Honouring Esther Bristol presentation Thursday 25 January

Thursday 25 January City Hall Bristol. 7.30-9.00 pm

Presentation on the Forced Walks project: Honouring Esther. Short films and sounds from the walks in Somerset and Germany retracing the route of a Nazi Death march. Survivor testimony and contemporary resonance. Love. Internationalism. Solidarity.

Talk from artists Richard White and Lorna Brunstein.

Holocaust Memorial Day event hosted by Bristol Hannover Council. All welcome.

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Cut Flowers

exhibit wide3Cut Flowers at the Beaumont Gallery, Mere currently features work from the Forced Walks: Honouring Esther collection. Cut Flowers runs until Sunday April 23.

B Gal remnants

image courtesy Beaumont Gallery

BGal portraitsJPG

image courtesy Beaumont Gallery

B Gal soilIn addition to work from Lorna’s practice exploring inherited trauma, the exhibition includes the Honouring Esther soil installation with sounds from the walk assembled by Richard White. On the opening night of Cut Flowers Richard created a ‘pop up installation’ of the films he had made from the walks projected over a tea service in a shed in the foyer of the Beaumont Gallery.


shedprojection tea

BGal proj

Image courtesy Beaumont Gallery

This is a joint show with Andrew Walworth who also curated the exhibition: “This exhibition comes from a need to articulate what a refugee from a foreign state means to a person living well away from the actuality of war, how refugees are perceived in the modern world – their almost universal no-status – and the way in which they are treated. I invited Lorna to exhibit as she has personal knowledge of the worst aspects of war and the subsequent fallout. Her works also act as a prompt, a historical reminder for us to think about when reading opinions about current wars and refugees.”

Click to view youtube clip of installation

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Esther Brunstein


Esther at 70

Esther Brunstein, the Esther we honour in this project and series of walks, the Esther who has been our inspiration throughout, died earlier this week.

The closing exhibition of the Honouring Esther project is deliberately timed around the Holocaust Memorial Day events. One of the objectives was to explore how we might find new ways of working with survivor testimony in the sure knowledge that they wouldn’t be with us for much longer. Esther is no longer with us.

Esther Brunstein was one of the key figures in the campaign for a Holocaust Memorial Day. She became active as a public speaker challenging Holocaust deniers during the period covered by the forthcoming film ‘Denial’ speaking at major public events and schools colleges and universities up and down the country. As a child Esther was immersed in the philosophy of the Bund, the Jewish workers socialist movement and the vibrant Yiddish culture of pre WW2 Europe, she was a passionate internationalist and human rights activist. She spoke at the United Nations on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Esther’s is one of the voices you will hear if you visit the Holocaust gallery at the Imperial War Museum. She touched thousands of lives including that of a school boy now a doctor who cared for her in her last days. He remembered her speaking at his school when he was a sixth former.

We pay our respects, celebrate her life and continue in that spirit of love and intenationalism. The exhibition will run, 26-29 Jan as advertised in Bath at 44AD Gallery.

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Honouring Esther: End of Project Exhibition

Richard White and Lorna Brunstein present documentation and new work from two walks hosted by the artists in Germany and England

  • Frome to Bath 2015 on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen
  • Ovelgonne to Belsen 2016 on the 71st anniversary of a Nazi Death March

Wednesday 25 January – Sunday 29 January 2017

Thursday to Saturday 10.00-18.00. Sunday 11.00-16.00

Click to book with Bath Spa Live for these free evening events:

Logo finalPreview

Wednesday January 25 18.00-20.00


Logo final“those we met along the way”

Absence, presence and resonances on a death march transposed to Somerset and returned: a conversation about the work and the walk.

Thursday 26 January 18.00-20.00


Logo final Holocaust Memorial Day

view the exhibition and  reflect on the themes of the day

Friday January 18.00-20.00



screen grab from Viewranger click to interactive view

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Work in progress and exhibition dates

Work in progress briefing to members of the Bristol Hannover Association. Open Meeting

Thursday April 7 19.30

Rm C117


Bath Spa University. Newton Park Campus

A chance to meet the artists and review the walk in Germany, discuss resonances form the project and hear about developing work and plans for documentation exhibition.

