Al and Mike woke early and started walking as the sun rose. With warm temperatures in the upper 30s and relatively open terrain and making their way through small villages, there were able to press on and make good mileage. 19 miles. They found shelter in a partially protected park picnic enclosure and will not need to set up their tents.
Scenes for the walk | Day 7
01-27-20-Thoughts on being a documentarian
Until a year ago, I had been a wire service photojournalist for 36 years. I had documented breaking news stories, entertainment, sports, politics and pretty much whatever newspapers subscribers are interested in knowing about in the world.
After I retired, I thought about what I would like to do. History, people’s stories, strange places and learning knew things and having adventures sort of came to mind. I’ve always been impressed by writers and how they can tell such vivid and entertaining stories. However, I am visually oriented and so I decided to extend my visual story telling abilities beyond still photography. Putting all those things together and my life history, I decided to give a shot at being a documentarian.
Last September, I accompanied my long time and best friend, Al Willner, on his quest to learn more about his father’s Holocaust story. We followed his father’s footsteps from November 1938 to May 1945 which took us from Monchengladbach, Germany to Brussels to southern France, to Drancy to Poland and back to Germany. Along the way, I photographed, recorded video, wrote down thoughts and saw hundreds of original documents dating back to World War II. It was a fascinating adventure and deeply affected me emotionally and intellectually. I loved it. I was experiencing history and the places on a personal level through the incredible story of my friend’s father. Al and I renewed our friendship and it grew deeper and different now that we were 40 years older.
I set out with Al on the next phase of his father’s story…. actually walking the path that his father was forced to march from January 21st 1945 to February 2nd as concentration camps primarily located in Nazi-occupied Poland were evacuated in face of the rapid Soviet Army advances towards Germany. This massive evacuation of tens of thousand of prisoners possible up to 250,000 prisoners became known as Death Marches for their terrible toll and brutality.
Al, after extensive research in Europe, the United States, was able able to piece together the most likely route his father marched among the many that the prisoners were forced along.
We landed in Katowice, Poland on January 19th and he set-out at the exact time his father walked out of the Blechhammer concentration camp on January 21st - 75 years later. He was joined by his good buddy, Mike Bayles who has hiked extensively with Al in the US and Africa.
I had just started a blog and I was going to post daily descriptions of the walk. We discussed possible topics and themes such as the history of the Death March, the environment, the people along the way, the walk itself, the logistics, the influence of the US Air Force bombing campaign leading up the evacuation.
Though, as a photojournalist I am used to deadlines and filing photos on a timely daily basis, this was going to be something new to me. There is nothing like trial by fire. It’s been exhausting but extremely rewarding.
The Documentation process on Press On | Walk in Remembrance so far (updated version coming soon)