Numbers. Beate Passow

After the successful presentation of Ceija Stojka’s pictures the Jewish Museum Vienna shows a selection of works by the German photo artist Beate Passow at the Museum Judenplatz. “I have the Auschwitz number tattooed on my left forearm … When I tell myself and the world I am Jewish, I mean the realities and possibilities that the Auschwitz number represents”. This is how Jean Améry summarized the inedible effect that Nazi torture and Auschwitz had on this future existence. The total number of people exterminated in the Auschwitz complex is put at 1.1 to 1.5 million. More than 400,000 inmates were originally classified on arrival as capable of work and were given a tattooed number. Only 65,000 escaped the extermination machine. In the mid-1990 Beate Passow visited survivors with her camera to create the documentary photo series “Numbers”, which unambiguously demonstrates the horrors of imprisonment in Auschwitz.

In the scope of this project Beate Passow took photos of the tattooed forearms of persons who were imprisoned in the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. The counted persons are nameless. Today, they live in different European countries or in Israel. These persons have grown old. But they have survived and communicate with us through their mere existence. Their tattooed forearms tell us what happened to them: the Nazis have reduced them to countable material; they have wandered through life with these marks on their arms. Beate Passow’s landscape format photos show nothing but the forearms with the tattooed number clearly visible. By lining up these 40 pictures the common denominator of this dehumanization becomes apparent: Even more than the Star of David these numbers stand for coercion, oppression, mechanization and convey the unbelievable.

Curator: Reinhard Geir