Lager 3, b

Exhibition of documentation and new work

44AD Gallery, Bath BA1  1NN

24-29 January 2017

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After the Walk: returning home

notes from walker Julia Simmons

Thinking about blame, and the effect of power, corrupting and changing people.
What would the SS guard have been like if circumstances were different. (Psych experiment prisoners and warders)
What ifs ….

Sharing experiences of German child witnesses. How do you live with that. Group, town, village secrets surfacing, bubbles of memories as the older generations pass.

When walking in silence thoughts roamed. The cold, the mud, and the rain seeping through to my hands. Esther’s footprints, women, young girls barely alive holding each other up for fear of the final solution the deathly bullet dumping you in the gutter.
Pat, my mother,  a young woman in London beginning her adult life career meeting her husband to be.  A year’s difference in age, in a different country, a contrasting experience bringing our family together.

Aleppo…….   We get home to news of further pressure on people to leave their homes. People like Ishmail fleeing for their lives…who will take them …who witnesses their experience….

Arrival at Birmingham airport huge police presence, Fascist demonstrators due.  Such a contrast to the warm and welcoming attitude in Winsen.

The world situation seemed ever more present in my mind   I feel angry that history continues to repeat itself. Persecution inhumanity, a lack of empathy, a lack of fellowship proliferates. It makes this project more profound. The thousands buried at Belson must continue to be acknowledged, not just for their Jewishness ( not all were) but for their existence and resistance.

Why should I be made to feel frightened of someone because they look different   Why should I not offer my hospitality to someone because they have different ancestry. Yes I may have differing values but that should not stop me offering my hand in peace.

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After the Walk: Visiting Esther

notes from Lorna Brunstein:

We returned from Germany and even though I was aware I was coming down with a cold and was also completely exhausted by the trip, I  knew I had to visit mum as soon as possible. So I went to London the following day to see her.

We had done a Skype call with her in Belsen on completion of the walk, and even though we had some difficulty with communication – mum’s hearing is poor and the signal was breaking up, it was nevertheless really heartwarming to see her. She was in good spirits and excited to see us and clearly very impressed by the technology that enabled our contact to happen – her wonderful words off camera at the end of the skype…. “now that’s what I call magic!”


photo by Julia Simmons

I visited with my daughter (Esther’s Granddaughter), Alicia. I had with me an orchid flower that Annette, our wonderful host, historian and friend in Hannover, had given us to take to mum. She had taken one flower from the orchid that we had given her as a gift, which was bought from the garden centre at Ovelgonne, very close to the site of Camp Waldeslust. Annette was very keen that mum should have this flower so we needed to get it to her as soon as possible.


Mum wanted a blow-by-blow account of our week there and I showed her all the photos we had taken on the ipad.  We talked to her about the Hohn camp which served as a makeshift hospital after liberation for those who were recovering from typhus, and when I told her that the hospital was in the ‘Roundhouse’ a former ballroom, she became quite animated and said that she was certainly there in a bed recovering but not in the ballroom as it was too crowded – she distinctly remembers being accommodated in one of the corridors. I shall take her a picture of the ballroom next time I go. belsen-roundhouse-windows_24415680529_o

We also talked about where the womens’ barracks in Belsen were to try to ascertain if she had any memory of where in Belsen she was, and when I asked her if she remembered any trees, she said very quickly that she did. Bernd Hostmann had asked me to ask her, as he felt sure that she would have been in the womens’ barracks which were in an area surrounded by trees. Her immediate affirmative response to that question confirmed for us that the place where we had left our stones and had played the kaddish was indeed the right place.


photo by Julia Simmons

I talked about the little building that Irmlinde showed us – the outside toilet block and only remaining structure of Waldeslust.  Mum did remember and I will take her the photo of it when I visit the end of this week, as she very much wants to see it. Waldeslust remains 3

I am always concerned and mindful of not wanting to churn up painful and distressing memories for mum but she says each time that it is helpful and healing for her to know that we have been to the exact place where it all happened.

She says those thoughts are with her all the time – how could they not be? Talking and sharing them for her, affirms and validates her and what she went through. It was right we went – it was our way of bearing witness.

She said again to me that she wished she could have come and walked with us and is cross with herself that she could not!

I never ever cease to be amazed by my mother’s spirit and strength. I am truly humbled by this amazing woman.

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Maps and tanks…more layers

Walking into the Commons building at Bath Spa University I was stunned to see the map still showing in satellite view on the MediaWall. BSU media wall wide

It was showing the last day of the walk, live as we had left it. My tears were not dry. I am still waking on that endless walk, a whole body anxiety that I might not get there, might not make it in time. Think of Esther and the others. Imagining myself walking. Feeling it shift and blur and decay to damp powder in my memory’s hands, like rotten wood. A flashback shock that burned with me .BSU media wall Waldeslust2

The walk had been well watched and as we learned more, we heard of a crowd gathering in front of it watching the dots of the Social Hiking beacon advance and the blue social media markers light up as we made our way live. Conversations resonated from the space. We heard of and later met a former tank driver who had been stationed at the barracks we had visited where Esther had been hospitalised. He had stood and with his work mates watched our path light up. He urgently wanted to share his experience and we stood in front of the track of our walk, looking at the satellite view of our retracing of Esther’s forced march and he identified his places. Told of his sensed echoes of Belsen survivors. Ghost in the camp. The Cold War resonates. In our heads we mapped together.BSU media wall wide Belsen

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Extinct orchids

Last day in Germany we returned to the garden centre on the edge of the slave labour camp, Waldeslust. Somehow seemed appropriate to make the full circle and to buy an orchid grown on the site. orchid wrapper

It was as if a thousand years had passed as we stepped out of the car onto the sandy soil that had once been the far corner of the Officers enclosure at Waldeslust. I did not feel as if I was the same person who had left on foot two days before.

Lorna and I walked into the garden centre and in the great swathe of strange fleshy flowers we spotted the Hambuhren orchid. Or so we thought. The orchid was to be a gift to our hosts in Hannover and the idea was to get a latin name and then perhaps to track it down in England. After much translation, phone calls, garbled yiddish and german, we came to the view that this was not the one despite its confident identification 4 days earlier.

The Hambuhren Tiger Orchid had been a local speciality but was, we were, told extinct. The image we were shown on the garden centre desktop was the same garish bloom we had seen months ago and discarded as a walk icon. The orchid shown on Monday and in our hands on Saturday with its blood stained white petals told a more intricate story. We kept that one and mused on the extinction of a flower and further ironies of Waldeslust.Zuhlke carpark

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Walk Day 2: Winsen to Belsen

thoughts and comments from Richard White:

Indifference is granular, as we walk deeper into all this, into ourselves, history and the terrain we find fewer explanations and more to make sense of. The heroic carpenter of Winsen who hid the French death march escapees is memorialised as a local hero but in his time he was shunned and considered to be a shitinthenester. Julius’s work has recently surfaced this local memory and proudly told local story, but why so late to memorialise him and why so few did not seize the moment to do the right thing. Silence of shame perhaps. Silence of consent. Silence of complicity…… What do you tell your children, what do the grandchildren ask of their grandparents. I was told stories of heroism and the Blitz. Harder to surface the small acts of resistance.

road sign Belsen3

Winsen: we gathered in the morning at the memorial stone joined by Annete Wienecke and a student, local walker Dieter from the day before and were met again by Julius. Julius set the challenge of further researching the story of the escapees, finding the military records. The Mayor came out of the townhall greeted us again and saw us off.

Walking out through the town passing perhaps the same red rooted houses Esther recalled. Who looked out those windows? What did they see?

littlredhouses wndow

A clump of trees close to the site of a shooting of a death marcher, perhaps collapsed or walking too slowly. The trees, maybe saplings then, representing the moment, perhaps embodying it. Later a more recent roadside shrine, the tree scarred, bark viciously torn, bearing witness to car crash and lives destroyed in that recent brief moment of terror. Walking on into the rain. Cold wet penetrating rain. Wind driven cold. Stinging our faces.

walk solitary towards1

We, kitted up for all weathers, stayed dry. Looking out from under hats and hoods and umbrellas. Listening intently to the sounds of the forest. Listening closely to Esther’s recorded testimony  and the words of the poets spoken by our children.

