Travel Eastward

Richtung osten
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Fine-Art „Giclée“-Print on canvas – stretched over a wooden frame with a depth of 2 cm

Illustration by Roman Kroke (2009)

Mesures: 40 cm x 30 cm

Customized title: language freely selectable – please specify the language of your choice during the order (in the preview: French)

Annotations to the illustration by Roman Kroke:

I created the illustration on the basis of the following citations from Etty’s diary:

“Did I really send a letter that made it look as if all my courage had gone? I can hardly believe it. There are moments, it’s true, when I feel things can’t go on. But they do go on, you gradually learn that as well. Though the landscape around you may appear different: there is a lowering black sky overhead and a great shift in your outlook on life, and your heart feels grey and a thousand years old. But it is not always like that. A human being is a remarkable thing. The misery here is really indescribable. People live in those big barracks like so many rats in a sewer. (..) And then three days’ travel eastward. Paper “mattresses” on the floor for the sick. For the rest, bare boards with a bucket in the middle and roughly seventy people to a sealed car. A rucksack each was all they were allowed to take. How many, I wondered, would reach their destination alive?“

 3 July 1943

The train in which Etty was deported from Westerbork Transit Camp to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 September 1943 contained 987 people in total, including 170 children. In the excerpt, Etty talks about “roughly seventy people to a sealed car”. You might observe a certain discrepancy between this number and the number of people depicted in the illustration. My decision to integrate far less people is based on the following idea. The planks breaking under the people’s feet symbolise their powerlessness against their approaching death. The bottomless blackness under the planks and in the front of the illustration represents the “realm of the dead”. The two men in the foreground are on their way into this world, while many others have already perished and vanished into the blackness before them.

The idea for the illustration of the man tightly clutching his suitcase has its origin in a historical photo depicting a Jewish prisoner in the transit camp at Westerbork. I found this gesture to be a strong symbol for the people’s desperate longing for a secure footing – in a time in which orientation, security and the former circumstances of their lives are radically broken apart.

As outlined in the comments on the illustration “The Spider and its Web”, Etty’s comparison between herself and a spider as well as between her diary and a spider’s web has become the central metaphor of this series of illustrations. In contrast to the prevailing negative associations of spiders, Etty’s use of metaphor presents a creative animal, the architect of a web of ideas (cf. my annotation to the illustration “The Spider and its Web”). In the illustration “Travel Eastward”, I depicted the spider, for once, in accordance with its more customary association – as a predator. Through this shift in meaning, the observer is challenged to reflect consciously upon the atypical use of this metaphor in Etty’s writings.

Etty repeatedly compares the circumstances they are living in with those of rats. I also integrated the symbol of the rat into the illustrations “Freedom” and “Thinking Heart”.