Gunskirchen Concentration Camp was a brutal sub-camp of Mauthausen. Barely anyone knows it existed, yet it haunts the prisoners who survived it and the men who liberated it.Read More
I've always had an uncanny knack for time travel. I'm not talking about literal time travel, though that would be pretty amazing. I'm talking about this thing I can do, where I zoom in and out of present and past tense and can sense and assimilate all the everythings that existed before.Read More
Here come two new projects: one, a book. The other, a short film. Both of them based on, or inspired by, what you see here. Me. Researching. Throwing myself wholly into the past, into the shadows of human behavior. Into the other side of comfortable edges, places that push buttons, raise hairs and stir nausea.Read More
This little book of portraits. Face after face after face. I created about five or six of these 40+ page portrait books during my seven days in Ravensbrück. Some of them were made on site, inside remaining buildings holding a strong and terrible imprint of history.Read More
Today it was Buchenwald.
Largely destroyed with heaps of buildings and their smithereened parts strewn everywhere.
A horrendous view from this hilltop hell.
It might have been a beautiful view in other lifetimes or lives lived, but up here, surrounded by brutality, one look down over the vast view of farms and villages must have brought a certain kind of aching smash to the hearts of the prisoners.
And my heart?
Never gets over the thousands upon millions who suffered these cruelties.
I carry them all with me, here, inside.
Considering the bigger picture of this devastating place, my empathy is a trite little effort to make a difference in a world gone by that I cannot change.
Ravensbrück Day One :::
Heart in my throat, I bicycled quickly down the cobbled road to Ravensbrück, mindful that the cobbles had been laid by tired, bleeding female fingers.
It was my second time on this road, the second time the sun poured over me while my heart and throat mingled in a symbiotic strangle of sorts.
Last here in June for a few hours, I felt haunted, hunted even, after leaving. Constantly pursued by thoughts of returning, of learning more about the women imprisoned and murdered here, and witnessing their stories.
So, here I am.
And here I will be for the next week. Bicycling back and forth through the forest, over the cobbles, weaving between the ghosts of bent-backed women.
Heart open and cracking, head high in spite of my own remarkably inappropriate terrors, and hellbent on breaking through this fog in my head that asks me repeatedly what the hell I am doing here.
Here's what I'm doing here: I'm showing up for *them*. For their lives. For their remarkably appropriate terrors.
To somehow funnel and articulate this gruesome historical climax of hatred, self-righteousness, greed, black and white thinking, and rigid adherence to propaganda.
I'm not really sure how this is gonna go down, if I'm honest with you.
But I am here, with great respect for the stories to be witnessed.
I am here, humbly, because my body is well-fed and wearing warm clothes. I have slept. I know where my daughter is. My family is alive, safe and well. They know where I am. My heart beats. My veins pulse to the rhythm of freedom. My skin is bruise and blister free. I have not been beaten. I am not witnessing brutality every minute of the day.
Approaching these stories feels frightening. Like, how dare I even?
There is a large, hovering pull by someone, something, to do just that.
So I will bear witness. 130,000 women survived and died in this enclosure, surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. Many of them perished without a trace, stories unknown.
All worthy of being known.
All undeserving of their fate.
All with heartbeats, lungs pushing out breath in the most harrowing of circumstances, and holding on to the spark of their one precious life, until their very end.
Off I go. Window seat in a three-seat row. If my luck continues I might even be able to stretch out and sleep over three glorious seats.
When I land in Berlin I'll go to a couple spots right in the center of the city where my ancestors lived. I've been there before but a few photo shots have been haunting my sleep and I need to make them reality.
After Berlin its north I'm headed. There's a pretty intense research project waiting for me, and let's just say I'm kinda in awe and leave it at that. For now. I'll be sharing, for sure..
My heart and stomach are colliding in my chest because the next few weeks are jammed with some pretty epic opportunities around my obsession with WW2 - it's not just limited to a few haunts in Germany.
Doors are opening. Or perhaps I am thrusting them open. But one thing is for sure ... I've worked damn hard to create a life lived from a passionate place where history, lineage, and art explode together in a rich landscape of possibilities. And I will keep working hard, through all the ups and downs, inside outs and arounds. There are stories to tell. Lives to honor. And truths to live.
One of the stops on my journey through four European countries was Wolfsschanze, or Wolf's Lair, which was Hitler's bunker complex in northern Poland.
There are many bunkers still standing - if you can call it that. All are in various states of ruin, and just a couple buildings remain that you can actually walk through.
What a strange and hair-raising experience to walk through this overgrown cement-hell, where the fates of all of us were toyed with.
Decisions made here have trickled down to so many of us, by way of the various experiences our ancestors had, and the choices they were faced with, in this devastating time.
