Janiszen Prison Camp

I was awestruck when I first saw this picture. I think of it as Heaven and Hell.

On a particularly beautiful day in June, my mother and her sister, Mania, took the cows they were tending for other farmers to the good pasture near the Vistula River. When they got there, they discovered that they were next to a prison camp, in which the Germans used Jewish slave labor to work on a dam. When they grew too exhausted to work, the young boys would be taken into the woods to be shot.

Here, as my mother watches, one young boy is led into the birch trees at the lower left of the picture. The composition in this picture is just remarkable, with this incredibly beautiful pastoral scene on one side, and this nightmare of violence on the other. And notice the exquisite details, the almost pointillist stitching of the grass in the meadow, the mushrooms growing in the birch forest, and the mud on the overseer’s boots.