The thought of mass genocide is something which few people alive today can imagine, let alone say they’ve experienced. The reality, however, was all too real for millions of “undesirables” during the Second World War who were systematically killed as part of the Nazi’s “Final Solution”.
Between 1941 and 1945, the regime targetted those they wished to “cleanse” from society. This included six million Jews who lost their lives in concentration camps, as well as ethnic Poles, the “incurably sick”, Romani people, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political opponents and Soviet prisoners of war. In total, it is estimated that the Holocaust death toll stands at 17 million.
In the video below, artist Marina Amara explains how she is using her work to illuminate its horrors:
One victim of the Holocaust was 14-year-old Czesława Kwoka, who arrived at the notorious Auschwitz camp with her mother on December 13, 1942.
Kwoka was one of the “approximately 230,000” children deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945. At the tender age of 14, Kwoka was torn away from her home in the Zamość region of Poland after the Nazis began to clear the area to create “living space” for people who they considered more desirable.
Despite only being a teen, Kwoka was branded “subhuman” by Nazi ideology which was particularly brutal towards Polish Catholics. After they invaded Poland in 1939, the Nazis set to work murdering and suppressing the Catholic elite in Poland. They killed Catholic religious leaders, destroyed churches, monasteries and convents and stole sacred objects. The aim? To destroy Polish culture in order to smoothly Germanize the country – a way of life that didn’t support Christianity in any form.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Kwoka was photographed by fellow prisoner Wilhelm Brasse for the concentration camp records. Brasse, a professional photographer from Poland, was forced to take between 40,000 and 50,000 photographs of other prisoners whilst at Auschwitz. Threatened with imminent death if he refused to comply, Brasse had no option but to take the pictures which now haunt the world to the core.
Despite the large number of ‘identity pictures’ that he was ordered to take, Brasse can distinctly recall Kwoka. In an interview with The Portraitist, Brasse, who survived his ordeal and is still alive today at the age of 94, recalled:
“She was so young and so terrified. The girl didn’t understand why she was there and she couldn’t understand what was being said to her. So this woman Kapo (a prisoner overseer) took a stick and beat her about the face. This German woman was just taking out her anger on the girl. Such a beautiful young girl, so innocent. She cried but she could do nothing. Before the photograph was taken, the girl dried her tears and the blood from the cut on her lip. To tell you the truth, I felt as if I was being hit myself but I couldn’t interfere. It would have been fatal for me. You could never say anything.”
On February 18, 1943, just 67 days after Brasse took the identity pictures, Kwoka’s short life came to an end. The cause of her death is unknown, but it is assumed that she either died of exhaustion or was killed after being deemed not “racially suitable.”
Despite her extremely premature and tragic death, Kwoka’s haunting identity pictures are still sending chills down people’s spine. Her memory lives on at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s permanent indoor exhibition where her identity pictures hang on the wall.
Now they are the focus of a colorization project by artist Marina Amaral who has only intensified the horror of Kwoka’s ordeal by bringing them into the modern day with a splash of color…
In an interview with The Metro, Marina said that the colorization of the picture also revealed a red triangle on Czesława’s overalls. It has a black ‘P’ in its center which signified that she had been taken to the camp as a political prisoner.
“When we see the photos in black and white, we get the feeling that those events happened only in the history books,” Marina said. “By restoring the colors on her face, I was able to show the colors of the blood and the bruises, which made everything even more real.”
The artist has gone on a mission to colorize important historical pictures because it makes them easier for a modern audience to relate to.
“These people were human beings who had dreams, ambitions, fears, friends, family, and had all this taken from them,” she added. “Unfortunately, Czeslawa was just one among millions of others, but the expression on her face – so much fear, and at the same time so much courage, will stay with me forever.”
It is not, however, just survivors of the Holocaust who Marina has used her work to bring back to life. She also did it with the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, shedding a rarely seen light upon what he was like as a young man.
He was 26 years old in the picture above and taking his first steps into the world of politics.
The pinnacle of Winston Churchill’s career came when he led the allied troops to victory during the Second World War. This began with D-Day, also known as the Normandy Landings, which set the course of this historical victory in action.
D-Day didn’t just mark a change in the course of the war, it was also the largest seaborne invasion in history and involved 24,000 men.
To this day, the repercussions of the Second World War still cast a shadow over the world as we know it. The creation of nuclear weapons during it and the treaties put into place after its end have prevented a similar atrocity happening again.
Marina’s photographs are important because they remind us all of the importance of maintaining peace in the modern world.