TEREZIN and KURDISTAN -- A Journey
Jan 23, 2016 - Feb 28, 2016
The Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center, Marywood University
How do we break this chain of inhumanity?
The exhibition is a journey, through photographs by Michael Mirabito, which paints a view of Terezin (or Theresienstadt) in Czech Republic and various places in Kurdistan, sites of past and recent genocide. The photographs capture haunting images of implied former devastation and atrocities, as well as portray the human need for normalcy. Yet, the line between normalcy and violence can be a thin one and in some regions genocide has become the new normal. This exhibition is the inaugural presentation of the virtual Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center at Marywood University. How do we break this chain of inhumanity? The Center, directed by Mirabito, will work to answer such questions. Gallery Talk: February 17th, 2 PM
Terezin or Theresienstadt was originally a garrison city/fortress in what is now the Czech Republic. Built in the 1700s, it was taken over by the Nazis during the World War II and was transformed into a concentration camp and Jewish ghetto. Unlike Treblinka and other camps, which were designed as killing fields, Terezin was, in part, a transit and holding site, where prisoners were subsequently routed to Auschwitz and other locations. It also had a propaganda function: Terezin was portrayed as a model Jewish resettlement community. In one example, prior to a 1944 visit by the International Red Cross, the ghetto was transformed. Gardens were planted, deportations to Auschwitz were accelerated to hide the overcrowding in the ghetto and cultural events were planned. A subsequent film highlighted life in this ‘model’ community. In reality, thousands died through disease and deprivations; thousands more were transported to death camps.
In spite of the horrendous conditions, a vibrant cultural atmosphere developed. Musicians played and wrote compositions as artists depicted ghetto life in drawings that were hidden and subsequently recovered after the camp’s liberation. Children clandestinely attended school and painted their own impressions of daily life. This artwork is one of Terezin’s greatest legacies.
Kurdistan. The autonomous Kurdistan region is a part of Iraq. The Kurdish people have sought independence for years and, during the 1990s, a partial no-fly zone helped Kurdish leaders and the Peshmerga, Kurdish armed forces, to consolidate their territory and establish self-rule. But, this path to autonomy was fraught with devastation, the most infamous of which was the al-Anfal campaign of the 1980s. Saddam Hussein’s forces targeted Kurdish and other minority villages; thousands died while others were forced to flee their homes. In Halabja, its people were the victims of chemical warfare, a poisonous gas attack.
The Kurdish genocide is not as well known in the international community as other, such events. Nevertheless, the end goal was the same: the destruction of a people and culture. The Kurds overcame these and other difficulties, only to face discord within Iraq itself. In 2014, another challenge loomed, the emergence of ISIL/ISIS, perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
The Photographs. The photographs were taken during the summer of 2014. They paint a view of Terezin and, in Kurdistan, a prison/headquarters in operation during Saddam Hussein’s regime. Through the work of one of our former graduate students, Hemn Mamrash and the Kurdistan Ministry of Martyrs, we were also afforded an opportunity to visit genocide memorial sites and, at Halabja, to meet an individual who lost family members during the al-Anfal campaign.
When you enter the gallery, you’ll also note a series of photographs hanging from the ceiling. These images reveal a field of names—the names of Holocaust victims written on a synagogue’s walls in Prague. Another photograph depicts the sign at the entrance to Auschwitz. Translated, it reads, ‘Work Sets You Free’. It is included in the exhibit as a number of Terezin’s prisoners were ultimately transported to and died/murdered in the Auschwitz camp complex.
A smaller photographic series portrays contemporary, everyday life, in parts of Kurdistan and Prague (Czech Republic). People marry, festivals are held and patrons revisit their favorite coffee or tea houses. It’s a reminder that normalcy may return to a region. ...Michael Mirabito