Ravensbrück and the Schwedtsee

ravensbrück and the schwedtsee

One year ago today I was in the middle of my week spent researching at Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. 

I think a part of me is still there. 

I’m standing on the edge of the camp, with the crematorium just behind me; it is so close I feel it’s phantom fires hissing on my neck. 

In the distance you can see the steeple of the church in the neighboring village. 

From the church you can see the chimney of Ravensbrück’s crematorium.

Below is an excerpt from my book about the camp, and the lake on it’s shore:

We drive north from Sachsenhausen, through the pleasant little town of Fürstenberg and along the road that winds beside the Schwedtsee, the lake Fürstenberg shares with Ravensbrück. We turn right at the KZ Ravensbrück sign and go up the road until a fork splits off; we take another right. There the road turns to cobbles that bump and jiggle your body as you drive over them. 

The bump and jiggle are dark souvenirs of a road laid in winter by bare-fingered women. They were among the first prisoners who arrived at Ravensbrück in 1939, months before Germany began its invasions of other countries. Thick walls of trees rise as we pass the Soviet tank on the left, positioned as a memorial for the liberators of the camp and a stoic reminder of the scope of world war. Fragile remains of pitch-roofed SS barracks are nearly swallowed by overgrowth. And still, the bump and jiggle.

………………………………………………

Some survivors have said the Schwedtsee was used as a dumping ground for the ashes from the crematorium. There are historians who dispute that claim, saying that couldn’t have been a regular occurrence because the wind constantly blows everything back to the western edge, where Ravensbrück sprawls, and the ashes would have blown right back onto the thrower and returned to the shore. It has also been said the Germans would not have contaminated their own water in such a way. 

Either way, an estimated fifty thousand women died at Ravensbrück, often at the hands of the female guards, and many of their bodies were burned in the crematorium. After the war, a pit of ash was discovered just a short walk from the shore of the Schwedtsee, in front of the camp wall. It has been turned into a bed of roses in memoriam.

You can read more about my book HERE.

You can see the visual journal I created at and after Ravensbruck HERE.

Berlin

 

This video was taken a year ago today, exactly. In Berlin. 

I’m standing on the site of my ancestors’ home, listening to the bells of the Berliner Dom, seen in the background. My ancestral home was destroyed by Allied bombs in the war.

Four months later I would return, in the dead of winter (and in the dead of myself, truth be told) to research and write my book ‘The In Between’

Below is an excerpt from my book. It’s a stream-of-consciousness love letter to Berlin, written in a hotel room somewhere along the way: 

......................

Berlin and I are two peas in a pod. 

She has her scars, I have mine. 

Together we rise up from the past with a fierce gentleness easily taken for granted. 

Underneath the glistening architecture, the pulse of trauma beats. Self-inflicted wounds mingle with monsters. 

Fire-bombs and bullet holes pierce the skin of Berlin, but like Persephone she’s risen again. 

Berlin. 

Layered with darkness, crimes, and penance. Holy with the whores of resilience.

Coming home to herself after decades of lingering lostness ... tossed in between lines of time marching on, and beyond. 

Berlin is reinvention, eternally, in a city with skin.

Berlin.

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Dablice, Prague, Heydrich, and the Parachutists

The ground at Dablice is holy. 


And at the same time it is rather unholy. 


Here, headless, lay buried the seven heroes who fought the SS in the crypt and in the loft of a church on Resslova Street in Prague.

They were in hiding among the ancient bones and bibles after their plot to assassinate SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich worked out in the end, and the tyrant died of sepsis from his wounds.


Between the time of death of the Obergruppenführer and that of the heroes in the crypt, the town of Lidice was razed in one of several acts of retaliation. Its inhabits were shot, gassed, or sent off to a camp. 


But back to the church, and the bones, and the bibles, and the Nazis, and the brave parachutists who died there.

 Those men lay here, in this mass grave under or near where I stand in silent worship of their heroism. Among them are other Czechs executed for their roles in the assassination.

Mingling in eternal sleep, or eternal decomposition, or eternal juxtaposition with them all however, are the bodies of the men who ordered their death, and the traitor who betrayed their location to the Gestapo and the SS.

Unholy and holy. All at once. 


I write much more about this layered story in my book ‘The In Between’.

dablice

Why ...

erin faith allen

I am committed to telling the stories of history: my own as it unfolds, and the stories of the humans who lived before me. 


Why?

All stories connect, heal, and teach. We have to reach into ourselves to be worthy of telling them OR receiving the lessons they offer. 


The stories reach into us while whispering - sometimes quite loudly - a longing to be told. They can’t just be told, though. The teller has to fall all the way in. Feel it. Breathe it. Become it.

The stories, when received fully, strip us bare and invite us to gaze at our own naked reflection. Who are you *really*, they ask. What will you *do*, truly. Where are you *going*, actually.

Doing the telling or the receiving requires a symbiotic relationship of depth, honesty, and growth.

Connection. Healing. Teaching. Reaching. Depth. Honesty. Growth. That’s powerful stuff. And I know I can bring these ingredients to the table of humanity.

