Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Knitting Auschwitz

In 2010, I went on my first trip to Poland to work on a reconciliation project, A Tour of Roses.
I have written about this organization  previously in Knitting Traditions and the Lizkor/remembrance socks from the trip to Sobibor.
On the first trip however, my friend Marie and I took a day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz-Birkenau (the others from my team had already gone on a previous trip). Marie is German. She had been there previously as she does work with catholic youth and projects that work between Jews and Catholics. I was so thankful for her willingness to take me. I could never have navigated the bus and trip in Polish by myself!

It was a cold and rainy day. There were very few people there. Our tour took us on a journey, we went in and out of buildings, walked into the gas chambers and stood in front of ovens. Stood in the barracks looking at the tiny spaces for sleeping, the degradation and striping away of the humanity a piece at a time.

After the official tour, Marie and I walked the grounds and the rain increased with the heaviness. We sought shelter in the empty bath house. The bath house has a plexi-glass floor so you hover over the ground. The wear and tear of visitors and time is having an effect on the building, so this "glass" floor is to preserve the witness of the past.
Marie and I sat on that floor, we had a small Bible and recited Psalms aloud. Marie, who speaks hebrew so beautifully from her time in Israel and her love for the Jews, said the kaddish with me. After we walked through the bath house. Each station removed a little more from the Jews who passed through. Here you are stripped of clothes, this one shaves your hair, the mass cold showers, the rags given to wear...your name is taken from you and a number is tattooed into your flesh. As you walk through, it just got worse and worse. At the end, the last room, the exhibitors have displays of photographs. Each photograph has a name. It is really powerful, they try to bring back the names to the nameless and show their faces as they were before Auschwitz. If you have seen Mattisyahu's Jerusalem video, you can see how the imagery of this room is captured in the video.

While we were there, in one of the display cases in Block 5, were some baby sweaters.

After several years, I pulled out the photo's, talked with Interweave's Editors at Piecework Magazine and began recreating the sweater from the above photograph.

In the Jan/Feb 2014 Historical Knitting Issue of Piecework, along with some amazing knitters like Nancy Bush, is my project.

This was such a difficult project for me. The knitting was simple and staright forward, knits & purls. But it was so emotional.

My version of the sweater:

It is not perfect. The original was not either. We have no historical data on who this sweater was made by or who it was intended for or worn by. There are an estimated 1.5 Million children who were murdered in the Holocaust. This could have been a sweater for any one of them.

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