Whether you know it or not, chances are you carry some residue of decisions made in these once looming and solid, now scarred and toppled, piles at the center of our collective history.
Some folks are still living who were alive when this war raised its ugly head, and with any luck, we can sit quietly at their feet and ask questions.
Most certainly, there are books and documentaries that tell the myriad of tales from all fronts - and most importantly, all sides.
We can truly listen when they tell us what they carry in their memories, bodies, psyches, and souls because of what they witnessed or participated in.
What we learn from their stories we can take further into the present moment, to navigate a crossroads where critical thinking, moral examination, and quiet personal reflection intersect.
In this way we play our own small part in determining our future, and our descendant's futures too.
To be at this former death camp is to experience a profound sense of being watched while watching.
I am alone, having arrived after hours. There aren't gates, so I wander freely through the various camp locations like the extermination area, the labor camp and barracks, and the gravel pit where prisoners worked under horrifying conditions.
There is nothing left of any buildings, just feelings and sensations that linger in between my thoughts and breath and the movement of my feet.
It is difficult to stay here; to engage with the sparsely placed placards of information and absorb the magnitude of suffering is beyond overwhelming.
I want to go, to run to the safety of my car and the freeway just down the old bumpy road.
But I stay, with my heart in my throat and all my senses alert.
What you can't see in this photo is the sprawling flatness that once held the labor camp. It spreads behind me, pitted earth with cement foundations marking where the barracks once held the prisoners - all of whom were doomed to certain death.
Surrounding all sides of the field is thick forest, a curtain of trees separating the memory of horror from our modern world.
I'm standing at the edge of deeply hollowed and sloping earth, and the placard next to me says this was the SS guards' swimming pool.
The sun is beginning to dip behind the density of trees.
Birds are singing, and the smell is earthy and rich, like the forests near my hometown in Northern California.
I am so alone and so not alone all at the same time.
I am pulled in and pushed out.
Eventually, I leave.
Yesterday I walked through what once was the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw.
Words are not good enough for this powerful experience. My guide (whose hand you see here with a map of the ghetto) was the perfect match for my curiosity, because I wanted to know everything there is to know and see every site still intact, which isn't exactly an easy ask.
But I saw more than I could have imagined, even though 85% of Warsaw was destroyed in WW2. Anything that wasn't destroyed in the invasion or in The Uprising was systematically flattened by the Germans. The ghetto itself was pretty much obliterated after the last Jews were sent to the gas chambers in Treblinka.
Then, more devastation followed when the Russians liberated the smoldering ruins.
The city is a massive tomb; they still regularly discover hastily dug graves when they turn over the earth at building sites.
To give you an idea of the scale of devastation, at the time of the German invasion in 1939, Warsaw had a population of 1.3 million. Only 1000 people remained in the ruins at war's end in the spring of 1945.
I could go on and on and onnnnnn about everything I saw and felt in Warsaw. To be honest, I'm completely taken by surprise ... I did not expect such intensity from this city.
I expected to pop in and out, recouping a bit from France and Germany, and laying low for a few days. Instead I'm leaving Warsaw totally knackered, bursting with experiences I'll never forget, and a hunger for more.
Today I spent ten hours with the best tour guide ever, and took a million photos. In spite of my over-stimulated mush brain I will share this one photo with you.
We went to several different places, among them Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, and abandoned Soviet bunkers and missile bases in the former East Germany.
This shot is from the interior of one of four identical warehouses in Ravensbrück. These warehouses held personal items that had originally been taken from the people arriving at Auschwitz, then were shipped by train to the female prisoners of Ravensbrück.
The women mended or repaired the clothing in a huge sewing factory that stood in the corner of the camp. The items were then put back on a train and shipped back to Germany for use by the population.
I've been to several different camps now, and I guess on some level I'm waiting for the day when I can comprehend how all of this actually happened.
Why someone didn't stop it.
And why people just gradually let themselves be swayed by the subtly escalating tyranny of a madman until it was too damn late to turn back the hands of time.
Today, it feels like that moment of comprehension I'm waiting for gets further and further away.
Walking in my grandfather's footsteps on Utah Beach.
On this day, the 73rd anniversary of DDay, I honor the day he crossed this sand.
He didn't land on this beach on June 6th like so many who fell here, and so many who went on to fall in the fields, barns, dirt or cobbled streets, and forests.
My grandfather came here from an airfield in England in the months after, to secure the return of France to its own people.
He went through villages and airfields with his unit, on to Belgium, and then to Germany before he returned home to California.
He got married, had four children, and nine grandchildren.
Though he is no longer walking the earth, he lived for many days and years after the war, and his descendants are now in the double digits.
