This weekend I was carrying around a too-heavy backpack on my shoulders, stuffed with objects I wanted to show to others. Eager to the point of physical pain. I walked from one place to the other, relentlessly carrying my treasures, as if the solution, the truth, my completeness, was packed inside.
On the afternoon of May 2nd 1945, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division liberated the SS concentration camp of Wöbbelin in Germany. The next day, General James M. Gavin ordered the citizens of the neighbouring towns to walk an inspection tour through the camp, forcing them to witness and acknowledge what they allowed to happen: a thousand bodies, starved to death in barely 10 weeks, unburied.
An audience watching a horrifying scene of an audience watching a horrifying scene. The gasp. The hand on the heart. If ever there was emptiness after. I cannot help but wonder how this forced social act of witnessing would look today, seventy-two years later, were it to repeat. The camera as a gun, the violence of the gaze, witnessing the witnessing.
I never opened my backpack. What mattered was small and light and in my inside jacket pocket, a single image with no context except the one I had chosen to give. I felt liberated, at the same time acknowledging the weight I chose to carry, and knew I would continue to bear.