Wednesday night I attended a screening and panel discussion of THE LABYRINTH, a 37-minute award-winning documentary about Marian Kolodziej by Ron, Jason, Gregory and Arthur Schmidt. (Fr. Ron Schmidt, S.J., was married before he became a priest; his three sons by his late wife collaborated with him on the film). The program was entitled Blood and Ink.
Kołodziej was a well-known theater artist an Polish resistance fighter during WWII who was arrested by the Nazis and arrived in the first transport of prisoners to Auschwitz. There he lived, as No. 432 (the inmates were stripped of even their names), for 4 1/2 years. For almost fifty years afterward he kept silence, telling no-one besides his beloved wife Halina that he had even been in the camp. "I did not speak about Auschwitz," he observed. But nevertheless throughout that whole time Auschwitz was present in everything I did." Then, in 1993, he had a stroke and, as part of his rehabilitation, began drawing. A "mysterious presence" pushed him to continue. He found himself in dialogue with "living memory."
The result was a stupendous outpouring of drawings, filling many rooms, that he called "The Labyrinth." "...This is not an exhibit, nor art, nor images, but words contained in designs," he said of his work. They are housed in the basement of St. Maximilian Kolbe Franciscan Church in Harmeze, Poland, located near Auschwitz.
"Marian was in the same roll call and cell block as Fr.Maximilian Kolbe, who voluntarily took the place of a prisoner condemned to death and was subsequently executed. This self-less act became legendary inThis is eyewitness testimony that is unique in the annals of documenting the Holocaust. Marian is a Polish Catholic, who has used his drawings to give testimony to the horrors of
Auschwitz and inspired the entire camp---somehow an act of love and courage stood as a testament to good in the face of overwhelming evil. Marian’s numerous drawings of Kolbe are stark and iconographic. Kolbe is now a saint in the Catholic Church.
|KOŁODZIEJ DRAWING OF FR. MAXIMILIAN KOLBE|
Strangely, the film is not without hope. Many of the drawings depict small acts of kindness. In the camps, your bowl--a kind of terrible chalice--was everything: the receptacle for watery soup; a pillow; in the freezing-cold nights, a toilet. Once, forced to climb trees to escape the jaws of the snarling guard dogs below (this was apparently a kind of sport for the SS; many of the men, stranded on branches that could not bear their weight, fell to their deaths), Kołodziej climbed so high that for a moment, he could see the gaily painted houses in the village below. The glimpse of a world outside the barbed wire sustained him for years.
"These are my most deeply carved-in wounds. This is my nakedness and shame."
EMIL NOLDE, 1912, oil on canvas