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The road to the East…

images from the series: “Wir sprechen Deutsch.”
by Igor Savchenko

“We speak German.”

This sentence usually is found in tourist regions all over the world and makes it is easy for us Germans to order our well know sauerkraut con wursti.

But sometimes the sound of a language turns really ugly, especially when it´s brought to you by foreign troops, as the German army did when going east, accompanied by a murderous ideology.

“In November of 1944, a Jewish Hungarian poet known for mixing innovative and classical styles, was shot into a mass grave with his notebook of last poems in his coat pocket. One of 3,200 Hungarian Jews forced by fascist militia to march hundreds of miles in retreat from Tito’s advancing armies, Miklós Radnóti remained under that mound for eighteen months before he was unearthed and later identified by his wife. What she found in that notebook damp with his body fluids were his last poems, including love poems scribbled to her, Fanni, known to her friends as Fifi. (…)”

text by
Forrest Gander



I fell beside him and his corpse turned over,?
tight already as a snapping string.?
Shot in the neck. “And that’s how you’ll end too,”?
I whisper to myself; “lie still; no moving.?
Now patience flowers in death.” Then I could hear?
“Der springt noch auf,” above, and very near.?
Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.

Poem by
Radnóti Miklós

(translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner)

“Der steht noch auf “ a German sentence in an otherwise Hungarian poem, written by Radnóti Miklós in the last minutes of his life.
He knew he would be murdered. He listened to his murderers talking.
“Der steht noch auf”, he wrote then,
quoting them.

“This one still will get up.”

“Der steht noch auf”, could easily have become a part of Igor Savchenkos projectcalled ” Wir sprechen Deutsch.” On a website that uses Russian and English as languages, only the sub/titles to this sequence of images are written out in German.

Sentences as if from a text book for the German language:

Hier ist ein Fluss. Er ist tief.
Here is a river. It is deep.

Dort steht ein Mann.
A man stands there.

Sie fuhlen sich glucklich
They feel happy.

Combined with historical images showing military personal, and set in relation to our knowledge of history, these simple sentences become as gruesome as “der steht noch auf”. With his text/image combinations Igor Savchenko manages to reflect a part of German/ Russian history, evoking horrors without having to show them.

Harmless words become ugly and make me freeze.

Er ist mein Freund. Er war mein Freund.
He is my friend. He was my friend.