Otto Dov Kulka
Otto Dov Kulka lives in two worlds: the external one and an internal one. For a long time, he kept the two worlds strictly separate from each other. Born in the ill-fated year of 1933, he devotes himself in his work life to Jewish historical studies. His research on secret National Socialist opinion analyses gives evidence for the first time of the comprehensive responsibility of the German population in the ostracizing and murder of the Jews. Kulka finds it crucial to emphasize that the focus in his research on Shoah is not a result of his personal involvement. “I arrived at that place coming from the depths of history, and not out of Auschwitz.”
At the age of nine, he is taken forcibly along with his mother from a small Moravian town to Theresienstadt. One year later, in September 1943, they are deported to the concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, they are placed in the so-called “Theresienstadt Family Camp”, which existed for nearly a year to mislead foreign observers. It is rudimentarily possible for prisoners there to maintain a cultural life. Self-organized education for the children and youth takes place. It is here, on this site in direct proximity to the gas chambers, that Kulka discovers his connection to music and literature. “Auschwitz made me a humanist”, he summarizes.
Until a few years ago, Otto Dov Kulka does not speak about his childhood in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Tirelessly, but in isolation, he records his personal history through diary entries. In writing, he explores his memory, records his dreams and daydreams, ponders, describes, tries to understand and to interpret. Over the decades he forms a dense web of memories, associations, metaphors and dreams: his inner world. Even today, he retreats into his writing and wanders through landscapes shaped by his childhood memories. For him, although these are set in the “Metropolis of Death”, they are a place of freedom and solitude where he also finds comfort in times of need.
Faced with a serious illness, in 1997 Kulka decided to make his inner world accessible to the outside. 15 years later, “Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death”, his first non-scientific work, is published – a small excerpt of his diary entries and audio recordings. The book achieves the impossible: it invents a wholly new language for living with Auschwitz. It has since been translated into 17 languages and awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis for Literature and the Jewish Quarterly’s Wingate Prize.
Otto Dov Kulka
Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death
Reflections on Memory and Imagination