Neil Kaplan, a collector of old passports and documents has turned his passion into a mission to collect and save as many samples he can to learn about the stories behind each item. The subtle markings engraved in passports over time can reveal so much about a person, where they have travelled, the route taken to a destination and even political markings of the country passed through. An understanding of the history surrounding stamped dates can almost paint an entire picture of the person at the given moment in time. Some of the most astonishing stories of World War II relate to the survival of individuals. During the very dark and cold moments of that horrific war that spanned for 6 years people fought to stay alive, to survive and continue living. That eternal burning flame, the flame of life, drove a few to fight against all odds and not give up. Be it in the camps, ghettos or in hiding, there are those who managed to come out of the ashes in Europe and tell their story. This can be in the form of verbal recordings or in the form of preserved documents. In this article, Neil spoke with Michael Challoner, the head editor of ‘Reflections’ about 2 women caught up in occupied Poland and their subsequent journey to freedom and how their documents provide invaluable information.
A reader may regard the title of the article as a paradox or provocation. Especially from the perspective of 70 years that have passed since the end of World War II. Considering the numerous debates emphasising the documentary and educational importance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, the numerous conservatory activities to preserve the postcamp relics - the unwanted Auschwitz is something incomprehensible. It is a superficial feeling, though, as the real space of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is merely a small part of what Auschwitz in fact was.
Everything I felt and saw in my youth, everything that darkened my world, I tried to express in my drawings, as a witness to all those horrible things. It’s only an inadequate effort. I think it’s impossible to express in painting or in any other way the horrors we went through.
The word ‘trace’ has perpetually haunted me throughout most of my adult and scholarly life. As an artist, I recreate rooms and spaces dedicated to the past, collecting wartime artefacts and antiques that I cannot stop myself from obtaining and keeping, even though the majority of the time it is only me that sees or feels them. It is an obsession, the notion that each object leads to another world. Another life, a personal identity, a story.
“But you who knew me will write in your reports
That I spent my younger years for my country,
And as long as the ship battled, I sat at mast,
And when it sank, I went down with it...”
'My Testament' by J. Słowacki
On July 18, 1940 a twenty-six-year-old clerk and law student lost his freedom and identity. He was no longer Bernard Świerczyna but number 1393. The only things which could not be changed or killed by the Nazi regime were his patriotism and love for Poland…