Soul-searching is my thing. Because of it, I am certain of what I am able to contribute in a time of uncertainty.

What about you? What qualities or characteristics are you certain of within yourself? What are the ingredients you can / do / will contribute to humanity?

prague castle and heydrich

heydrich and prague castle

Silhouette of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich at Prague Castle. 

Little did he know that he would eventually die in a chain reaction of sepsis, horsehair, a handmade bomb, and a small yet fierce handful of parachutists.

Architect of the Holocaust. Brutalizer of humans. Dead.

And the price the Czechs paid? It’s quite a story.

I write about this multifaceted and dramatic sequence of events in ‘The In Between’.

Deeper ... online workshop

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I am creating the most beautiful, self-revolutionizing online workshop. (And who doesn’t want a revolution?)

It’s called DEEPER. In twelve glorious weeks together we will explore personal story and mythology through art journaling. We will weave together a profound depth of creative expression with a quest for our own solitary truth.

This isn’t just another artmaking workshop. In fact, it’s almost like the art is the side-effect. 

DEEPER is more like entering a space of devotion. Exploration. A divine intertwining with who you ARE. A place you can go to retreat and renew, and emerge with pizazz, power, and sooooo many a-ha’s. When you live THAT deeply in your own self, you literally cannot NOT be prolifically creative. You can FEEL that truth, right?

I’m your guide into those places inside yourself that will make you weak in the knees. They are in there, waiting for you. 

If you know me at all, you know I am not very interested in the shallow end of life. I crave, create, and thrive on the intensity end of the spectrum. 

My life, my heart, and my art beat to a thumping drum of everything that lives beneath the surface. I flourish there. In that gooey, shadowy under-place. 

It’s my superpower.

I go there willingly because I know that’s where the truth lives. Its where the fearless, fierce ME lives. Its inside you, too. It’s where the spice of life mingles with who you REALLY are, and galvanizes you into becoming empowered AF.

It’s freaking beautiful in there. I promise. 

DEEPER takes us on a journey through our sacred + profane stories ... it’s a layered and rich course, y’all.

Art journaling is our output. Deeeeeep soul cultivation is the main event.

(That's my painting Ilse behind me. You can read more about her, HERE.)

Crimes Unspoken, by Miriam Gebhardt

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In my book ‘The In Between’ I write briefly about the crimes against the German (and Eastern European) women, which is a bit of a taboo topic. It’s a tough one, and one that I have been deeply curious about - and disturbed by - for years.

If you follow my work you know that I study, research, and make art about the Germans of WW2. I am massively fascinated with the full range of German experiences leading up to, during, and after the war.

Why? Because they were just like us, then suddenly (or not so) there was a fascist government and all hell broke loose.

I read memoirs written by German soldiers and German Jews. I read about the various elements of the Nazi party. I read about the concentration camp system and its sickening myriad of prisoners. I read whatever I can find about the Germans of that time - and I read about the women.

I’ve spoken with historians about the mass rapes, and I’ve heard varying answers, none of which quenched my curiosity. Perhaps I’ll find some answers in this book.

Why on earth would I read this? One of the reasons is because women always pay a high price for war, but nobody ever talks about it. I applaud the author of this book (before even cracking it open), Miriam Gebhardt, and my thoughts will spend a little time now with the women whose stories fill its pages.

Remembrance is an important factor in ensuring no facet of this horrible war ever happens again.

 

Dresden, Germany

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(Photograph of Dresden. Taken in April 2017.)

This morning I swiped through thousands of my own photographs taken on various research trips through Europe. Not sure why, really.

Dresden, in Germany, is a city I visited for a few hours last year, on a day trip from Prague. 
There is a hush in Dresden that sounds like 25,000 last-gasps for breath. That’s the estimated number of civilians killed by Allied bombing raids in 1945.

Here’s the truth: I’ve been considering stepping away from my years of work with WW2. Walking in another direction to something less heavy, more palatable.

 Looking through my largely-untouched photos made me feel a massive rush of emotion I can’t put into words. I bawled like a baby. Memories of personal encounters with geography, history and humanity / inhumanity took me from the outside in. So many stories I have yet to tell ... and even more than that waiting for my discovery.

History has chosen me. There is an intensity where geography and human memory intersect with history, and they sing through me. 

Decision made. 

Heels dug in. Tenacity on full tilt. In it to win it.

I’m not going anywhere ... anywhere but here: Dresden. Every other bomb and artillery scarred city in this worldwide war. The camps. The beaches. The forests. The Gestapo headquarters. The historian’s offices. The living rooms of veterans and survivors. 

With my camera, my notebook, my paintbrush. My heart. My soul. 

This is where I belong.

Details of Mein Herz / Kein Herz

Time to get up-close and personal.

Here are a few zoomy-zooms of my painting ‘Mein Herz / Kein Herz’ (that’s My Heart / No Heart in English).

It sold yesterday, and is in its new home.

This large painting is heavily layered with mixed media processes and collage.

The main source of inspiration was a stack of letters written by a German Wehrmacht soldat, or soldier, to his girlfriend during WW2.

You can read more about this painting OVER HERE.

