Report by Jan Casper, Sara Elkmann, Linda Graul, Malte Grünkorn, Lily Prollius (FU Berlin, Public History)
On October 17th 2019, about 29 students and six teachers from universities in Germany, Norway, Poland and Latvia met in Gdansk to start a ten-day interdiscplinary workshop on memories and representations of World War II history in general and the history of the Hamburg deportations of Jews, Sinti and Roma in particular. Under the auspices of the workshop title «Memory Dialogues», students from ten different countries and diverse disciplinary backgrounds in journalism, design, media production and public history came together to discuss different approaches and strategies to commemorate Nazi crimes. The workshop has been a cooperation between the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Ostwestfalen-Lippe and the project «Documentation Center Hanover Station Memorial», which, as a part of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, is developing a new permanent exhibition in Hamburg’s HafenCity to be opened in 2022. Volda University College, Freie University of Berlin (FU, Public History), University of Bergen, University Łódz, the Latvian Academy of Culture in Riga, the Stutthof Concentration Camp Memorial, the Marek Edelman Dialogue Center in Łódz and the Žanis-Lipke-Museum in Riga joined the project as partners.
The Hanover Station Memorial and its future Documentation Center commemorate over 8000 Jews, Sinti and Roma from Hamburg and Northern Germany who were deported to Ghettos and Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. The deportation of over 750 Jews from Hamburg to Riga on December 6th 1941 served as the workshop’s historical framework. This is why the participants travelled from Gdansk to the Latvian capital and finished their workshop in Sztutowo/Stutthof Museum, since most of the Hamburg Jews who survived the Ghetto and Camps in Latvia were eventually send to Stutthof Concentration Camp.
In the following text, the Berlin students report on the workshop and its outcomes, namely the five different concepts for the entrance hall in the soon-to-come Documentation Center Hanover Station Memorial the workshop was ought to produce.
THE WORKSHOP IN GDANSK, RIGA AND SZTUTOWO
After arriving in Gdansk separately and having already had a glimpse of this beautiful city, all members of the workshop met for the first time. First the teachers and students introduced themselves and were divided into five sub-groups. Each group consisted of one student from every country and university – thus, the international and interdisciplinary work could start immediately. In addition, Neuengamme’s representative Sarah Grandke finally answered the big question of what kind of assignment the groups would work on during the 10 days: We were supposed to think about a concept for a wall in the foyer of the future Documentation Center. Sarah gave us some information about the original Hanover station, of which not much is left, as well as some thoughts about the future exhibition and the entrance hall in which “our” wall would be located.
The next morning started with short presentations by us Public History students. The presentation were designed to work as a starting point for the workshop and to make sure that everybody would be on equal footing when it came to the basic historic frameworks concerning the German Occupation politics, the Deportation routes, the history of Camp Jungfernhof, the Riga Ghetto and the concentration camp Stutthof.
Afterwards, we were given assignments for our conclusive visit to the Second World War Museum in Gdansk, which was the next stop for the group. The assignment was to go through the exhibition and find something that either touched us or disturbed us or something we just considered the most beautiful. We had to take photos of the respective objects or installations and then discuss our choices in the concept groups, where we had to decide which photo to present to the other groups on the following day. After getting a good impression of the exhibition, the concept groups came together to share their impressions of the museum. The assignment was a great starting point to discuss what makes an exhibition good, weird, or boring. The discussion of what different objects mean to different visitors and how a museum’s architecture affects the visitor proved fruitful for our further considerations concerning our own concepts.
The next step in the workshop programme brought us to Riga. There we started with a guided tour through the site of the former ghetto. Claus Friede, who joined our group with five of his students from the Latvian Academy of Culture for the following three days, gave us a very elaborate tour. This was especially important because there are hardly any traces of the ghetto in Riga left, and only a few commemorative signs point to its former structure. After Mr. Friede walked us through the remnants of the ghetto, we went to the Riga Ghetto Museum, which is not located in the former ghetto but includes some mock-up fences and gates. There we saw a reconstruction of a typical ghetto house as well as a memorial wall with all the names of the Jews who were forced to live in the ghetto. In the afternoon, we visited the Žanis Lipke memorial. In Latvian memory culture the story of Žanis Lipke (and his wife Johanna) is a striking example of how a family did a good deed and was able to save 56 Jews from the Nazi persecution by hiding them in the basement. At these places, multiple stories we had been tracing converged, as we were now dealing not only with the history of deportations of Jews from within the «Reich», but also with the history of the Holocaust in Latvia.
