Over the last twenty years, German-born Erik Schiemann has been systematically photographing in concentration and extermination camps across Europe. In his photographs, Schiemann focuses on portraits and documenting tiny corners in the camps, motivated by the desire to understand and uncover something about the place and the events it has witnessed – something that cannot be unraveled from the general, “big picture”. Sometimes I found in his photos a blooming field in the roll-call square, and sometimes an area that became run-down, or prisoner barracks evidently built by the prisoners themselves. Many of the photos are portraits of camp visitors, employees or people living nearby. In some cases, the subjects seem to be acting in front of the camera as though in a theater; in others, they look like prisoners from that era.
I met Erik Schiemann by accident when visiting the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Whereas for me – a third-generation Holocaust survivor from a Jewish family and a new resident who just arrived in Berlin – this was the first visit in Sachsenhausen, I soon came to realize that like me, Erik has been frequently visiting concentration and extermination camps over the years. Schiemann is not motivated by the desire to document the subject from a historical point of view, nor is he motivated by ideology or the need to make a statement, even though he has read and studied about all the camps in depth. His recurring visits are the product of a private, inner obsession. For me, this action of his echoed my father’s insistence to travel each year to the ceremony commemorating the Martyrs of Zaglambia, which include my grandfather’s family. I have never truly understood the meaning of my father’s need for this ritual repetition, given that the text or memorial plaque never change or tell a different story each year.