Posted: May 11, 2014 Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an extended version of a few thoughts that I have already published elsewhere.
The book was published in March 2012 and it is definitely an important, haunting book. A the cross of vernacular photography and found photography, this book is an album of the photos from what was called « la colonie des enfants d’Izieu ». This house was an orphanage created in the east part of France (former free zone), to protect Jewish children at the end of World War II. But under the order of Klaus Barbie (the infamous butcher of Lyon), on April 6th 1944, 44 children and 7 adults were arrested and moved to Drancy, then deported to Auschwitz or Reval, where they have been assassinated.
The book is an important testimony about this place. La Maison d’Izieu opened in 1994 to document the short “one year long” existence of the colony. It combines texts and images. A few texts have been written for the purpose of the book, for instance one by the chairman of “La maison d’Izieu”, introducing the purpose of the book: talking about life. And the beautiful text by Jean-Christophe bailly called “Dwell the time”, about mourning and moreover about the necessity to never forget. The photos come from the collection of the Maison d’Izieu and have been made during two period: the main corpus was done during the summer 1943, by different adults, working here, and teenagers who owned a camera and the last 7 photographs were shot, by a neighbour, on March 26th 1944, twelve days before the raid by the French authorities. A last series of photographs come at the end of the book to illustrate the complete list of the deported children and adults from the colony.
The strength and the violence of this book come from the happiness shown in the photographs and what became a tragedy for those children (the younger was only 4). Some beautiful abstract photographs get a weird ability to draw our mind to an unknown world of horror, knowing what will happen, but some poetry remains with underlying hope and faith, like in a beautiful attempt by Henry Alexander to photography his room.
Those photographs are similar to those that we can find in our family albums with children playing, smiling laughing, well… full of life. They are reproduced at the scale 1:1 which reinforces the feeling of reading a family album. All photographs come with the original handwritten caption on the back, or with a modern one explaining who is who. Some of the modern captions are testimonies by the few people who survived, inter alia the two teenagers Henry Alexander and Paul Niedermann who owned a camera: we children, at the time … we did not think we were handling documents. That were only photographs to keep the good days in mind and to share some souvenirs.
A few photographs are enlarged and printed on a double page, mainly portraits of groups, which allows us to watch, uncomfortably, those children in the eyes.
And finally, comes the list, like an epitaph at the end of the book of what have become those children and adults. Page after page, we have entered the life of all of them, we know their names, we remember their faces, their connections between them and each others. We have to live with that and that is the great value of this book.
By emphasizing the children’s tragedy, it gives a highly valuable pedagogic ability for education of the next generations. A chronology at the end puts back these events in the context of World War II.
Published by Editions Libel with Maison d’Izieu and Fondation pour la mémoire de la Shoah. Text in French only.
As a complement to my article, you can read the excellent essay published by paopagandaphotos blog about two books whose subject was the Nürnberg trial. In the essay, comes the question of the ability of photography, and photographers to show the unshowable or the infamous. This book about the colony of children tells so much about the stolen lives.