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Alumni Reflection: Mike Kaufmann, 1995


Mike Kaufmann MausoleumI went to Poland in April of 1995 on the March of the Living Tour.

My intention was not to have an exhibition but to have photographs for my own use. I took along several cameras including black and white film, being the photographic medium of the time.

There are a number of photographs that are out of focus for which I do not apologize, as it was difficult to focus through my tears.

There were many pictures that I did not take like the barrack that was full of shoes that as I walked in I choked on the smell after 55 years, the barrack that was full of suitcases and the barrack that was full of children's toothbrushes and personal effects.

These photographs are scanned from contacts. The exhibition photos were professionally done (some were redone a number of times) to get certain effects accentuated like darks darker and lights lighter and to try and create moods.

These effects are not possible to produce on the computer monitor.

The exhibition was held at the Albow Centre Cape Town , South Africa in April 1996 ,was 13m long and 2,7m high, and the background was painted black. I tried to create a feeling of the viewer being overwhelmed by the blackness and size and drawn in to the beauty and by the deception.

The idea is, that each picture is in the order that the person who went into the camp, walked and saw what I saw. As you look at each picture try and imagine yourself walking through this camp not knowing what to expect next and in great conflict. The conflict being that as you entered the camp, there was a sign that said "Arbeid Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free) and these bureaucrats, in and out of uniform, who are only doing their job and carrying out their orders, (which was to process your death) who view you as the scum of the earth, demanding your number(your name is irrelevant) etc. and recording this in a tome. (How much has changed?)

Mike Kaufmann No EscapeWhile on the trip I asked many questions:Why? What is the same now as was then? What is different now? What makes the situation now that something like this cannot happen again? I have not yet found the answers. The level of deception, distortions, myths, the coverups, the spin, deception by omission and outright lies by the government, the media, corporations, organized religion, the scientific establishment, and others who want to keep the truth from us,is something that is so great the public has no clue as to what is really going on at any given time.

"The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State."
- Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels

Mike Kaufman and His Grandfather who survived the ShoahHe Believed, was written in April 2000 to try and get some clue as to what my Grandfather may have thought at each year and to try and put an age to ourselves and those people who are dear to us who do things that we really do not understand why they do what they do and think what they think, when he only did what he felt to be right, only to be wrong!

"The condition upon which God has given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break , servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." John Philpott Curran 1750- 1817

I want to thank my family for their continuous support, Grant and Anthony and Gary who have made this presentation possible.


The purpose of my Journey was to find out and see for myself what had happened in those Dark days.

I discovered many things while I was in Poland and even more after my return.

I was struck by the beauty of the place and the ugliness, by the dark and the light. By the hope-less despair and by the hope.

I was struck

By the magnitude of the lies and deception,

By the efficiency of the production line murder,

By the opportunism of the Nazi's,

By the "Deutche Ordenung."

I was struck by the gullibility of so many people for so long, until they realized what was happening and took a different perspective.

My father died in 1994. I went to mourn for him. I went to mourn for my loss of my loved ones that I never knew. I went to place a plaque in the ground in their memory.

I realized that each person who dies has a right to have something marking their place of death.

I realized that each person who survives has a need to mourn their loss- thereby freeing them-selves in some way.

We cannot undo the past, but in order for us to move on we have to deal with painful issues. We cannot deny them and be whole. We have to go through all of life's processes including death to be whole people.

These photographs represent my journey.

These photographs attempt to take the viewer through the beauty and deception into the camps and barracks, into the shower and gas chamber, through the crematorium into ashes and memorial stones.

I hope that in some way that the Photographs that I have shared with you, the viewer, will enable you to derive benefit from my experience.

By Mike Kaufmann, 1995 Alum


He Could Not Believe It;

When he was 61 years old and the Nazis came to power,

When he was 64 years old and his son said LEAVE! Come to South Africa,

When he was 66 years old and they burned down all the Synagogues
( and he had to pay!),

When he was 67 years old and he sold his house for a song after more
than 40 years,

When he was 68 years old and he could only take with him that which he
could carry,

When he was 69 years old and he lived off the charity of his son, When he was 70 years old he who had fought for the fatherland in the Great War was pushed and shoved at the end of a rifle butt into a cattle car.

When after 3 days in the cattle car, he arrived at Auschwitz,

saw his beloved wife,

go into another line,

To meet soon after,

When he was pushed and shoved from the line into the gas chamber,

When he choked from the gas and died,

He could not believe it possible,

What had he done to deserve this?

He lived a good life, kept kosher, held gagim.

He could not believe it even after the end.


Background to “He Believed”

I wrote “He Believed" for my niece who was about to decide on marriage in the year 2000.

The reason was that she was so set and determined on her path that I felt that I needed to try and get her look at the whole picture and then make a decision setting aside her beliefs for a short time.

So I tried to paint a picture in words to illustrate (her father being about 61 at the time) what my Grandfather may have thought when he was 61 years old.

Hitler had just come into power and his intention was to build a great Germany which would last for 1000 years.
In order to achieve this one of his goals was to totally destroy by whatever means the Jewish Race.
Question then arises what my Grandfather was thinking.

He lived in a small village, why would any of this affect him?

He had his beliefs. Why would things change?

These were the questions needed to make a decision for survival. The threat did not seem so great in 1933.So he made a decision and that was to stay where he had grown up. He had a life there.

So to make a decision to stay or go were in fact two decisions. One decision was to stay and the other decision was not to go.

Eventually he decided to leave and believed that it would be safe in Holland.

He had no idea that it would take a very short time for the German army to overrun and take over Holland.

His beliefs were once again "wrong"

There was such a vast propaganda machine in action in the press, movies, speeches etc. That it became difficult to see the truth as to what was really happening.

If you look around today there is so much disinformation, that it is also difficult to make an informed decision.

An example of belief is that when at a traffic light it is green, one believes that it is safe to cross the road.

Mostly this is true, unless a motorist for whatever reason (drunk ,texting ,talking on a mobile phone, not seeing the red light, distracted brakes fail etc.) fails to stop and knocks over a pedestrian.

Many lives are changed by that event. The person knocked over may be taken to hospital, be severely injured, become comatose or even die. The driver may be arrested be charged with negligent driving, convicted of culpable homicide and spend many years in jail.

This all stems from a simple belief that it is safe to cross the road when the little green man indicates that the time to cross is now.

In order to get some insight into my own life I look at my present age and try and imagine what my father was doing at the same age. This helps me to try and understand what was happening in his life at that time.

We know so little of our parent’s lives other than what they chose to tell us ("in order to protect us") or so they thought.

Originally published HERE.


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