home) in Andi's car, the sheep-farmer who had showed my work in his barn during the spring - he had organised the trip for our mutual friend, Suse whose birthday it was. This was to be no ordinary train journey - as soon as we boarded the train coffee and biscuits were offered to everyone in the carriage we had commandeered - five minutes later Blanquette de Limoux (local bubbly) was passed around.

I placed my audio-recorder on the chair and surruptiously pressed record - the sound of the train whistle, screeching breaks and rhythmic chugg-chugga was accompanied by the sound of children and adults having fun on a grand day out. I hung out of the window and started to record the train-track, trees and bulidings as we hurtled through a changing landscape: woods, gorges and vineyards slowly disappeared as we approached the flat arid plain at Rivesaltes.

For me the atmosphere approaching the station at Rivesaltes was laden with the gravitas of the past, from this seemingly anonymous station carriages took Jews to Auschwitz - but today it was the destination of a fun day out with some friends.

We ate lunch on a palm-tree lined square in front of a typically grand town hall - 30 minutes before we caught the train back was just enough to eat foie-gras, baguette and to drink Muscat de Rivesaltes (the other reason Rivesaltes is known).

I reflected on the bizarre situation in which I found myself - what was a mini-pilgimage for me was augmented by being accompanied by German friends and aquaintances on a day when all that mattered was enjoying the sun, food and drink in good company, but I do hope I've got some decent footage with an atmospheric soundtrack.

# 32 [13 July 2009]

Some friends kindly invited us to the stay with them at the coast. After a morning of swimming we decided to visit the ‘Maternite Suisse’ not far from their house. During 1942 mothers-to-be from Rivesaltes and other local camps were allowed to stay for a month before their babies were born, give birth and then they had to return to the camps.

I had planned to film at the hospital a while back, so when I arrived I was eager to experiment. The trial footage of the rooms lacked contrast and colour, so I headed for the roof terrace, here I found a quite stunning metal glazing structure which I hope will form the basis of a new series of videos.

The walls of the building are lined with old photographs, some showing shockingly thin and tiny babies but many showing happy times too - a line of babies sleeping outside in the shade, smiling children being bathed in the garden... You can't help imagining what a haven of peace this must have been.

Whilst I was filming in the hospital my wife chatted to a lady at the desk who explained a little about the history of the place.

The Red-Cross worker, Elisabeth Eidenbenz, who started the hospital tried to keep the mothers in this sanctuary for as long as possible, up to four months. She also hid them and tried to help them escape. There was a story of Lucie who was taken to the Maternite by the Germans, when they returned for her she wasn’t there – they told Elizabeth that she had three hours to find her or she would go in Lucie’s place (on the train to an undisclosed destination); Elizabeth packed her bags, but the Germans found Lucie in a field.

My wife questioned the lady on the reception about current reactions to discussing France’s involvement with the Nazis and she replied that the memory of the war is still too close, there existed too much animosity, some people saw terrible things and some people did terrible things. She believes that it is the next generation who will change this.

We wanted to chat longer, but had to leave. The assistant has our email address and is going to contact us as my wife has offered to voluntarily translate the hospital’s leaflets from French in to English. She is also going to track down a copy of Friedel Bohny-Reiter’s ‘Journal de Rivesaltes’ (also a Suisse Red-Cross worker, who documented the day-to-day goings on at the camp and who sent expectant mothers to La Maternite Suisse), it’s out of print and quite essential for my research.

# 31 [13 July 2009]

It was my wedding anniversary yesterday, my wife and I dined out at midday instead of the evening as it was easier to organise a babysitter. As a special treat I suggested we visited the camp because I needed to make some new footage in HD, after my wife had been wined and dined she complied.

I’m making a new series of videos in HD for a festival which will screen only videos made in HD. Up until now, I didn’t realise that I could make videos in HD; so far all my footage has been shot in HD, but as I don’t have an HD disk-burner the DVDs have ended up being standard definition. A friend who works in the industry in Soho has informed me that if I save the HD footage as a data file it can be viewed in HD, so, now, at last, I can put my HD camera to good use.

When we arrived at the camp the temperature must have been 35 degrees, no breeze, stifling (during the war it was known as the Sahara of France). I had eaten quite a lot which was a mistake as I planned to make a ’spin’ video amidst a copse of fir trees. Well … I did it, but suffered, three minutes of spinning is not good for you, even if you hadn’t eaten a huge meal. The sound of crickets filled the air, a sound I can definitely work with.

Back at home I edited the footage and am pleasantly surprised, especially with the sound which I have distorted in such a way that a high pitch note resounds with many harmonic layers. The images drop from the top of the screen to the bottom, almost like a waterfall of oranges and reds.

# 30 [13 July 2009]

I managed to find the time to watch another section of ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’ today. The documentary film about occupied France during the war was made in 1968 but not screened in France until 1981 due to its controversial nature and tackling of taboo subjects.

I found the following section on anti-semitism particularly revealing, especially when accompanied by images used as part of an exhibition: ‘Jews and France’ held in Paris during the Second World War.

[Pierre Mendies-France (Prime Minister of France 1954-1955 and Air Force Lieutenant 1939)]
“It is not surprising that, at first, such poison won over many new converts. Little by little, people began to realise it was propaganda and to see that the government was practising a policy which they themselves called collaboration with the enemy. Slowly but surely, people began to open their eyes and change their minds. But this propaganda still won over many new converts. You know as well as I do that anti-semitism and Anglophobia are never hard to stir up in France. Even if reactions to such things are dormant or stifled, all it takes is one event, one incident, one international crisis or one Dreyfus affair for feelings we thought long gone to suddenly re-emerge in full force, for beliefs we thought dead to be simply dormant.”

[During the war] Edward Drumont was the first in France to examine the Jewish question. The Institute of Jewish Questions celebrates his memory today. Mr Laville has agreed to say a few words. “Out of one hundred Frenchmen of old stock, at least 90 are pure white, free of any other racial mixture. This is not true of the Jews. The Jews are born a mixture which dates back thousands of years, between Aryans, Mongols and Negroes. Therefore, Jews have unique forces, bodies, attitudes and gestures, it is reassuring to see that the public is interested in studying the characteristics presented in the morphological section of “Jews and France”.

As it’s now the school holidays I may find it difficult to watch the remaining sections of the documentary without distractions – small doses of a documentary of this type are easier to digest though.