Conceived as an interactive Prezi presentation, Alexandra Saemmer’s e-poem “Böhmische Dörfer” (“Bohemian/Moravian Villages”) retraces the expulsion of approximately 20,000 Sudeten Germans (Germanophone inhabitants of Bohemia and Moravia) from Brno/Brünn (Czechoslovakia) during the winter months of 1945 and 1946. After the expellees were prevented from crossing the border into Austria, they were interned in a transit camp in Pohořelice/Pohrlitz. “Le long de la route une fosse commune de 890 personnes. Mortes de quoi?” / “All along a mass grave of 890 people. What have they died of” (Alexandra Saemmer).
The e-poem consists of repetitive interconnected, yet spatially separate, textual fragments that evoke the trauma of the Sudeten Germans’ forced expulsion through the voice of both the artist and her mother who survived the Brno death march as an infant. The sequence of text fragments (122 slides in total) is non-linear, cutting back and forth between disjointed word compositions on a single canvas – at times the text itself is only partially accessible remapping the lingering voids of traumatic memory (transmission). The fractured composition concludes with a brief epilogue inserting the artist’s voice more prominently as she reflects on her own journey to Brno accompanying her mother in 2007. Saemmer’s final lines encapsulate the disjointed, and ultimately incomplete process of intergenerational memory reconstruction:
Elle se souvient de tout, dit-elle. De l’hiver.
Demande de ne pas nous approcher de près.
Comme si ça pouvait passer dans l’interdit.
J’y circule depuis.
She [our mother] remembers everything she says.
She remembers the winter.
She asks us to not get too close.
As if it could pass through the forbidden.
I move around it, since.
Whereas an earlier version of Alexandra Saemmer’s Prezi presentation included historical film footage, the current e-poem is superimposed onto an out-of-focus black and white period photograph depicting a caravan of expellees pulling horse-drawn carts through the snow.
The professional slideshow format raises some critical questions on the representation of difficult histories drawing awareness to the interplay between form, delivery, and content. As users have the option of controlling the pace of the presentation, panning across the canvas at their own speed, or activate the autoplay feature, they are encouraged to intervene in the meaning-making process.