“The young people, some are not interested, but we should never forget, and I’m here to remind them.” - Antonin Kratochvil
In October 1943, the Sobibor death camp in Poland was the site of one of the few successful uprisings in Nazi extermination camps. After killing many of their SS guards, 300 of the 600 prisoners escaped to the forests of Belarus. Selma W. Engle was one of them.
Almost seventy years later, Selma recounts her experience to Czech photographer Antonin Kratochvil. In a collage of interviews and photographs, Kratochvil paints a gripping picture of the Sobibor concentration camp and of the local villagers, some of them children, who were forced accomplices in genocide.
In partnership with: VII Photo Agency
Antonin Kratochvil is a founder of the VII Photo Agency. His own experience as a refugee brings unique insight and honesty to his work as a photojournalist. His subjects have ranged from Mongolian street children to David Bowie, and his work includes covering the war in Iraq for Fortune Magazine.
Kratochvil has received numerous awards, grants and honorable mentions dating back to 1975, including two first place World Press Photo awards in 2002 in the categories of general news and nature and the environment. He received a grant in 2004 from Aperture Publishing to chronicle the fractious relationship between American civil liberties activists and the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security since the World Trade Center bombings.
Kratochvil's fifth book, Vanishing, came out in 2005. A labor of love and conscience focusing on human and natural phenomena that are on the verge of extinction, Vanishing took twenty years to produce.
Kratochvil's latest work, Moscow Nights, is due for release in May 2010. (Moscow Nights: http://www.amazon.com/Moscow-Nights-Antonin-Kratochvil/dp/0979180023)
Interview with Antonin Kratochvil
t21: Do you have a personal connection to the Holocaust?
AK: We were taught in school [in the Czech Republic] about these events. In the Czech Republic there was the Terezinstadt concentration camp. My dad was not Jewish, but he looked Jewish and was on transport several times, and my mother had to go and save him. So we all were connected somehow to these events.
t21: What motivated you to make Come Selma We Have to Run?
AK: I worked on this theme in the past in Auschwitz and different places in Eastern Europe. This was an assignment from Reader's Digest about Sobibor and I knew the subject.
t21: Why Sobibor?
AK: There was an uprising which was successful, one of the few uprisings in concentration camps that was successful. About 600 prisoners escaped, and about 150 lived through the end of the war in the forests of Belarus.
t21: There were uprisings in other concerntration camps, no?
AK: Yes, there was one in Auschwitz, but they were all killed. This [uprising in Sobibor] was one of the only ones where they succeeded in escaping in such numbers.
t21: As time goes by and the Holocaust and World War II are farther away in history, is it harder to make people interested in what happened, as you present your photographs?
AK: The young people, some are not interested, but we should never forget, and I’m here to remind them.
t21: Is that the main thing you hope people take away?
AK:For me also it's important that it's not so black and white, but there are some gray areas in this piece as well.
t21: I was surprised when Selma talked about how everyone thought only of themselves.
AK: But it makes sense. Surviving is not heroic.
t21: What do you think Jan [the Belarussian villager] brought to the story you tell here?
AK: Well, they were ordered to do this. He was not a willing participant, and neither was his dad, so they were also both sort of victims of this thing. He was forced to help his dad to ferry these people to the concentration camps. He says in the interview that he heard the cries and smelled the burning flesh, so he knew.
t21: On a lighter topic, how is new technology changing the mission and process of photographers from your perspective as founder of VII?
AK: I think it makes it more complete with the audio and the voices of the people and the sounds, and it makes it all too real. As a photographer your language is visual, so this adds a new dimension to it and makes it more full.
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