the 28 names we know
"So I walk in the forest at night and early morning, and look for a sign of the memory these trees hold within. Their roots go down three times their height and, after what they have witnessed, they are bound to protect it forever. I have the feeling they are doing it well and watching me trying to do the same thing, stumbling in the dark on soft soil and rotten branches.
We do not know all of the names of the people killed in these forests, and we barely know the number.
But some names have resisted through history, just like these trees.
These names are those of the children killed in Kuldiga. They did not have the chance to grow. These trees did."
The 28 Names We Know is a project about Holocaust and memory, done with the guidance of Simon Norfolk during the masterclass "Photographing The Past" in ISSP, Latvia.
In 1941 Jewish people have been mostly exterminated with mass executions that usually took place in the forests or on some beaches (Liepaja, nowadays crowded with tourists).
I decided to focus on mass killings that took place not far from Kuldiga town, in Kurzeme region.
The forest has a main role in Latvian tradition and in "dainas", Latvian traditional folk songs: it is a place for mystery, magic, but it has also been a safe refuge for rebellious fighters.
Trees are a strong symbol in all cultures, and they have been widely used in the Garden of the Righteous to stand for the memory of unforgettable individuals.
I tried to convey the need and the will to remember with the indefinable feeling we get in those enchanting and yet gloomy forests. Nature is a sumptuous and powerful witness, and it is often described as indifferent to human struggles. The act of choosing trees in that location, looking at them one by one as they were people, just made me realize there is more than that, and we can hardly unveil the mystery of it.
I used the names provided by Yad Vashem Archives, and (as they also warn) sometimes they could be misspelt or written twice, but such is the battle to keep memory alive: it has to deal with human limitations.
I use to show the entire work in a long strip going from light to darkness, that reminds me not only of the forest and the time passing in it, but most of all of the frightening lists of names I read while doing research for this project.