I forever learn from the Germans of that era about the complexities and toxicities that, left unattended, can collectively contribute to worldwide despair.

mein herz kein herz
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mein herz kein herz
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mein herz kein herz

DEEPER giveaway

Deeper

I am opening up several places in my new online workshop DEEPER, which will be GIFTED at no cost to those whose heritage carries the imprint of war. 

(DEEPER is *not* based on the theme of war, but is ALL about expressing the stories that hold power in our lives).

Why am I doing this? Because of my passionate approach to the stories of history, I am often contacted by the children or grandchildren of WW2 survivors. 

They share with me their deep desire to creatively express the story of their lineage. They want to spend time in the details and take creative possession of that which has haunted, and haunts, their lives. 

Because that's what wars do. They haunt lives. For generations. 

Yet, the spirit of survival also beats through the descendant's veins - it is this very thing that requires them to step forward and share their family's story.

As you know, I am devoted to expressing the stories of this war, and equally committed to opening these gates of healing to those who feel called to walk their family's story through the therapeutic approach of creativity.

The stories need to be told. Experienced. Released, honored, and witnessed. 

We as a community of witnesses need to hold the stories intimately, so that we can learn from them. 

All the details: https://erinfaithallen.com/deeper/

My work with the history and survivors of WW2: https://erinfaithallen.com/the-in-between

Please share with anyone you know who may benefit from this work:
-A descendant of a civilian who experienced and witnessed the bombing, brutality, and deprivation all across of Europe at the hands of both the Axis and Allied armies.
-A descendant of a US, German, Red Army (or the myriad of other countries involved) combat soldier, officer, sailor, special forces, etc.
-A descendant of a member of the Nazi party (who often carry a weight of shame).
-A descendant of a prisoner of a concentration or death camp.
-A descendant of a member of the Resistance in any occupied European country.
-A descendant of a Slavic man or woman forced into slave labor.
-Or any other scenario. There were far too many.

PLEASE NOTE ----> *****WW2 is my area of expertise, hence the examples above. Recipients will not be limited to this chapter, but can hold stories of any conflict in history)*****

To qualify for this opportunity, by August 4th please:
1. Share this post.
2. Send an email to erin@erinfaithallen.com -- ***Please please please do not write to me on Facebook. It is very likely to get lost, and will not count as a submission***.
3. Tell me briefly about your ancestor or your story of war with as many direct details as possible, in ten sentences or less.
4. Share with me why DEEPER calls to you, and how you will work with this particular story/stories conceptually in our time together.

-Selected recipients will be notified on August 15th. Workshop begins September 9.
-You may enter on behalf of another person, and the same process applies.
-You do not need creative experience to participate or benefit.

Life, Uncensored ::: Two

Matt and Inka and I are diggers. We go to Latvia and volunteer to search for and recover soldiers MIA from WW1 and WW2. 

Matt sent a photo over to me and I worked my inspiration from it into a mixed media painting for him. In the photo are Inka, Matt, and Matt's brother in law Ken - who I haven't had the pleasure of meeting but as part of the Legenda family he's guaranteed gold. 

I also gleaned inspiration from an original image of Wehrmacht soldiers from WW2. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m obsessed with humans and our stories, passionate about finding the common threads we all share. 

These men - all six of the above - have taught me in their various ways what it means to be a human being. There’s nothing more insta-inspo than that for me.

Working on this piece for Matt was a sweet experience because Matt and Inka are my buddies forever and ever ... plus the soldiers we recover live in my heart.

Cool side fact: the Wehrmacht buttons I stitch into this piece were given to me by Inka, who sent them to me a year or so ago. He dug them out of the earth with his own hands after seven long decades spent hidden in Norwegian dirt. They are part of my massive collection of wartime relics, photos, and documents.  

There's all kindsa full circle here. Watch my secon installment of Life, Uncensored to find out more. 

To find out more about my work with Legenda and the missing soldiers, read my book: The In Between.

You can watch a short film about my first experience in the forests of Latvia with Legenda HERE.

I made a second short film on my research trip for The In Between. You can watch it HERE

Life, Uncensored

Life, Uncensored. 🌸⚡️👊

Here I am talking about how prepared I am (😂) for my book launch party for ‘The In Between’. 

And a few other things. 

So ... welcome to my new vloggy thing. This one is just under 5 minutes and is a little inside scoop.

(I worked my ass off for ‘The In Between’, btw. Just clarifying for those of you who don’t speak the same dialect of sarcasm I do in the video).

'Final' draft

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A little stack of art journals I began exploding into in 2015, after my first visit to a concentration camp. For decades I’d harbored a secret curiosity (aka obsession) about WW2, but was afraid to approach it. Too much death, trauma, and sadness ... ... ... but ... ... ... here I am in 2018, looking at a 545 page ‘final’ draft of my book (545!!! How the heck did that happen?!?). It’s waiting for my meticulously considered slashes to bring down the page count ... then it’s off to the printers and into your mailbox. These babies you see here are where it all started - and I NEVER imagined I’d publish a book on the topic. I am so freaking full of emotion about this project, and seriously can’t wait to share it with you!