The next day was one of the most memorable days, as we went to the memorial sites in the forests of Rumbula and Biķernieki. In Rumbula, about 27 500 people were murdered in the Winter of 1941, for Biķernieki the estimates range between 35 000 and 46 500 people. There we were able to commemorate the victims and contemplate on the monstrosity and scale of the crime that was committed by the Nazis. In the afternoon, Ilya Lensky, Director of the Museum of Jews in Latvia, guided us through the museum.
At the museum that also serves as community center for Riga’s Jewish community, we had the honour to meet Marģers Vestermanis, who is not only a survivor of the Riga Ghetto and Kaiserwald Concentration Camp, but also the founder of the museum. The group felt very privileged to be able to have this opportunity. Meeting Mr. Vestermanis was not only a very personal and emotional experience, but he greatly influenced the workshop participants in the way they would work on the concepts for the memorial in Hamburg. Our last stop in Riga brought us to the site of the former «Gut Jungfernhof», a camp were all Jews from Hamburg, as well as Deportees from Nuremberg, Vienna and Stuttgart were taken to in December 1941. Currently concepts are being developed to make the places’s history visible at a site that today is a recreational area, which is a similar situation to the Hanover Station in Hamburg.
After the emotional and informative stay in Riga, that gave us many new insights into the history of the Nazi atrocities and the way they are remembered, we went back to Gdańsk and from there directly to Sztutowo.
To begin with, the schedule in Sztutowo was far less busy than it was in both Gdańsk and Riga – not only did we have time to work on the concepts, but also to reflect on what we had experienced throughout the previous days. The first item on the Sztutowo agenda consisted in a guided tour through the Stutthof concentration camp memorial. Given to the group by Danuta Ochoka, the focus was put on the final years of the concentration camp’s existence and the link between Riga and Sztutowo. This meant to provide us with another inside look on how historical contents in general, and the Holocaust in particular, are represented and dealt with in Poland. Moreover, we were able to establish a distinction between how Polish commemorative culture takes shape in the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk and in the Stutthof Museum. Last but not least, we were able to focus on the final points of the Hamburg deportations, – and not just the starting and intermediate points – thus coming to a full circle. Back at the accommodation, we were given the opportunity to properly work on our concepts with intense ideation, in-group discussion (sometimes at the brink of serious confrontation) and continuous revision. On the last day in Sztutowo, we presented our final concepts to the fellow participants of the workshop as well as the concentration camp memorial staff; providing the Gedenkort denk.mal Hannoverscher Bahnhof/Hanover Station Memorial with five concepts that are more or less ready to be used.
5 CONCEPTS FOR THE ENTRANCE WALL IN THE DOCUMENTATION CENTER HANOVER STATION MEMORIAL
While all projects centered around the notions of re-humanization of the deportees, involving the visitor in some kind of conscious reflection process and embracing the idea of “memory as a task”, the spectrum of their concrete realizations spanned from the use of “brick-and-mortar” analogue solutions to the deployment of interactive cross-medial installations fusing screens, haptic elements and augmented reality.
The first concept combined the imageries of the Jewish tree of life and the autumnal trees and leaves that dominated the scenery at the Rumbula and Bikernieki forest memorials with an impetus to make the visitor actively discover or unearth the history of the Hamburg deportations him- or herself. A screen would cover the entirety of the respective wall in the entrance hall, showing some kind of representation of leaves falling onto and thus slowly covering railroad tracks. The visitors’ movements in front of the wall would cause the leaves to whirl around in the air, further intriguing them to pay closer attention to the installation. At closer examination, a visitor would notice that some of the whirling leaves were bearing the names of deportees, which he or she could then explore further via an AR based exhibition-accompanying media app.
