“Kriegskinder” Photography Exhibit in Berlin

(f3 freiraum für fotografie, 2 Feb – 8 Apr 2018)

„One day I am at the Wilhelmsaue a small ornamental pool in Berlin. On the surface a dead woman is floating with her head in the water. Her skirt is distended, the wind blows into it and she is sailing along the pool.“

It is an anecdote about Brigitte Böhmes childhood in Germany during world war two. Together with an actual photo of her, the journalist Anne Waak and the photographer Frederike Helwig are trying to draw a picture of a forgotten generation. It was a generation that had to face extreme poverty, hunger, death, bombs and loss without being allowed to talk about this with their families. It was children who were asked to act bravely and be obedient. After the horrible war period nobody wanted to be reminded about this dark chapter in history anymore. But now many years later Böhme and 43 other men and women dare to break the silence that they were always taught to keep.

The photo exhibition „Kriegskinder“ (children of war) in Berlins „f3 – freiraum für fotografie“ who Brigitte Böhm is part of consists of 44 portraits in colour about elderly men and women. They are shown in their living rooms, in their armchairs, at their kitchen tables, with a puzzle or a cake. Some of them look really sad but some of them also smile. Thereare people from Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and even China that Waak and Helwig have found through personal networks. With each of the photos comes an extract from their interviews about personal experiences during the war time period.

Although a lot of time has already passed since then many moments are still deeply anchored into their memories as if it had occurred yesterday. Details such as the taste of rotten meat, the sound of cannons, the desperateness in the air raid bunker or the mean nurse in the hospital show that the effects of the experienced is still there waiting to be told.

The two women Waak and Helwig were able to create interesting splits between the inconspicuous looking pictures of casual elderly women and men and touching, shocking stories from their realities. It might be the artists intention to make the visitor read between the lines. There is more behind those faces who look so ordinary that they could be the nice lady from the neighbourhood. The visitor is supposed to find out about the long term effect that war had on them. Heartbreaking, unbelievable and horrible scenes about their real lifes change the picture and the viewer starts realizing what childhood meant in these times.

The tense used in the texts is not the past but the present which makes it even more catchy. The narrating part as in the text to the photos seems to be told in a very sobering manner. It is from a children’s point of view that sometimes are not able to fully understand what is going on around them when for example Christa Viebig from Dresden tells the story about their destroyed cellar trying to escape from that. She thought the objects she was stumbling across in the garden were trees but some years later her mother and sister explain to her that in fact it was dead corps. Another one by Werner Weber from Dortmund first talks about a horribly executed man in his town that was hanged. Like typical children they didn’t completely understand and were always throwing stones into his mouth. He explains the corps and their burying first and then he goes on with what he had for lunch. It makes him seem to be more of an observer rather than talking about his feelings which he might have been taught to oppress during these chaotic times.

The two founders of the projects Waak and Helwig both usually working on social issues one in writing and the other through photography are doing an important job to preserve the stories of a generation that soon might die out. They give faces and names to history to overcome the silence of the post-war period that already Hannah Arendt has criticized:

„[…] This general lack of feeling but in each case the obvious heartlessness sometimes concealed with sentimentality is only the most remarkable external symptom of a deeply rooted, persistent and occasionally brutal refusal to face what in fact has happened.“ (Hannah Arendt, 1950)