by Łukasz Surowiec
The project Berlin-Birkenau brings a few hundred young birches from the area around the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to Berlin, where they have found new places to root all over the city. These trees, taken from soil that contains the traces of countless deaths, become a “living archive” that shifts something growing and breathing to Berlin. The birches have been planted from autumn 2011 through spring 2012 in public parks and spaces such as Wuhlheide Park in Treptow-Köpenick or the newly established park in Spandau, on the grounds of schools, and also in places that have a historic connection to the Holocaust and deportation, like the memorial site Gleis 17 in Grunewald. In each location, a plaque with the following inscription can be found:
“In November 2011, the Polish artist Łukasz Surowiec brought 320 birches from the area around the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to Berlin, to work against forgetting. The trees are spread over the whole city. They were planted with support from the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art.”
Surowiec’s project performs a symbolic gesture of bringing back to Germany a part of its national heritage. Visitors can travel to the sites where the birches are located, as well as see the installation of thousands of seedlings at KW, which were grown for the exhibition. If you promise to take care of a seedling, you can bring one home with you. The birch seedlings create an intimate and self-initiated memorial, which depends on its owner for survival. Instead of a monument made from steel or stone, there is a living entity next to you, which embodies a part of the traumatic past.
by Artur Żmijewski and Zdravka Bajović