The Irreversible

by Maciek Nabrdalik & Agnieszka Kulawiak

We started this project in 2009 after one of our visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. At the gate we saw an obituary notice informing about the death of a former prisoner. Next day there was another one. At this moment we realized that we are the last generation who can approach the survivors to talk with them and ask questions. Of course we knew that most of them had already been interviewed by different organizations or by the Auschwitz Museum employees. Not all of them had a chance to share their story, though, and they were at different moments in their lives now. Many of them have admitted that their recollections of all that happened are not as vivid today because the fact that they have survived has softened their memory and they prefer to enjoy what is left of life. And yet it is difficult to escape something that lies so deep and returns uninvited in dreams, fears, and associations. This, they say, is irreversible.

Our conversations often touch upon this unwanted memory. Together we realize that the camp has left in them a trace that cannot be erased. They will not forget it, but it is less certain that we won’t. We have decided, then, to face the truth not only in its historical aspect, but also, and above all, in its human dimension: the truth about them, former camp prisoners, for whom the camp was a curse, a lesson in humility, or a test of humanity. They answer some questions here for the first time; they leave other without an answer. These meetings are unforgettable and we now carry them in us, they have shaped us to some extent. And even though at times we would like to detach ourselves from these camp histories, we must not lose time. Our work is an attempt to give faces to the victims rendered nameless by the impersonal tone of the Nazi camps statistics while the voices of the survivors breathe individuality and humanity into the detached historical accounts. The Irreversible is an ongoing project and we plan to meet survivors from as many different countries as possible. The international scope of this work aims to show that converging accounts of these witnesses, from many different nations, stand as a vital historical document that cannot be overlooked. Until today we have met thirty survivors.

In 2012, Maciek received grant from Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to continue the project worldwide.