'"The Tube" at Treblinka' (2007), oil on linen, 140 x 100 cm.2007
Sigmund Freud, the author of a 1917 essay on 'Mourning work' was, of course, Jewish and ended his days in London as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria. ‘ “The Tube” at Treblinka’ commemorates some of the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Shortly after arriving by train at the death camp of Treblinka in Poland, prisoners were compelled to undress. They were robbed of their hair and any valuables. Naked prisoners were then driven along an innocuous looking, fenced-in ‘tube’ or path that led to so-called ‘shower’ blocks. They were herded inside and exterminated via the use of exhaust gases from tank engines. (The Nazi guards cynically named the path “The Street to Heaven”.) Their corpses were then burned on huge pyres. Hundreds of thousands of Jews plus some gypsies were disposed of in this manner during the period July 1942 to October 1943. The testimonies of survivors to these events and the cruel, disgusting behaviour of the SS and Ukrainian guards are especially harrowing to read. This knowledge made the execution of the painting an extremely disturbing experience. In the painting, a cold eerie sunlight illuminates the empty path. No victims are depicted because, as in reality, they are absent from the scene. Due to the curve of the path, the entrances to the gas chambers are hidden, consequently the path’s destination remains a mystery but can perhaps be guessed because paths are so often metaphors for the journey of life and the culmination of that journey, we all know, is death. Self-awareness of our own finitude, according to some theorists, means that mourning-work is a lifelong process.
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