014~ It Ain't Bridging if you cross sides
Updated: Aug 19
Back in 2010, as I was advancing slowly but surely with the attempts to make sense of it all and still suppressing the idea of sharing my vulnerable thoughts, I would often experience a stronger motivation to broaden my perspectives around the time of the Holocaust Memorial in Israel, "Yom Hashoa." During this time, many ideas would emerge, some of them similar, while others would leave me with restrained anger and frustration. Yom Hashoa is also a day when the media understandably seeks to generate "new content" that aligns with the general consensus.
I dislike reaching this period in Israel, which coincides with Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day. These days are filled with people who speak on behalf of the deceased, employing demagoguery and celebrating while my heart aches and my mind feels weak. It becomes a time when programs and "new" findings must come to light because we have many broadcast slots to fill...
I remember particularly two stories that perfectly illustrate my upcoming thoughts.
The first story revolves around a doctor who also happens to be an officer in the IDF. The title of the story is "My Father Was a Nazi Officer!" It follows the journey of a person who discovered their lineage as the child of a Nazi officer, subsequently moved to Israel, converted to Judaism, joined the army, became a doctor, got married to a Jewish woman (later divorced), and now resides in Miami.
The article presented this story in a banal manner, lacking any meaningful description of the officer's role in Israel. It's a distorted way of creating false symmetry. The real purpose of the article only becomes apparent after reading further—it's a promotion for the book the officer wrote about being the son of a Nazi officer and their life's journey.
(Oh! it's an infomercial! great!..)..
He could have chosen a more fitting title like "My Counter Struggle" (Mein Gegenkampf), which would have added an interesting layer of symmetry. However, I simply accepted the fact that the article lacked substance and moved on from that non-eventful piece...
But then a documentary caught my attention. It featured an Israeli journalist named Eldad Beck, who, as a descendant of an Auschwitz survivor, traveled to meet the grandson of Rudolf Hoss, the Nazi commander of Auschwitz. Eldad appeared exhausted and lacking energy, while Rainer, the grandson, repeatedly encountered a barrier in their interactions, responding with disturbing remarks. I want to make it clear that I am not passing judgment on Eldad. The burden he carried was clearly overwhelming. As a third-generation individual with little direct connection to the horrors of that period, Eldad was confronted with photos of his ancestors or photos shown to him by Rainer, knowing that his grandparents suffered brutal abuse and death behind the walls depicted in the background. It was an unbearable experience, and for the first time, I also felt sympathy for Rainer. He had the opportunity to stand in front of Israeli school children who were visiting and faced their criticism, but he also received a hug from a survivor accompanying them, all in an attempt to bridge the gap between everyone present, with tears streaming down their faces, including my own.
I made a decision. I felt compelled to contact Rainer. Despite my hesitation, I started delving deeper into his story (which, in my opinion, started to deviate in certain ways), but the bigger picture remained clear. The next time I come to Berlin to continue photographing for this project, I want to meet him too.
I began searching for Rainer on Facebook, but I couldn't find a personal profile for him. Later, I learned that he had been subjected to constant abuse online. Eventually, I came across him in a group associated with an organization called Footsteps, which he had founded to foster dialogue and connect with people. I thought this was a positive sign since I had been conducting seminars that combined photography and storytelling, focusing on thoughts and memories related to the Holocaust. Perhaps we could collaborate on something together?
After a few days, I managed to contact Rainer through the group messenger, and to my surprise, he immediately called me on Skype. I wasn't prepared to talk at that moment, and I froze as the screen flickered, feeling ashamed of my reaction. So I reached out to him again via email, explaining my thoughts, and he suggested having a group Zoom call for me to share my idea with the team.
This time, I was determined not to miss the opportunity. I ate very little, knowing how to prevent nausea, and made it known that I was ready for the discussion.
Skype screen shot
And there he was, sitting there with a sandwich, introducing me to his peers. I managed to express to him how deeply moved I was by the documentary, particularly the scene with the children in Auschwitz. However, he responded in a somewhat dismissive, quasi-celebrity manner, mentioning that he receives similar comments frequently.