His DNA lives strongly in many of us ... some of us share his passion for books and learning, some of us have green thumbs just like his; leaning strongly into the natural world and all of its bounty.
Some of us are seekers of decency and gentle, quiet stillness.
Some love using our hands to create, mold, and bring to life something where there was nothing before.
We all have in common our love and respect for him, because as he served our country, he served as a gentle, calm, and steady rock in our family.
We are lucky. He came home.
Yesterday as I stood on this beach, the westernmost of the Allied landing beaches, I felt the somber and silent voices of the men who didn't come home, and the men who fell on the sand here, to remain silent forever.
And, I hold in my heart a quiet hope for peace, that we will never forget the vast and far-reaching ripple effects of the violence and trauma brought by war.
This is the airfield in France that my grandfather was stationed at for one month in the Second World War.
Yesterday morning, fresh off the plane, I set foot on this hallowed ground.
It's hallowed because it has been through a few iterations over the last 77 years or so.
The Luftwaffe took this airfield from the French, and then the Yanks wrestled it from the Luftwaffe.
Now it's back in French hands, with a sweet little memorial to all the Americans who helped restore France to its own devices.
I was pretty excited to see the memorial at the modern-ish yet teeny tiny airport plopped in the middle of a French meadow, but when I saw the cluster of old buildings almost hidden across the meadow I truly jumped for joy.
I had to scour dirt roads and gates, but found my way into this WW2 portal, thanks to my own tenacity and the help of a good friend.
I don't know exactly where my grandpa would have worked here, but I know he was on this land in 1944, in good company with the men who flew bombing raids over Europe.
I love you Grandpa, and I'm proud to be the granddaughter of a great man, who served in such a noble cause with so many of the Greatest Generation. ❤️✌️
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a detective, archaeologist, and artist when I grew up.
Those three trajectories have somehow woven themselves together inside me, even without my planning it so.
Over the last couple of years, my art has sidelined (aka exploded) for the most part into inspired creativity from a vortex rooted into a time over 70 years ago.
I don't talk about it much publicly, because there is no language to describe the world I visit through my art.
Also, I carry some self-judgment ... shouldn't I be making art that makes people happy(ish)?
Art based on war, and a whopping world war at that ... it's a little intense. So I tend to hide the art and the topic away, mostly.
BUT ... I think I'm tired of hiding. Tomorrow I am doing something very exciting.
I'm getting on a plane and heading over to Europe to dig full-throttle with my hands and heart and soul and brain into my biggest passion: the history of the Second World War, and the humans who lived a full spectrum of possibilities, choices, and experiences.
Every time I go to Europe, I dive into this topic ... I kinda can't help it.
But this trip is dedicated to my art exclusively, not jangled and squeezed in around other things.
So, why on earth is a girl like me so passionate (aka obsessed) about such a devastating topic, with endless layers of tragedy, grief and horrific violence?
I've always had a soft spot for the shadowy side of life ... and this topic?
It's more relevant than many of us would care to believe.
When I was in Los Angeles I visited with my grandfather for the very first time.
He lives in the earth now, but I like to think he felt me talking to him. He died in my 18th year - the same year I met his son, my father, for the first time.
It was this lack of connection to my paternal line that fueled my genealogical frenzy. I just woke up one morning sick and tired of the hole inside ... and I took action to fill the hole with facts.
Because of my tenacious digging and eventual providential connections, I am proud to tell you a little bit about my Grandpa Bill: he hopped on a freight train at 13 and rode the hobo rails, leaving behind West Virginia and the Great Depression for his visions of life in Los Angeles.
He eventually found his feet as a singer and guitarist in a cowboy band called Sons of the Golden West.
He would be injured in the Pacific and WW2, experiencing hand to hand combat with the Japanese that would stay with him for life.
He was a renegade eccentric, an actively sensitive introvert, and he would spend his haunted days reading Edgar Cayce and 'blowing shit up' in his mad scientist den in the garage, according to a family member.
So what is it about this man that touches me so deeply that I drove 4 hours round trip to visit his bones one Friday afternoon?
I am sure that he was so much more than these descriptions, and the need to know the details haunts me even now.
But I'll never forget learning about his life and the long line of eccentric souls he came from, because for once I felt a belonging. I belonged to a man who never really belonged anywhere, just like me.
I felt a pride in my own eccentric introvert, because it was an inheritance from a man whose DNA rustles through me restlessly.
Every little trait that I'd been taught was freakish and unacceptable were suddenly my strengths: my restless soul. My risk-taking free-faller.
My mad scientist of thought and expression. My creative, esoteric, inquisitive spirit. And my inner warrior.
My Grandpa Bill gave me the gift of belonging. Of landing. Of arriving.
Long after his own life ended, and without ever once looking me in the eye, he gave me a home within myself.