This weekend I was carrying around a much too heavy backpack on my shoulders stuffed with things I wanted to show to others. Eager to show what I was about. To the point of physical pain not willing to give in for fear of forgetting, I walked from one place to the other, relentlessly carrying as if the solution, the truth, the completeness of everything I was were packed inside. And by all accounts, it could technically be considered correct that all was inside. Certainly the pain in my neck and shoulders would have testified to that.
In 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 the people to witness, and to acknowledge what they had let 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 like today, seventy-two years later, if it ever were to repeat itself. The camera as a gun, the violence of the gaze, witnessing the witnessing.
I ended up never even opening my backpack. What mattered was small and light and in my inside jacket pocket all the time, a single image with no visible context except the one I had chosen to give. I felt liberated as never before, at the same time acknowledging the weight I chose to carry, and knew I would continue to bear.