The Little White House - Representation and Memory

Bunker II or “the Little White House” as it came to be known, had a life before the Holocaust as a Silesian farmhouse typical of the region surrounding Auschwitz. Following the occupation of the region by the Nazis, the house was altered to become one of the first gas chambers in the concentration camp, its windows sealed with bricks and its doorframes with strips of felt. It was responsible for the death of thousands of people before being destroyed in the fall of 1944.

The few drawings that attest to its existence and function were rendered from memory soon after the liberation of the camp. Of those, the drawing by Szlama Dragon is perhaps the most extraordinary. It remains the only planimetric drawing of the Little White House completed by a survivor, but its use beyond a gestural understanding remains at first unclear. The proportions of the house appear drastically distorted in comparison to the extant foundations, to the extent that the drawing, although often used by scholars as the basis for depicting the house’s interior layout, is so disproportionate as to be effectively unscalable. In fact we believe the drawing is first and foremost a painful “psychogeography.” It is not a plan of the physical space, but a depiction of containment. Four rooms of decreasing size demarcate a sequence of increasingly private spaces. The fourth is only the width of the door. The drawing is a visual document which uses the architectural plan to reveal the horror and solitude of death.

The devastating emotion which finds its way onto Dragon’s drawing is but one example of the house overwhelming attempts to represent it, from a much larger set of attempts by survivors to record their memories of the sites made complicit in murder. What could have made a Polish surveyor working for the Soviet investigation commission rotate the plan of the Little White House, a plan that would have been clearly visible in the remaining foundations? We can only imagine his state of mind. In the error embedded within these recollections lie the seeds of an existential trauma. But despite inaccuracies in geometry, possibly even because of them, the entirety of the darkness, the essence of the feeling of this place, remains tangible and can be communicated. The error is the evidence of humanity.

Our proposed Holocaust memorial interprets the specific forms of the two houses – the real and the remembered. Szlama Dragon’s drawing, completed on May 11, 1945, is built from glass and rests upon a plinth the same size as the existing foundations. The visitor experiences the Little White House on an intimate scale through four transparent corridors of increasing solitude and self-reflection. As a conscious counterpoint to this experiential quality, information panels explain the Little White House’s role in the mass murders of Auschwitz within the context of broader questions about memory and the Holocaust. Alluding to the intractable complexities which relate the Holocaust to its site and memory, a space for remembrance opens up within a space defined by memory.

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