In comparison to most other concepts, which tended to strongly rely on direct visitor-installation-interaction, the second concept’s main component consisted of a more subtle interaction based on a video-installation. This installation sought to evoke a sense of entanglement of memory and emotion by juxtaposing historic and contemporary images of displacements, war crimes and their victims with emotionally loaded large-scale projections of words like “love”, “hope” and “fear”. While the movie would be on constant display within the entrance hall, its sound would only be audible when stepping under the sound showers installed right in front of the screen. This installation would not only catch the eyes of strollers passing by the entrance hall’s glass window front, but would also subtly involve the visitor by depicting mirrored names of deportation victims as well as further emotions. The visitor would only be able to decipher these words on his or her way out of the museum, where a mirror facing the video wall would be installed next to another small video screen. By looking at the mirror and the second screen, the visitor would connect the deciphered words to imagery of current anti-Semitic and antigypsy events, but also acts of solidarity, commemoration and recognition today, thus leaving the visitor reflect on what he or she just learned and on what he or she could do him- or herself.
Concept number three was informed by the notion of memory as a task, presenting the workshop with a movable matrix-style array of stone cubes. This installation would force the visitor to actively take part and try to turn the different cubes in order to discover that all of them are mechanically connected, so that if one cube flips its counterpart is moved, too. The four different sites of the cubes would represent different aspects of selected deportees’ stories, made up of pictures, text (German, English and Braille) and other media. The turning of the cubes would, like a Rubik’s cube, create a variety of different story patterns. Because different story arrays would be on display constantly, the installation would also work as a piece of art the visitors could just look at. At the same time, it would evoke a strong sense of memory being continuously (re-)constructed and thus invite the visitors to think about the artificiality of memories and their representations. The physicality of this installation brings many realization options to the table; for instance, the different cubes could be made of different minerals and materials symbolizing different emotions or tangible locations associated with the deportations.
Concept number four is ought to involve the visitors in an interactive and performative setting: It uses both the idea and the physical experience of ringing a doorbell to get in touch with the stories of victims, survivors and perpetrators that made up the society of Third Reich Hamburg. Subsequently, one of the entrance hall’s walls is going to be made up of a semi-analogue/semi-digital video screen wall covered in doorbells, which will be mounted on top of the screen, providing the visitors with both a haptic experience and a possibility to connect with a historic object. Ringing one of the many doorbells will lead to an explosion of associative video bits juxtaposed with and heavily relying on an elective soundscape, e.g. the nightly banging on a wooden door or the rattling of a heavy train. In this setting, the visitor, for a few seconds, becomes a traveler in time, briefly glimpsing at one of the many histories behind the deportations, stimulating his or her sense of historical imagination and making him or her want to take an even deeper dive into this history. The video bits will provide an ultra-short glimpse at an artistic representation of a significant moment within the respective family‘s or individual‘s life. Using doorbells as envoys of a historic community, this installation will attempt to tell the history of the Hamburg deportations as the history of a formerly functioning society torn apart, of neighbors turning against each other.
Last but not least, concept number five put a strong emphasis on the politics and social dynamics that led to the deportations and the subsequent exterminations by focusing on the process of othering and labeling Jews, Roma and Sinti in Third Reich Hamburg. Within the installation, this process would be visualized by an artistic representation of historic Hamburg street life based on unidentifiable silhouettes on the sidewalks. These silhouettes would then increasingly be visually labeled and classified as “Jews” or “Gypsy”. Every labeled individual would disappear eventually, marking the void the deportations would leave in the city’s society. This installation would include a smart screen able to serve as a screen and a mirror at the same time, making it possible to include visual representations of the visitors at any time during the screening of the street life situation. Thus, the installations would build a bridge between the historic and the contemporary society of Hamburg, intriguing the visitors to question what their role within the historic setting might have been and how they want to interact with their communities today.