Meet my late grandfather, Antoine Libens. Alfons Libens & Jeanne Degros were his parents. But everyone called him Gaston. Gaston is the reason that I 'm starting my next long term project: The Blue Skies Project.
The Blue Skies Project will become a personal journey, me trying to make sense of something unimaginable. Something unspeakable. Something that took place in Europe 70 years ago, before I was born.
I feel the need to personally understand and place the huge and unimaginable injustice done to so many millions during the years of the Holocaust. A darkest page in human history, yet a page never to be forgotten.
It all started with my grandfather during WWII, when he was a geography student at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.
One night, when Gaston was home asleep, Nazi soldiers raided the house. In the middle of the night they banged the door and forced their way in. His mother woke up from the noise and pushed him out of bed and out the bedroom window onto the flat roof. The soldiers were on a mission to round up and deport all university students who were member of a certain fraternity, with members active in the resistance.
It didn't take long before the soldiers entered Gaston's bedroom. Though it appeared as if the bed was unslept in, one of the soldiers felt the warm mattress and deducted that he must be hiding somewhere in the immediate surroundings. Outside in the meantime, Gaston had been unable to find a hiding place on the flat roof, the only thing in the nearby being a glass dome shaped window in the roof, behind which he desperately tried to tuck himself away as much as he could. One of the young German soldiers, about the same age as him, opened the bedroom window and climbed out onto the roof.
It was impossible not to spot my grandfather.
And indeed he did. My grandfather peering through the glass, acutely aware that he could as well just be standing up and in plain sight, and the German soldier looking straight back at him. Then It happens. They lock eyes for an instant. Both men in their late teens. Both men black hair. Both men look at each other for an eternity, in which they seem to realize something more, something bigger than that wretched war.
The soldier steps back inside saying "Nein, er ist hier nicht."... the cue for my grandfather to make a run for it. Over different roofs, several houses down the road where he jumps off into a courtyard.
Unfortunately Gaston jumps straight into a dog pen, waking up the dog who starts to bark loudly. It's about 2am now. Gaston frantically tries to keep the dog quiet, eventually succeeds, and stays in the pen literally for several hours, waiting. Hours later, he climbs out of the pen. As he walks back to his house, at the end of the street around the corner, he suddenly gets pulled into a house by one of his neighbors... a woman suspected to be collaborating with Nazi Germany. She pulls him into her house, whispering "Antoine! Hide here, wait, they're still staking out your house waiting for you to return...".
My grandfather's life got saved twice that night. And by two of the most unlikely people to do so.
A tiny story of hope in what were the darkest of days for millions.
(From that moment onwards, everywhere my grandfather went, he was always shown a secret escape route or hiding place... everyone in town and at the university knew they were after him, and all worked together to keep him safe. In the end, he survived the war not being deported.)
I'll be going into detail as to what I intend to do and how I intend to do it, and seek your wisest advice... I'm full on in the research phase now... the photography, the concept, the reason for the title, what I hope to achieve, my fears and aspirations, my sadness, my journey, hopefully my determination to be able to finish this project as i envision it, as that is what I fear the most: emotionally, this might just actually weigh too much upon my shoulders...
I have no answers. But maybe, just maybe, I could provoke good thought.
Lest we never forget.