Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of home & place

Posts from the ‘Jewish-Euro History’ category

Past and present histories of Jewish communities and culture in AT, DE

KZ-Dachau Memorial Site: never again

Where: Dachau, 20 km northwest from Munich, Germany.
What: The blueprint by which murder became a methodical industrialized process.

I once thought I wasn’t prepared emotionally; perhaps I never would. But I couldn’t go further in my long-term examination of Germany and Jewish-German history without a visit.

It’s an overcast morning in early June, and a couple of rain showers accompany me along with a handful of other people, waiting for the site to open at 9am. A dark heavy cloak descends the moment I step through the main gate and into the site. There is dread, waiting. I promise myself to be open as much as possible, to really look and listen.

This is KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The abbreviation KZ is “Konzentrationslager für Zivilpersonen” or concentration camp for civilians, although the initial terminology used by the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) was KL for “Konzentrationslager.”

There’s a lot to absorb. And maybe, it’s best not to.

Systematic torture and unrestrained cruelty. Forced medical experiments. Arbitrary execution by hanging or gunfire. The destruction of human dignity. The annihilation of hope. This camp as a “model” to broaden the scope and scale of industrial mass-murder. The first commandant of Auschwitz in 1940, Rudolf Höss, honed a career in brutality as SS support staff and block leader at the Dachau camp in late-1934.

I had planned to stay for a few hours at most and leave around noon. I didn’t notice the time. When I finally noticed clear skies and the change in sun-angle, I check my watch. It’s almost 5pm, closing time. Eight hours have flown by outside my bubble, which begins to dissolve.

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My Vienna: Holocaust Memorial, by Rachel Whiteread

Where: Judenplatz, in Vienna’s Altstadt.
What: Holocaust Memorial, by Rachel Whiteread (2000).

How do you commemorate or memorialize the absent or missing? How should the void be acknowledged, recognized, and remembered? Does the act of constructing a physical monument “draw a line”, creating a physical manifestation of marking an end that gathers and wipes away all subsequent future responsibility for remembering?

In Vienna’s Old Town, what was unjustly and violently removed from the city’s long historical memory and cultural identity comes into shape at Judenplatz. Under the public square are ruins of the medieval synagogue destroyed in the pogrom of 1421 with hundreds of Jews driven out, hundreds killed by burning, and the community erased. Directly above these ruins is the Holocaust Memorial which attempts to generate experiences and memories to address the void left behind after the systematic murder of 65-thousand people.

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Worms’ Holy Sand: Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery

I’m looking for a “thousand-year history” in the city of Worms located in southwest Germany. This has nothing to do helminthology or nematology, as the town’s name is derived from “Warmaisa”, the former Jewish name of the city. This is about an important part of Jewish-German history and peaceful coexistence of the Judeo-Christian communities within Europe. The town’s fame and reputation is also partly derived from Martin Luther; I’ve already visited the site where Luther was on trial to answer charges of heresy, as well as the world’s largest Reformation monument.

This part of the Rhein river area is considered the “cradle of European Jewry”, known also as “little Jerusalem on the Rhine.” In medieval times, flourishing Jewish communities in the cathedral cities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz facilitated the creation of a common Jewish league with the name ShUM (SchUM), spelled out by the first letters of the Hebrew names for the three cities. To emphasize the influence of Jewish heritage in Europe and to continue the ongoing process of preservation and education, the recent application by Germany for the ShUM cities to be inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site is at present in the Tentative list (2019).

On a breezy late-autumn afternoon, light fades quick, casting solemn shadows on this ground. In the town’s old Jewish cemetery, I’m the only person present, and I’ve placed a small stone on top of a number of gravestones. I’m surrounded by apparitions over an millennium’s age and by the remaining physical traces in various shapes, stones, and size.

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Hanns-Braun-Brücke, Olympiapark, Olympiaturm, Muenchen, Munich, Bavaria, Bayern, Germany, fotoeins.com

My Munich: Memorials to the 1972 Olympics Massacre

Above/featured: Munich’s Olympic Park: Olympic Tower and the tent roof structure.

In my hockey-mad nation of birth, September 1972 is defined by the epic hockey Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union; the games and individual stories are stuff of legends. But high on my mind since childhood have been the tragic events that same month in Munich: the worst terrorist act in modern Olympics history.

The 20th Summer Olympics were under way in Munich, Germany, and “The Carefree Games” as they were called were the first summer games held in Germany since Berlin in 1936. Both Munich and Germany wanted to show a different peaceful and prosperous side to the world with the generation born after the Second World War.

However, the 1972 Games will also carry the stain of the “Munich Massacre” on 5-6 September. By crisis’ end, the 17 dead included eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team, one German police officer, and five Palestinian kidnappers. Many questions remained about pre-Game preparations and warnings about a possible attack, security measures, crisis management, and the failed attempt to liberate the hostages. Complete details of events remain murky even after 40 years. The disaster would damage the reputations of city, state, and country as well as international relations for years to come.


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IHolocaustdenkmal, Berlin, Germany, fotoeins.com

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: observations from Germany

Primo Levi, Italian-Jewish author, chemist, and Auschwitz survivor, delivered a set of essays about life and survival in Nazi extermination camps in his 1986 book “The Drowned and the Saved”. Levi wrote:

… For us to speak with the young becomes even more difficult. We see it as a duty and, at the same time, as a risk: the risk of appearing anachronistic, of not being listened to. We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experiences, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental, unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It took place in the teeth of all forecasts; it happened in Europe; incredibly, it happened that an entire civilized people, just issued from the fervid cultural flowering of Weimar, followed a buffoon whose figure today inspires laughter, and yet Adolf Hitler was obeyed and his praises were sung right up to the catastrophe. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.

On 27 January 1945, Soviet Red Army troops liberated the Nazi concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in south-central Poland. Over 1 million men, women, and children were murdered.

The United Nations declared January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day; the designation came during the 42nd plenary session of the United Stations when resolution 60/7 was passed on 1 November 2005.

Accepting and openly stating responsibility are critical first steps, but spending time, money, and effort to ensure the simple motto of “never again” is also an ongoing reality that isn’t solely up to the citizens of Germany. It’s a collective responsibility that we all should have to remain vigilant; that we all have to recognize and bolster actions which encourage and strengthen the universality of human rights, and reject the erosion and withdrawal of those rights.

I believe responsible tourism also includes paying appropriate respect at a memorial, especially the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. It’s my view this important memorial is not (supposed to be) a playground.

And yet, there’s something to be said about what it means to have freedom in the early 21st-century, allowing people to laugh and frolic in the public space, an undulating sculpture of featureless massive grey cement blocks, a testimonial to the systematic murder of millions of people.

Naturally, you have the freedom to play here, take selfies, and have a grand time. But it doesn’t mean I’m gonna laugh with you; for example: Yolocaust art project (DW 2017).

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