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Posts tagged ‘Shoah’

My Vienna: Shoah Wall of Names Memorial

Above/featured: Shoah Namensmauern Gedenkstätte (Holocaust Wall of Names memorial site).

I drag my fingers gently down each stone block, across the fine indentations and the print of countless names.
I give quiet voice to names of people I see.

In Vienna’s 9th district is a small green space, Ostarrichi Park, in front of the Österreichische Nationalbank (Austrian National Bank). The park is home to the Shoah Namensmauern Gedenkstätte (Holocaust Wall of Names Memorial), dedicated to over 64-thousand Austrian Jews murdered during the Nazi regime. Public inauguration of the memorial occurred on 9 November 2021 on the 83rd anniversary of the Pogromnacht. The establishment and realization of the memorial has been a lifelong project for Vienna-born Kurt Yakov Tutter, who with his family fled to Belgium in 1930. He made a new home in Toronto, Canada, where in 2000 he began working to create a memorial to murdered Austrian Jews. The historical significance of the memorial means the City of Vienna and the Austria National Fund are jointly responsible for maintenance of the memorial.

The names of over 64-thousand children, women, and men are engraved onto 160 slabs of granite; the slabs are arranged in an oval ring. Within the open and uncovered space, visitors to the memorial can walk briskly past each vertical block, but the air is thick with names.

Selma ABZUG, geboren/born 1886
Ernst ADLER, geb./b. 1904
David ALBRECHT, geb./b. 1871
Grete ALTMANN, geb./b. 1928
.
.
.

Therese WEISZ, geb./b. 1867
Eva WELLISCH, geb./b. 1933
Alfred WERTHEIM, geb./b. 1920
Edmund WESTFRIED, geb./b. 1890

… We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened; therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.

— Primo Levi: Italian chemist, Holocaust survivor, and author.

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My Vienna: Aspang Station Deportation Memorial

“Well into the 1970s, the area around present-day Leon Zelman Park was the site of the Aspang Railway Station, which was built in 1880–1881 as a terminal for the regional Vienna-Aspang-Pitten rail line. Despite its relatively central location in the city’s 3rd district, the station served only regional rail traffic and was not very busy. These were likely reasons why after the “Anschluss” the Nazis chose this station for deportation transports.

Two transport trains departed in October 1939 with 1584 Jewish men deported to Nisko in the Lublin District of the General Governorate of occupied Poland as a failed attempt to create the Lublin reservation for expelled European Jews. Much larger deportations resumed from February 1941 to October 1942. 45451 Austrian-Jewish men and women were deported on a total of 45 transport trains to ghettos and extermination sites in (what are now) Czechia, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, and Latvia.

In Vienna, the cynically-named Nazi ‘Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung’ (Central Agency for Jewish Emigration) organized deportation efforts including forced captivity and assembly or collection points. Four internment stations were established in the city’s 2nd district where prisoners were abused and stripped of their possessions. For every transport, about one thousand people were driven to Aspang Station in uncovered trucks, in plain and open sight of the city’s population.

Of the 47035 Jewish men and women deported from Aspang Railway Station, only 1073 (2%) survived, according to the research by Austrian historian Jonny Moser, himself a survivor of the Holocaust/Shoah. In total, more than 65-thousand Austrian Jews fell victim; most of them began their road to their deaths at Aspang Station.”

•   Paraphrased from Kunst im öffentlichen Raum Wien (Art in public spaces Vienna).

After the war and Allied-occupation period, little was done to improve the station and its tracks. The station was closed in 1971 and the station building was demolished by 1977. The turn of the millennium provided momentum to both city and the national rail company for redevelopment of the area, including apartment blocks, green space, and a memorial. Today, the former railway station is Leon Zelman Park, named after Dr. Leon Zelman who established in 1980 the Jewish Welcome Service Vienna and led the organization until his passing in 2007. The inauguration of the deportation memorial occurred on 7 September 2017 with full opening to the public on the following day.


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My Prague: looking for Kafka & Palach in Olšany

Above/featured: A quiet leafy avenue in Prague’s Olšany Cemetery.

I can’t spend all this time in the Czech capital city, and leave without paying any respects to two 20th-century personalities of Prague. Franz Kafka was an early 20th-century German-Czech writer (e.g., 1912 Die Verwandlung/Metamorphosis), whose writings became known to the world posthumously, thanks to friend and fellow writer Max Brod. In the 1960s, Jan Palach was an important historical figure of opposition who died in protest against the Communist regime.

I’m in the underground metro, heading east from the city centre towards Vinohrady and beyond to Olšany. The sun’s out on a crisp mid-autumn day, and while deciduous trees are left wanting for leaves, the latter have piled like carpets of colour on the cemetery grounds. I’m looking for the graves of Palach and Kafka who are buried in Olšanské hřbitovy (Olšany Cemetery) and Nový židovský hřbitov (New Jewish Cemetery), respectively.


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Dachau: nie wieder, never again

Where: KZ-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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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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Old Jewish Cemetery, Grosse Hamburger Strasse, Berlin, Germany, fotoeins.com

Fotoeins Friday: Intl. Holocaust Remembrance Day (2017)

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day:

•   United Nations
•   Yad Vashem
•   US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Outside the Old Jewish Cemetery near Hackesche Höfe in Berlin’s Spandauer Vorstadt is Will Lammert’s sculpture “Jüdische Opfer des Faschismus” (Jewish victims of fascism). The sculpture shows men, women, and children with horror and despair on their faces, directly confronting visitors with an equally direct question: “why?”

