Refusing to forget Six bronzed concentration jackets recall Holocaust
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Aug 15, 2007 | 1086 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Many people who walk up the steps and into the court yard of the Bayonne Public Library look up to see six bronzed jackets stretched across the arch of the gateway.

Although a plaque is posted high up on the wall beside this semi circle of jackets, many new to Bayonne may not realize that these are jackets from six of the German concentration camps in which Jews and others perished more than a half century ago.

"One jacket represents one million Jewish people who died," said Ruth Preminger, an officer of the Jewish Community Center, who served as chair of the committee selecting the artist and the art work back in 1988.

The sculpture uses six authentic concentration camp jackets which were bronzed and arranged in a semi-circle against a backdrop of wrought iron bars.

The committee selected Canadian artist Karl Ciesluk to do the work, one of the premier artists dealing with living and organic art, who has since specialized in developing art for urban environments.

Called Holocaust Gates, the work was designed to keep alive the memory of the horrors that European Jews and others suffered at the hands of fanatic Nazi's bent on genocide.

A resident artist at Baird Art Gallery in Newfoundland. Ciesluk's work appears in public venues from Texas and Canada to Northern Ireland.

Prisoners in the Nazi camps were given uniforms of rough blue and white striped cloth as part of the de-humanization program that including having their heads shaved and their names replaced by numbers tattooed on their arms. Sometimes, prisoners had a badge attached to these jackets to signify what "type" of prisoner they were, such as Jew, Jehovah Witness, Gypsy or Gay. Jews were identified with a yellow triangle.

Ironically, the stripped uniforms have often been referred to as "pajamas" -

During the year's 1933 to 1945 people were often kept in concentration camps where they lived under barbaric conditions. These varied in nature from forced labor camps, prisoner of war camps to the worst of all, the extermination camps. During their reign of power, the Nazi set up about 3,000 camps across Europe.

Inmates - men, women and children - were issued the striped uniforms when being admitted to the camps. Conditions were so horrible; people often stuffed old rags and paper into the uniforms to keep warm in winter.

Although many people threw away their uniforms when allies liberated the camps at the end of World War II, some kept the jackets, wearing them at commemorative services either as an act of defiance against the Nazi or as a living memory of survival.

Jackets also had numbers on them as part of the registry of prisoners.

Some people had their photographs taken in the uniforms after the war when they had regained their strength and bodyweight. Some jackets were donated later to Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. When Pope Benedict visited Auschwitz in May 2006, some survivors wore blue and white striped clothing to recall these jackets.

"Mayor Collins appointed the committee because he felt Bayonne needed some visible symbol by which to remember the Holocaust," Preminger said.

Although Ciesluk was not Jewish, his Polish father had been a prisoner of a camp.

"We were moved by the fact that the artist had a feeling for what we were trying to convey," Preminger said.

email to Al Sullivan
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet