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Notes on Horror of the Blue Sky


We often encounter the horror of the Holocaust via black & white images, whether they are photos, documentary films or contemporary movies. It was, therefore, a heavy shock to me walking into this 'scene' during my visit in Sept last year to the Sachenhausen site outside Berlin. I did try to prepare myself for the visit before I went, as I didn't want to be a tourist, but someone paying solemn respect to a heavy piece of European history. And at the foyer of the museum, I gathered myself, picked up the audio machine, scanned across the timeline board, and diligently read through blown-up black & white war time photos with quotes lining the walls along the walking path towards the camp site. I thought I was ready.


But nothing could have prepared me for the shock from standing in front of the entrance tower of the original camp site. Being physically in front of the building was threatening enough. I could associate the architecture with the history - this is the spot where humans were turned into numbers, the gate to hell on earth. I had read about this place and seen pictures of it. It was the bright blue sky above it, or to be exact, the image of this building 'superimposed' onto the blue sky background that I could not handle. The building belongs to history, the blue sky does not.


Black & white historical photos help mask the horror of human catastrophe with a stamp of the past, distant and already-happened. Their shades of grey conveniently produce a mood and convey us to feeling pity for the dead of a bygone era. The world in those photos could not be sadder - the rows of prisoners in striped uniforms, the white facade of the tower building, the darkness behind the windows and beyond the entrance, the patchy grey sky. But we forget that the grey sky in a black & white photo could actually be a blue sky, a warm and tranquil blue sky that had nothing to do with the horror that was happening underneath.


This realization that it wasn't necessary a sad grey sky that those black & white historical photos had captured, and that it could well had been a bright blue sky, had unnerved me greatly.  We are so used to the cliche about weather affecting our mood or colour schemes in horror movies that we don't realize the colour of nature has no responsibility towards human's misery. What was right in front of me that warm and bright Sept morning - the blue sky above the white tower building - could also be in front of the new arrivals in another Sept, 70 years ago. Those poor people in striped uniforms could wear all the shades from black to white on their skins and clothes, yet the sky above them could be as brilliant as the one that makes you want to have a lie down on the beach. I kept wondering - would any of those new arrivals standing under such a brilliant sky be dreaming about having a lie down along the bank of Rhine?  Could such glorious weather lift any degree of their hardship? Would such atmospheric blueness inject them with a pin-size sense of hope? They whispered their prayers under this big blue sky right? Or they saw it as nature's mockery to their suffering, being unsympathetically deaf to their pleas?  Would they feel abandoned, betrayed, by the above?


There, the blue sky had taken me away from the protection of my history-class-field-trip mode, and exposed me to a consciousness of strange presence.  Because of the blue sky, I could almost feel a fraction of that total horror, that dread, that fear, the will to give-up, whatever strength left to hang-on, and all the other unimaginable feelings one must have in this unspeakable situation. I kept wondering, under the same blue sky...

solomon yu artist hong kong 余迪文 香港 藝術家 余廸文

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