Photographs of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, now a museum

Bengaluru-based photographer Sudeesh Yezhuvath’s exhibition revisits a dark chapter in history, capturing the horrors of the Holocaust

The 4×6 foot photograph showing a sea of shoes dominates a wall in one of the galleries at Kochi’s Durbar Hall Art Gallery. It is a heartbreaking image for several reasons.

The shoes featured are remnants of the 1.1 million people killed at the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz. This photograph, in addition to 73 others, is part of the exhibition, ‘Yours is Not to Reason Why’ by Bengaluru-based IT entrepreneur, Sudeesh Yezhuvath.

The images bring home the horrors of Auschwitz for those who have only read about the Holocaust or seen it in films and documentaries. The concentration camp has been memorialised as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum in Poland.

What remains of the camp conveys how the Nazi machinery went about killing Jews. Tall watchtowers, barbed wire fencing around paths, red brick buildings on a carpet of green grass — the images communicate an eerie, unnerving stillness.

A gas chamber at Auschwitz

“There was no vegetation when the camp was ‘functioning’, we were told. There were so many people in the three camps, Auschwitz I, II (Birkenau) and III (Monowitz), that there was no space for anything else,” says Sudeesh, who captured these images during a 2018 trip.

A different take

While at the Auschwitz Museum, Sudeesh shot these photographs like a normal tourist would. “Usually, when you are at a tourist spot, you see happy, smiling faces. However, not a single person in our group was smiling.”

Being confronted with what he saw at the concentration camp, Sudeesh says, he was apprehensive. “This was not in the distant past or for that matter the Middle Ages. This holocaust happened barely eight decades ago. It is a frightening thought.” A friend had suggested that he visit the museum in winter, “to get a sense of the cruelty that was inflicted in the camp. I did not go in winter…but it was chilling enough.”

An engineer from Palakkad, Kerala, Sudeesh runs an IT company in Bengaluru. He is a photo enthusiast who has been to over 73 countries, he says.

Photographs of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, now a museum

He had not originally intended to exhibit these photographs. That suggestion came from his close friend and visual artist Murali Cheeroth, who curated the photographs with Jayaraj Sundaresan who teaches at the London School of Economics.

The response to the exhibition has exceeded his expectations, says Sudeesh. “Most people were shaken and many appreciated the photos for their artistic value.”

The question that haunted him, while at the Museum was, “Around 7,000-odd people worked in these camps in various capacities, these people went home to ‘normal’ lives listening to music, playing with their children and families. They encountered this situation every day for a few years, how were they okay with it? How could they have been so dehumanised? Where was the rationality of thought?”

When they wrapped up the tour at the Museum, the tour guide reminded them that “something like this could happen in any country, at any time”.

Sudeesh, through these photographs, says he remembers the significance of history. “This is why George Santayana’s quote is displayed at the entrance to the first barrack in Auschwitz: ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This is why Auschwitz should remain in our memory,” he concludes.

The exhibition, which opened on October 16, concludes on October 29. He plans to exhibit in Bengaluru too.

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