Susan Silas
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The Project

Helmbrechts walk, 1998-2003 is a memorial testament to the forced march of 580 female Jewish prisoners at the end of the Second World War. The march began on April 13th, 1945 in order to evacuate Helmbrechts, a small satellite camp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp. Many concentration camps and labor camps were emptied out as the allies drew near and one can imagine a bird's eye view of backroads clogged with the barely living being forced to march without rational reason because the war was, in essence, already over.

This work is a visual representation of the 225 miles that the prisoners were forced to march from the camp in Germany into the occupied portion of Czechoslovakia then known as the Sudetenland. I set out to retrace the path of these women — 22 days in Germany and the Czech Republic on the 53rd anniversary of the march. I documented this journey on video, in still images and in writings. I created a limited edition unbound book, Helmbrechts walk, 1998 - 2003, which contains 48 - 13" x 19" archival color plates. The images are contextualized by a diary of my own experiences juxtaposed with news clips drawn from the front pages of the New York Times on the same days in 1998 — thus drawing a connection between the violent events of the past and those being witnessed in the present. This work now exists in an English and a bilingual German/English edition. A historically accurate reconstruction of the march route was possible with the help of the German trial transcript of Alois Dörr and historical maps housed in the New York City Public Library.

"The elegiac atmosphere evoked by Silas's photographs hints at the hidden, tragic history of nearly 65 years ago lying beneath the benign wooded landscape," says Jean Bloch Rosensaft, HUC-JIR Museum Director. "By retracing this Holocaust journey, Silas activates her personal mission of being a witness to the witnesses of the Holocaust, and serves as a vital link in the chain of transmission of Holocaust memory."

This work was first exhibited at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto in 2005.

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©2012 by Susan Silas