More from me in Berlin

•   City’s oldest Jewish cemetery
•   Grunewald train station, track 17
•   Memorial to murdered Jews in Europe
•   Memorial to murdered Sinti and Roma

I made this photograph on 21 November 2012 with the Canon EOS450D, 18-55 kit-lens, and the following settings: 1/25s, f/5, ISO800, and 28mm focal length (45mm full-frame equivalent). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-8WN.

Berlin Grunewald: no train will ever leave track 17 again

Present in the vicinity of a train station are very distinct and familiar sounds: the racket of heavy locomotives chugging down the rail and the screech of high-friction braking. A breeze sweeps through two columns of trees, creating a low keening sound which escapes into the open space beyond. To stop and listen, the sounds could easily be human: faint shouts and cries. Are they tricks of the mind, or are the dead speaking? The spectre of cruelty, despair, and suffering clings to the abandoned track; seven decades in the past don’t seem very far.

On a cool grey late-autumn afternoon, I’m on an S-Bahn train heading towards Potsdam. Beyond the limits of the “Stadtbahn” and one stop beyond the “Ring” at Westkreuz, the train pulls into the former goods and freight station at Grunewald. Dropping into the underground passage, signage points to the memorial at track 17. I leave the station by the southeast exit, and turn left to ascend the ramp along the side street.

In the Berlin borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Grunewald station lies on the S7 S-Bahn line serving central Berlin city, the city of Potsdam to the southwest, and Ahrensfelde to the northeast in the Berlin borough of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. Grunewald station began operation in 1879 under its original name Hundekehle named after a nature reserve nearby. The station changed its name to “Grunewald” in 1884 when the old Grunewald station began its new life as “Halensee” station. Grunewald station and its tracks were incorporated into Berlin’s S-Bahn train network in 1928.

Many companies including the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Rail) were actively complicit in the machinery of mass murder during Nazi rule. After reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the two separate railways also merged to form Deutsche Bahn in 1994, and calls arose for the new company to acknowledge its dark past. To mark the Reichbahn’s collaboration in deporting people to camps and their deaths, present-day Deutsche Bahn AG established a memorial at track 17. Inaugurated in 1998 the memorial was designed and built by architects Hirsch, Lorch, and Wandel who were very mindful of the 1991 Karol Broniatowski memorial near the station’s entrance.

Along track 17, metal plates have been inserted, one for every transport train which took Berlin’s Jews to their deaths. Each plate includes the transport date, the number of people deported, and the transport’s destination. The first train of record departed Grunewald on 1941 October 18 when 1251 Jews were deported to Łódź. Another plate marks the last train of record (so far) leaving Grunewald on 1945 March 27 when 18 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt; blank plates leave room for additional commemorations with new uncovered information. More than 50-thousand Jews from Berlin were deported from this station alone. The first set of trains went to concentration-camps in eastern Europe, but by the end of 1942, trains were directed to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt.

The vegetation that’s been left to grow around the track over the years is a visible symbol and an unspoken promise to all: that no train will leave track 17 ever again.

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Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

My Heidelberg: Synagogue Square and Pogromnacht

It happens every time without fail.

My spirit breaks a little more every time I see a memorial, another example of the depths to which our species have plumbed.

Does feeling this way make me weak? Or am I resembling a human being after all?

I often hear a common chorus:

history is hard, history is boring, why should I care?

I can’t decide what’s worse: the rise of the far-right or blatant willful ignorance.


A Mob of Broken Glass

From the evening of 9 November to the following morning of 10 November 1938, Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”) was a “pogrom”, a coordinated series of violent attacks by Nazis against the Jewish people and their property in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslavakia’s Sudetenland. Pogromnacht (or Reichspogromnacht) is a truer description; the “prettier sounding” Kristallnacht hides the brutality of “the night of (broken) crystal” referring to broken shattered glass from windows to synagogues, homes, and stores owned by Jews. Aside from a few who intervened, most stood aside and watched people and property burn.

The word “pogrom” is a late 19th- to early 20th-century Russian word (“погром”), derived from the verb “gromit” (громи́ть) meaning “to destroy with violence.” While “pogrom” is used generally to describe mob violence by one ethnic or religious group on another, the term is used in this post to describe attacks on the Jewish community.

The numbers across the country were appalling: at least 90 dead, hundreds injured, 30000 arrested and detained in concentration camps, up to 2000 synagogues burned, over 7000 Jewish businesses damaged or destroyed. With one more insult, the Jewish community was forced to pay for damage to their own property. The outbreak of coordinated actions against Jewish people marked the beginning of state-sanctioned violence. With the Pogromnacht, the state no longer hid their hate and escalated their savagery as a turning point directly leading to the Holocaust.

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Shalechet, Shalekhet, Fallen Leaves, Menashe Kadishman, Jewish Museum Berlin, Berlin, Germany, Deutschland, fotoeins.com

My Berlin: Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves), Jewish Museum

The Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district is one of the most visited museums in the German capital. Millions from around the world have visited the museum since its opening in late-2001. With the unique architectural vision and building design by Daniel Libeskind, the museum does not set aside the history of the Jewish community within Germany as being separate from the history of the country as a whole. Instead, there is conscious effort by Libeskind and the Museum to have visitors consider how the historical, cultural, art, literature, music, intellectual, scientific, and economic contributions from the Jewish community are tied inextricably with the history of Germany over the span of two millennia. These very issues and questions are now also driving discussions about the present state and evolution of the Turkish and other expatriate communities within Germany.

One sculpture in particular is both poignant and disturbing.


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