dinsdag 25 augustus 2015

Views & Reviews Soldier in Hitler's Army 35 Bilder Krieg Lukas Birk Photography

35 Bilder Krieg (35 Pictures War)
Lukas Birk
18 x 23 cm, 76 p,  saddle stitched 
English & German foreword 
ISBN 978-3-9502773-7-1
Edition of 500 

"35 Bilder Krieg is an emotional part of my personal archive with images taken by my grandfather during World War 2 and an introduction reflecting on the odd relation my generation has to this period of time and the involvement of our grandparents in it."

soldier in Hitler's army.
by Miss Rosen Aug 9th, 2015

Lukas Birk found an envelope with the title “35 Bilder Krieg” (literally, “35 Pictures War”) written with a pencil. He recognized the handwriting. It belonged to his paternal grandfather, who had been a Lieutenant in the Austrian military when Nazi Germany annexed the country in 1938, and automatically became a part of Hitler’s army. Birk does not know the role his grandfather played in the war, and he has no one to ask, for anyone who might have spoken of it took his or her secrets to the grave.
Birk collected the photographs together in 35 Bilder Krieg, a self-published book with a special edition of 500 copies, which is now available on his website. Speaking with Crave, Birk reveals, “My grandfather Viktor was Czechoslovakian, born just before World War I and the fall of the Habsburg Empire. Though he came from an aristocratic background, the abolishment of titles and positions left the family without much financial support. Hence Birk is not our ‘real’ family name. He ‘Germanized’ his name either during or before enrolling into the Austrian military academy."

“His wife, my grandmother, came from a political family," says Birk. "Her father was governor of one of the provinces as well as Chancellor of Austria between the wars. He shortly held an administrative role in the government after annexation but was also briefly imprisoned by the Nazis. The details and connections are rather hard to grasp now and still in discussion by historians." 
Part of the second-generation born after World War II, Birk was raised in a culture that did not speak of the reality of the war. The past had been muted and subdued. The great truths of the war had been reduced. “All my grandmother constantly repeated was that everybody had it bad, ‘We had enough to eat because we had cows and sheep. The children in the neighborhood would always come to us when they were hungry! But Hitler built all the streets and in the beginning everybody had work. He also introduced child-support. In the countryside we had no idea what he did with the Jews.’"
Says Birk, “Where my grandfather exactly was during the war as soldier I am not sure. I only know he was in Russia where he was captured and held captive for less then a year. When the war ended and Austria became an independent country again he was offered positions at the army again but refused. According to my mother, he never talked about the war and disliked uniforms. What he saw must have deeply marked him. He was the director of an insurance company for most of his civil carrier."

Birk remembers things were, “Hush-hush stories about my maternal grandfather’s long years of imprisonment in Yugoslavia and the apparent near-assassination of my paternal grandfather.” Yet it was this grandfather who kept the envelope titled “35 Bilder Kreig” and passed it along to his son. And now that his son had died, it fell into Birk’s hands.
My grandfather passed in the year I was born so all I know are stories of what a handsome, gentle and patient man he was. He was a collector of things and took pleasure in card games and smoking cigarettes. My father never talked much about his grandfather and as he has passed a few years ago I cannot ask him anymore. Finding these images was a great surprise."
The envelope contained 35 film negatives. Birk, a photographer, enlarged the negatives, discovering they had been made by three different cameras. He recognized his grandfather in a few of the photographs, as well as scenes of Paris, destroyed cities and bridges, a port city and winter landscapes, tank maneuvers, and firefighters at work.
“All his life he was an amateur photographer and developed his own films. He also taught my father photography who then taught me. There are countless photographs of mountaineering trips my grandfather undertook in Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. He and his wife also travelled a lot in Europe and I have much of his documentation from that time. But the images in 35 Bilder Krieg are the only ones I have ever seen from the war.”

Birk further observes, “What baffles me is the disconnection between my generation and the one of our grandparents who lived during these times. Our grandparents didn’t talk about the war. Their children were to afraid to ask them because they felt the pain and trauma they had endured. My mother’s father was in a labor camp in Yugoslavia for six years (four of those years after the war had already ended) building a spa resort on the Croatian coast line. He was malnourished for most of the time and had eating disorders all his life because of that.
“If any of our grandparents would talk about the war, it would be fragmented and unemotional. The time and its memories were suppressed. They wanted to forget. The war was never a subject of discussion on our dinner table yet it was a huge subject in our education. A very one-side education explaining only the terrible things that had happened. An education of guilt and trauma. But my generation has nothing to do with this guilt! We want emotional answers because why should we feel guilt for something we cannot even comprehend. 
“Veterans like my grandparents never had the chance to process. They were not allowed to talk about it in clubs or gatherings. Unlike in the U.S. or other countries where there is a veteran’s organization for soldiers, offering psychological help. No matter if you killed civilians in Germany, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, or Iraq you can sit together with your fellow soldiers and talk about it. You did good, right or wrong, followed orders or committed thoughtless atrocities you can process the past. There was a generation of German and Austrian men who were not allowed to do so because they would be called Nazis.”
A book title by Joseph Kessell came to Birk’s mind: Zeuge in heilloser Zeit, which translates as “Witness in Hopeless Times.” He explains, “Heilos comes from Heil, known in English solely as the Nazi greeting, but in Gernan it means health or salvation. Heilos means without salvation, or beyond healing. Heilos! Maybe all violent times can be described as such.”
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in-and-out-of-print loves.

See also

Memories of my Service in the Army in Kaufbeuren Germany WWII Private Photobook Photography

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