Out of the trees into flat open fields wooded paths off to right and left. Dark mud scraped off crop remnants. Piles of mechanically crushed building….what stories in the crushed concrete and bricks. Fabric almost erased and recycled for new purposes. We walk on in the cold and wind whipped drizzle. Across the fields, darkly edged with trees, in the shadows hidden and revealed by its movement, a deer.

Walk without words, thinking about exile and belonging. The rain intensifies, we become aware of our bodies. Feeling the cold, imagining the cold. The need to urinate intensifies,  death marchers forced to walk on. I stop to piss in the woods. Such a stop would have cost me my life. Looking out deep into the forest I think of escapees, hunter and hunted and those who stumbled their last and fell and were shot…

The endless road… they would not have known how far it was to go. I thought of refugee children walking with their parents today, what I would say to the question “ Are we nearly there?” Just keep walking. The rain became mist in the distance and the walkers disappeared into it. Cars hissed past. Discarded bones by the road. Walking into our bodies, the terrain walking itself. My attention is drawn to a discarded boot. Tall trees swaying, the roar and hiss of fast passing trucks and buses, a huge tractor towing logs. Pine trees, wind blown aroma. Sounds of the working forest and from the military zone tanks accumulated distant engine roar. A woodpecker ratatat sound like gunshot and I imagine an abandoned body in concentration camp stripes, exhausted, shot dead, slumped in the ditch. Discarded. Straight black wet path, ditch drain alongside. Today only discarded plastic.

At last we stop for hope, we remember Anne Frank and I hear my daughter’s voice, we think about the ideals and principles that sustained Esther. The Bund. Internationalism. In cold drizzle we listen to Paul Robeson signing The Partisans Song  and I for one was warmed. With our art we act in solidarity, this 71st anniversary is a platform to connect, as well as feel, now. I tweet and record sound and images. I read that the walk is live on the map. Connections made, resonating….

group in wood wet

Into the brooding mist of the dark forest to the historic entrance to the Bergen Belsen camp. A dash across the busy modern road that separates us. Disorderly to the stone that marks the site of the gates.  We make our last public intervention, the 10th station, Liberation. Our voices for those silenced. Here Lorna takes a soil sample.

wet path empty

…and that is how the group of walkers entered the Bergen Belsen Memorial, the site of the former death camp. Overwhelming. Looking for remains, for some sense of hard bricks and mortar truth. Out of the huge open space of mass graves and into the woods, here there are the remains of levelled foundations, preserved as clearings, the site of huts. Bernd Horstmann thinks that it is most likely that Esther was taken here, the women’s camp. Here too when she arrived somewhere, barely alive in the cold and the stink and the squalor was Anne Frank and her sister. In memory of Anne Frank and all the others here and world wide who did not make it, we stood in silence and listened to a dear friend and ‘Uncle’  Meyer Bogdanski speak the Kaddish. My sister, Julia,  produces a yellow stone from Burton beach, in memory of Pat our mother who died just after Christmas. I sob big body wrenching cries.Belsen womens camppath2

Returning to the main field undulating strangely, unnaturally, with what is buried beneath. Concealed. Thousands of bodies and the ashes of more. Sandy soil scooped up to cover and define burial sites but also to bury the remaining watchtowers and barbed wire. As if the buried remains were forcing themselves to the surface. The forest returns with wild boar and wolves, trees planted and self seeded, permitted, managed.

Finally as the light began to fail we were welcomed in to the education centre by Stephanie and Bernd.  Welcomed with food and drink. Sharing the story again, exchanging gifts. The book of names from Bernd…only a third of the victims have been named, Esther is there, he showed us and we now play our part in networking the search for names. 100,000 victims still to be named. And at last we connect with Esther via Skype. Mother sees daughter from Belsen 71 years later. A surreal encounter concludes with Esther looking out of the screen, her care home iPad showing only the top of her head and the ceiling of the care home, projected onto the Belsen class room wall. Off camera Esther’s closing remark: “Now thats what I call magic”, reduces the room to uproar, laughter and applause.

Out into the still, cold, dark, night. Warm hugs and farewells with the Belsen staff team. Returning the way we came, changed, the car headlights only illuminate the edge of the forest. No wolves howl.Woods boot

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