“Shadow Of War” Write-Up

This is the write-up to the project. Many thanks to my friend Lucy Sisman for helping me with this! 🙂  She also has this really cool new website wwword.com that is very interesting. Check it out!


”War is in truth a disease in which the juices that serve and maintenance are used for the sole purpose of nourishing something foreign, something at odds with nature.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


If you’re male, 85 and German then the chances are that you fought in WWII. Even if you’re just over 65 then there’s the likelihood that you will remember something about the war, or at least have experienced some of its after effects even though you were just a child, Growing up German, even today, there’s no escaping the memory of that terrible period in history when over 70 million people were killed.

We’re all familiar with the stories of extraordinary suffering at the hands of the Germans during the war. New York-based photographer, Carsten Fleck was struck at how German memories of the war and the suffering that Germans experienced were still stories that hadn’t been told, and there was just enough time to tell them. At the end of 2009 he made a special trip back to Germany to photograph and interview men and women (75-95) who had been soldiers, prisoners, refugees, victims, or just ordinary people caught up in the war who now looked back and told him their stories.

Almost all the people I interviewed and shot lived in Berlin, and two lived in Nuremberg. I found them mostly through a not-for-profit agency called Zeitzeugenboerse ( <http://www.zeitzeugenboerse.de> ) that had a list of people who had lived though the war. The interviews and photographs were made from December 2009 through to the end of January 2010.

Fleck was born in 1970 in the German city of Nuremberg, a place that had particular significant to the Nazi regime. Nuremberg was where Hitler held his ghastly rallies, the city had suffered terrible Allied bombings, and, at the end of the war, it was the site of the famous trials. Raised by grandparents who had lived through both World Wars, with a grandfather who had been a member of the Waffen-SS, Fleck felt in the shadow of war even twenty five years after war had ended. “He was a wonderful grandfather, but I could see that it was also very hard for him to accept that he had fought for the wrong cause having spent the best years of his life at war and later as a prisoner of war.”

If I felt the shadow of war it was even more vivid to my parents — my father especially — he often talked about the bombing raids and the scarcity of food. He was deeply affected by it all. War does not end when the last shot is fired: I could see how the experiences lingered — whatever these were — and how easily they could be passed on to the next generation. For a small child to witness their parents’ fear — fear at a very deep level — is a haunting experience.

The stories Fleck uncovered were as different as the people he met — here are some:

* * * *

A communist living in Moscow when Germany declared war on Russia tells how he was arrested by the KGB and then sent to the gulag in Siberia for more then 10 years, just for being German.

The father of a woman who was half Jewish was also a war hero in the German army during the First World War, he had voted for Hitler during the election, but then tried to commit suicide when he found out that he was about to be sent to a concentration camp.

A man who vowed he never wanted to grow up because that meant he would inevitably become a soldier which could only mean three things: he would die, he would be wounded or he would become a prisoner of war.

Only five years old at the time, a woman remembers her mother being executed for being a member of the Red Chapel resistance movement.

A man at a railway station while it was bombed recalls a carriage full of horses which was hit in the raid and the horses ran around in panic amid the wreckage, ripping deep wounds in their flanks. He says he stopped believing in God that day.

A woman, whose mother received a set of china from her Jewish neighbor as a gift claiming her husband had bought her a new set for their anniversary, discovered only days later that the neighbors had given away all their belongings and then committed suicide rather than being sent to a concentration camp.

A man who was a typist working on the Enigma encoding machine in a bunker at the command center for the Western front remembers typing the message that was sent out to the German troops telling them that the Allied forces would soon land in France.

* * * * *

Fleck’s color photographs are haunting and poignant portraits of these men and women. The interviews were made at the same time that the sitters had their pictures taken, and, in all cases, in the subjects’ homes. This enabled some sitters to spontaneously provide their own props that were, in each case, a special part of the memory they were recounting. All the portraits were shot using daylight which was important to Fleck to ensure his subjects felt relaxed and not intimidated by the usual process of portraiture.

In the interviews Fleck let his subjects tell their stories without interruption, but he always asked his subjects the same two questions “What does war mean to you?”, and “What advice, if any, do you have for future generations to ensure this never happens again?”. The answers, unanimous in most cases, were that war has to be avoided at all costs, and to recognize and mistrust all self-serving leaders.

“Shadow Of War Write-Up” Manhattan/NY City/Deutsches Haus/Photo by Marco Bello 12-07-10 at 2:44 PM

Please check out my website at carstenfleck.com


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