‘A series of exhibitions by leading contemporary artists were commissioned and organised to coincide with ideas and artefacts linked to an archaeological survey and dig of the “lost” village of Calgarth Estate that took place in the summer of 2019.
However, the initial idea for the exhibition programme, named the Above and Below the Holocaust Landscape initiative, emerged during a visit to the Nazi German Extermination camp of Treblinka in 2016, a visit I made with Rosemary Smith, both of us accompanied by artist Miroslaw Balka.
Treblinka is a location where the British archaeologist Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls and her team have carried out surveys and controlled archaeological excavations to determine what remains and evidence can be uncovered at that dreadful place. Rose and myself have worked with Caroline, and have also seen how much approaches in forensic archaeology have in common with contemporary art approaches. This may seem to strange to some people but the search for clues and meaning is an ever present in both activities.
I have to say that the fact that Rose and I knew that a number of the Jewish children who came to the Lake District in 1945 had lost their families at Treblinka added an extra layer of emotional reaction to the research. We also knew that many of these “Windermere Children” could not bear to visit Treblinka and so there was also a sense of bearing witness on behalf of so many others.
We had driven from Warsaw and a quite troubling scene emerged at Treblinka village, which is located just before you arrive at the former Treblinka camp location itself. We had arrived at the village and looked in vain for the small train station building that had once been the place where trains halted on arrival at the village.
But it was at this small Treblinka village station that we faced our first shock. This same station building at Treblinka village, often depicted in photographs, had disappeared and there remained just a pile of rubble and debris as evidence that it had been here. The sense of disappointment we all felt was also intermingled with astonishment, dismay and just a hint of anger. Who would do this? And how could they? It had stood for over seventy years as a silent witness to so much tragedy linked to the Treblinka camp that this must have been an act designed to ensure that its history and legacy was not intended to remain visible.
A brief history behind the significance of the village station in relation to Treblinka camp might be helpful here. When Treblinka camp was built here by Nazi Germany, the train carriages and trucks carrying those destined for the gas chambers would stop at the village station before then being uncoupled and taken by a smaller train along a short branch line that led into the heart of the nearby forest.
It was here, in the heat of the nearby forest, that another specially constructed train station stood waiting as an entrance to the Extermination camp itself. This camp station was an elaborate construct designed to create a false sense of security to the passengers disembarking there. In fact, when the passengers disembarked at this seemingly innocuous rail station they very quickly found themselves being processed, ushered along “Himmelweg”, and finally into the gas chambers. It was a terrible destiny for so many, many Jewish men, women and children.
After picking our way around the ruins of the village station we left the demolished buildings and drove a short distance to the car park for the Treblinka Memorial site itself. We then walked through an avenue of trees before entering into what was the former site of the extermination centre.
Now it is a partly wooded and partly open area dominated trees and by the large Treblinka Memorial structure, and the sea of standing memorial stones. Each memorial stone represents a Jewish community that had disappeared here. There is, of course, the single stone with a single person’s name on it, unique to that site. This stone represents a person and not a community.
I had been told to keep a look out for it and soon discovered its location. The stone bears the name of Janusz Korczac, the children’s author and carer who came to the gas chambers with children from his Warsaw orphanage who were under his care, and who he had refused to leave on their tragic journey to here. Even though Janusz Korczac was offered numerous occasions to stay behind in Warsaw and leave the children to travel alone (even Nazi officer offered him a way to freedom because of his fame as a children’s author), he refused, and so travelled with the children under his care from Warsaw to Treblinka, and was killed there along with his orphans.
The mind struggles to absorb the reality of went on in these kinds of places, and Treblinka is as troubling a site as any that I have visited. Similar senses had prevailed during visits to Chelmno, and Auschwitz, and the question of how to quantify and describe these visceral sensations looms large, and still does.