That wasn't my intention at all... I was referring to the energy of the project...and not the public response to him specifically...if you catch my drift. But anyway, right after his response, he continued eating his sandwich without a care. I was stunned.
He seemed so nonchalant about it, while I was weighed down by heavy thoughts and an eagerness to share my idea of using photography as a workshop tool, with them. The conversation seemed to be going nowhere, but it went on for almost two hours. Finally, they concluded the chat by saying, "Contact us when you have a group to bring us; we have the content." I was baffled by the whole interaction, but still managed to say, "Okay."
I continued to delve into Rai's story, but at this stage, I felt that much of the authenticity was lost. Nevertheless, I remained determined to find a way to realize my idea of using photography as a means of bridging gaps, and opening dialogue.
I came across his backstory, which sounded both familiar and touching—a tale of a child being subjected to physical abuse due to the actions of his ancestors, seemingly without any provocation from his side. However, when he mentioned adopting a "Jewish mama" who was a Holocaust survivor, (and seeing the meticulously staged photoshoot featuring his tattooed Star of David), I couldn't help but feel uneasy with the path he chose to create dialogue I began to think he was going too far...
I mean really - do you think Jews could just convert when they came across a violent bunch of germans? or, do you think they could choose a tattoo? I don't know...
I think it's better had he stayed on "that side" and try bridging, if that had been his real intention.
Or maybe, just like his Grandfather...He chose to drift into the more dominant dynamic group? Maybe?
I know I am coming across as somewhat judgmental, but it is a characterization I now notice as a more universal behavior, which this story has helped me realize and define.
I have less respect for those who shift sides instead of trying to bridge the gap from their side of the bank, be it their own doing or fate.
Once again, it has become complex and confusing. It is all a big mess, which is why the next extraordinary event that caught me unprepared was a great photo opportunity to seize as it occurred!
As bridges were being constructed everywhere, and I was missing the opportunity to capture them one after the other, there was finally a glorious bridge being built several kilometers away from our house at the time. I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot, how, and when. It gave me a solid plan and allowed me to be open to the unexpected and fortuitous moments that such events bring about.
As I finally arrived at the shooting location, I encountered a setback - the first 3-4 files came out corrupt! It seemed that something went wrong with the read-out process.
The initial instinct would be to delete and format the memory card, and then reshoot the photos. However, in that split second of clarity, I realized that despite the corruption, there was something intriguing about the disorderly noise patterns and the fact that the bridge was still visible in the images. I made the decision to preserve those files.
I decided to keep the corrupted memory card intact and inserted a new one to reshoot the classic image of the bridge, sticking to my original plan.
However, what surprised me was how excited and happy I felt when I saw the potential in the "Noisy" image. It was as if I could visually perceive how well it mirrored the "noise" in my own mind. Perhaps others can relate to it as well.
I love'em both!
One with incredible detail and light, with the waving flag, in perfect timing,
and the other dwelling in noise, in which you can barely see through all the extra patterns and... well... noise... I wish to find a way to reduce the noise, or as a friend recently told me - the more I learn about this, the less I understand.
Noisy Bridge (failed read-out process)
Link to the son of the Nazi:
As it has been a few years since that bizarre Skype video call with representatives of the Footsteps organization, I searched for a link to that organization. Shockingly (though not surprisingly), I came across some new information. It seems to validate my raw intuition and unpolished thoughts on the matter.
In the words of the singer Ayub Ogada: "Walk around, travel the world, but never forget where you came from." Or, in other words, if you truly wanted to confront your past, you should stay "on that side" to fix it.
In 2021, Rainar was accused of fraud and has been disowned by his adopted mother. I couldn't find any trace of the Footsteps organization anywhere.
Disclaimer...- once again, let me say that these are just thoughts I share here, with who ever might be interested to question things a little differently?
I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on the matter!
Did you ever get the "noise" feeling in your head? how do you deal with it?