Susan Silas
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(watch video)

interview in 15 parts
full running time 110 minutes


Some of the women who were marched from Helmbrechts to Prachatice began their journey earlier in Greenberg, north of Helmbrechts. They were marched to Helmbrechts and stayed there briefly and then together with the women who were laborers at the camp in Helmbrechts they were marched another 225 miles to Prachatice. Halina Kleiner was among the women who began their journey on foot from Greenberg. She wasn't sure how long she remained in Helmbrechts before being forced to continue on foot until just short of Prachatice.

I contacted Halina when I returned from Prachatice, having seen an image of her in a group photo of women who had come to Helmbrechts on the 50th anniversary of the march. I also contacted her close friend Lilli, of whom she speaks in the interview. Lilli was very concerned about how I would use an interview with her and wanted me to agree to very specific conditions and educational purposes. I didn't know exactly how I would use the interview. I didn't consider interviews to be a part of the artwork I was undertaking even though talking to Halina informed my thinking and was important historical witness testimony, despite all of the criticism we hear about the fallability of primary witnesses.

Halina never really asked me what I would do with the interview and at the time I didn't know myself. I did explain to her that I had just walked from Helmbrechts to Prachatice and I told her about my family background. It was clear that she saw my interest as genuine and she trusted that I would handle the material in a respectful way. The difficulty I had making a promise to Lilli was that I knew that my interpretation of events as a secondary witness, e.g. a child of survivors of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, could never be the same as the interpretation of someone who had a personal experience of this history and I understood that whatever I did I was bound to disappoint, perhaps even anger Lilli, so we cordially agreed that we would not do an interview together.

I came to Halina's home predisposed to like her. My eyes had gravitated to her face in that group photograph and I instantly knew that I wanted to meet her. I was rewarded by an encounter with a generous, kind, thoughtful and open person. I was a complete stranger and yet she opened her home to me. She was comfortable talking about her past and she was willing to share her thoughts with me. I am very grateful to her for her time and her generosity toward me.

In the epilogue to Helmbrechts walk, I quote something that Halina said when I asked her about her memory of the landscape. She replied that she didnít have a recollection of the "scenery", just the cold, the harsh guards and her kind friends. Much later I discovered that the scholar Brett Ashley Kaplan had also spoken to Halina. She has written about my work and she was puzzled by the epilogue. When I asked her what puzzled her, she told me that she was surprised by the comment that Halina did not remember the landscape. Brett remembers her saying that the landscape she was forced to march through was beautiful.


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©2012 by Susan Silas