And yet it was the vanished Treblinka village station building that came back to haunt me again and again. It had been being considered to be kept as a memorial but someone, somewhere, at some moment, had determined that this was not going to happen. In the dead of night the demolition teams had moved in. The sight of these ruins brought the past very clearly into my present, and brought home to me just how delicately poised physical memorialisation is, and how physical destruction is an attempt to contribute to a process of forgetting.
It was here at the ruined Treblinka village station site that the first thoughts of a two year exhibition project came in. Above and Below the Holocaust Landscape could attempt to deal with the seen and the unseen, could begin to grapple with the visible and the invisible reminders, and remainders, linked to an archaeological process.’
Reflections from Trevor Avery, 2019
‘Richard Kolker exhibition was presented in summer 2019 and, due to his commitments elsewhere, photography and film workshops using photographers and artists linked to his Auschwitz theme and photographs were employed for the duration of his exhibition and carried out the public engagement arts projects and associated to the excavation work at Calgarth Estate. The exhibition by Richard was a series of photographs and projections from Auschwitz, and a background contextual publication was produced to accompany the exhibition.
An event was organised that included talks by Auschwitz survivor Ike Alterman, Mala Tribich, Ravensbruck and Belsen survivor, who were also child survivors who came to the Lake District in 1945.
Richard has now donated the photographs and exhibition to ourselves at LDHP, a very moving gesture of support for all our work and a great reflection on his generosity.
Photography and film workshops and projects were carried out by Dayve Ward and a team of young, film makers from the area led by Tom Gardner who produced a film that focused on the “Above and Below” of Calgarth Estate and Auschwitz.
Two research visits (in advance of their 2020 exhibition and events) by Lorna Brunstein and Richard White were carried out from Bath to the the Lake District. A research visit and material was gathered from archaeological sites in Berlin and nearby, which will be added to the final publication and will feed into the Above and Below the Holocaust Landscape exhibitions and final publication, and web presence. Publicity and media attention on the archaeology and the exhibition programme in 2019 was highlighted with a feature on “Digging for Britain” with Alice Roberts.
We were also focusing on a special event over the weekend of 15-17 May 2020 when there was to be a reunion of the survivors and their families in the Lake District (to commemorate the 75th anniversary of their liberation) as well as events in Carlisle airport and in the Lake District in August 2020 (to commemorate their arrival in the Lakes).
Significantly, all planning, developments and delivery for 2020 were impacted dramatically by Covid.
The relationship between the excavations at Calgarth Estate and the exhibition at Windermere was maximised for publicity potential and saw a significant uplift in visitors to the exhibition in 2019 and early 2020. Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls (Genocide Forensic Archaeologist) and Staffordshire University Centre for Archaeology also gave a talk and workshop at the exhibition and has been discussing methodology for working with Miroslaw Balka and his exhibition in 2020.
The challenges of how to take adapt to changing circumstances and also how to take advantage of opportunities that arise while the programme was being carried out are often of judgment calls. Through working with Prof Sturdy Colls and Miroslaw, we learned of exciting excavation work being carried out in Berlin, where they were excavating and preserving for display offices and buildings where the RHSA (Reich Security Main Headquarters)were being carried out in Berlin. This was the location where the Holocaust was organised and delivered and so created a perfect connection to our Above and Below the Holocaust Landscape project in the Lake District. To be able to link the HQ of Nazi German Holocaust (the offices of Heydrich and Himmler) at the very moment of them being revealed and preserved after seventy years, was something we had to consider.
It expanded the potential for the project and a visit to the curators and location of the Topography of Terror locations in Berlin were organised. The results of the visits amd meetings have led to further opportunities to connect with, and work, Berlin, Oranienburg, Furstenberg, and the Lake District Holocaust Project.
We diverted funding towards photography and film projects and worked with other artists and young people and these activities were carried out during Richard’s exhibition period in 2019.
