In 1975, DeWitt Sage spent several months at Camp Traiskirchen, Austria, making To America, a documentary that followed the journeys of two families and one single man who had escaped from behind Eastern Europe’s Iron Curtain and would eventually emigrate to America. Filmed on the eve of the Bicentennial, To America sought to capture the experience of new immigrants and update a defining theme of American history – as least, for those who came by choice.
Yesterday we drove to Camp Traiskirchen, an enormous stone building whose grass park is surrounded by a high wall and filled now with tents. It is still a holding place for refugees, although its 900-person capacity has swelled at times to 4,500, and conditions of life inside were recently the subject of a scathing report by Amnesty International. Yet every day more refugees try to get into the camp, which yesterday was pronounced full and temporarily closed.
“Where will we go,” the outsiders asked? To Vienna, perhaps, or to local parks to sleep.
The streets around the camp are filled with a chaos that has spawned individual acts of great kindness, frustrated and at times ill-mannered responses, and bewilderment. Neither police nor overwhelmed camp officials seem to have any idea what is happening. Volunteers arrive continually in private cars to distribute water, food and clothes, which are at times discarded by disgruntled recipients. Angels of Mercy: Young people from across Europe and America have come to offer help, including Francesca Petersen, Julia Dragosits and Simone Korner, three young photography students from Die Graphische School, who acted as interpreters with the police and managed to summon an ambulance for a mother desperate about her non-responsive son.
Many photos by DeWitt Sage.