Event 1: Lublin, Poland

The power and pain of the storytellers

Historie o bólu i sile

Naomi, textile artist from the UK, asks us to consider the testimonies we have heard and the individuals who shared them with us, here in Poland and in the UK . . .

She shows us a small figure she has made of a Jewish woman from Lublin. She holds it in her hand as a way of remembering, a way of sensing her pain and her grief, a way of processing her story.

Naomi asks us to respond to one of the storytellers and make a small image of them.

After sitting, listening and talking for some time earlier in the day, it is a way of slowing us down to engage the senses rather than the intellect, an activity rather than conversation, as a way of processing and responding to the words we have heard.

It is almost meditative as we cut the cloth, bend the wire, tie the wool.

“This is Iby. She is always smart. She has a sense of humour.

She hoards food and she still has nightmares after spending a day sharing her testimony about the Holocaust with students.

I have heard her testimony many times. Thank God it never fails to move me”

“This is Fatima who is Kurdish.

She carries her uncle’s belt, the one he told the children to hang on to, as they crossed the mountains in the dark.

No child should have to make that sort of journey.”

“This is Alon.

His legs are long and he has a long family history of men leaving their place of birth.

How long does it take to feel you belong somewhere?”

One of the Polish partners leaves the room and we don’t know why until later.

He felt it was unethical to make dolls or “pets” of people like Holocaust survivors and was unable to participate.

We take this opportunity to have a discussion about the nature of the activity.

We say that what we are making is not a “doll” or “keepsake.” The activity was introduced as a way of extending our concentration, changing the pace, expressing our response to each individual and his or her story, drawing close to them and discovering the power of their message for ourselves. A different part of the brain is engaged in the creation of a made object.

We draw attention to the “figures” made in the concentration camps and after liberation, as a way of preserving personal and cultural identity and remembering family members. We mention the big “Weeping Sisters” figures made in Huddersfield which were the expression of a group of people.

The lesson the UK team has learned is that we should not associate the English term “doll” with this activity. It may seem derogatory in translation. We should take as much time and care to prepare people for the process as we do on the process itself.

Bergen Belsen figure

Dolls found in Majdanek

Three stills from Kamp, made by 10 Dutch artists in 2005. The figures were animated and filmed live.