We also used some funding to send young arts people to Auschwitz (where Richard’s photos originated) so that they could gain experience and produce a moving image piece for LDHP that linked both to Richard’s exhibition and to the Above and Below thematic.
The project was delivered over an extended period due to the unfortunate intervention of the Covid pandemic, which arrived in the early months of 2020. The first year of the project exceeded expectations and outcomes when delivered from January 2019 to January 2020. In fact, developments in late 2021 saw the archaeology discovered being planned to part of a proposed new build museum on the site developed and designed with international architect Daniel Libeskind. More later.
In early 2020, preparations were underway to deliver the second year of the project when the Covid related challenges emerged. Another Space/LDHP was engaged with a full diary of Zoom presentations and talks due to the release of BBC/Warner Bros The Windermere Children drama and accompanying documentary.
The presentations included to the United Nations, Illinois Holocaust Museum and WTTW PBS Live broadcast, UK National Holocaust Commemoration, and these continue to the present time.
The drama and documentary were repeated in 2021 and across a global audience, which exacerbated the frustrations of the exhibition space in Windermere being so exposed to the challenges of Covid restrictions.
Because the delivery of the second year of this project in 2020 was primarily focused on the actual archaeology site of Calgarth, the challenges were extremely broadened by the fact the site where the art work and events were to be carried was the location of a school, namely Lakes School (the archaeology originally taking part in and around the school grounds and playing fields).
Communications with the school on site during 2020 were minimal due to lock down, and this continued into 2021.
However, a window of opportunity emerged during the summer of 2021, when lock down restrictions were partly lifted, and plans were established, and a smaller scale event was possible to commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the young survivors arriving on 14 August, and further Covid safe commemorative gatherings with survivors and families were held on site throughout the summer and autumn of 2021.
The art and archaeology work was discussed and celebrated on site, with plans and delivery of an arts and archaeology display to be established at the school site both indoors and outside. The future proofing of the delivery of the project had to take ongoing Covid restrictions into account.
The project had proved to have exceeded expectations in 2019 in terms of artists and young artists working with film engaging with archaeological discoveries, public engagement and interest, and especially in establishing exciting new possibilities, network and for the location of a new build museum on the site of Calgarth, which will incorporate artwork and archaeology as part of the proposed museum.
In September 2022 we received a request to meet with the Duchess of Cambridge in Windermere along with Windermere survivors and a number of their families. The event was held at Windermere Jetty and the importance of art and creativity in the recovery of the child survivors in 1945 was discussed. This cemented the imperative concept that art is to be embedded in the continuing development of Lake District Holocaust Project.
In November 2022 we hosted a visit from Daniel Libeskind, the international architect, and his team from New York and Paris. This was to discuss the building of a new, iconic museum and cultural centre on the site of where Calgarth Estate once stood, and linking closely to the Lake School that now also stands on the site.
The challenges of working with artists and the site of Calgarth during 2020 and 2021 meant that we had to be flexible, as did the artists. Miroslaw Balka provided a specially commissioned art design book cover for “Rock the Cradle” by Marie Paneth, which Lake District Holocaust Project published in partnership with US Library of Congress and iNostalgia publications. The book was written by Marie Paneth, and artists and art therapist in Windermere in 1945, and who worked with the child survivors then, and afterwards. Paintings and poetry by the youngsters carried out by the survivors in 1945 has been miraculously discovered in US Library of Congress.
Richard and Lorna Brunstein continued to develop “Sanctuary and Exile”, initially a proposed walk on Calgarth Estate (Lakes School) site that transposed an exact walk from a Selection point at Auschwitz to the gas chambers and laid it onto the site at Calgarth. A walk taken by Lorna’s grandmother in horrendous circumstances becomes part of the landscape of Calgarth with intense emotional power as it is a walk being carried out by Lorna. The connection is that her uncle, Perec Zylberberg, was here on Calgarth Estate as part of the group of young Holocaust Survivors in 1945.’
Reflections from Trevor Avery, 2022