New German feature film about the preparation of the Auschwitz Trials, and the Trials themselves:
@ 2014-11-20 – 23:09:09
@ 2014-11-17 – 20:12:27
"Flight, Expulsion, Confusion" is the title of an article today in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Apparently, the expert advisory committee entrusted by the Flight, Expulsion, Conciliation Foundation with conceptualising the new Deutschlandhaus exhibition on flight and expansion is not happy with the Foundation's director, Manfred Kittel. It seems that the Foundation brought in, or at least was involved in bringing in an exhibition from Greece called "Remembering Violent Migration". The advisory committee was not consulted. When it saw the exhibition - which has recently opened in the German Historical Museum in Berlin - it protested against the fact that the representation of the flight and expulsion of Germans begins in 1945, excising or at least marginalising the story of the Nazi crimes that went before. So this part of the exhibition has now been removed. Problems also surfaced in the wake of the Foundation's presentation of a kind of rough draft of the proposed Deutschlandhaus exhibition because the draft appeared to place central emphasis on the flight and expulsion of Germans, rather than it being one focus among others. It appears the advisory committee had not been properly consulted about this draft exhibition. Strange goings on, then, in the Foundation. It appears the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing - and it seems, too, that the right hand is quite eager to keep the left hand as uninformed, and as uninvolved, as possible.
@ 2014-11-10 – 12:04:16
Last week, I visited Karlsruhe – Nottingham’s twin city (though I wish Nottingham would do more to support ties between the two cities). The occasion was a symposium on German memory. The particular aim was to discuss what to do with a memorial constructed in the 1960s in Karlsruhe. It is dedicated to the 35th Infantry Division, a division of the Wehrmacht that was clearly involved in war crimes against civilians in the occupied Soviet Union during the Second World War. It seems that the Party known as ‘Die Linke’ – a party to the left of the SPD – wants the memorial removed, whereas the consensus among the other parties is that the memorial should be retained, but supplied with an appropriately critical commentary, perhaps on an information board or stele. It certainly would be a pity to remove it, because it is one of few Federal Republic memorials dedicated solely to the Wehrmacht, and therefore can be used – if effectively framed – to shed light on West German memory in the 1950s and 1960s (there are more memorials from the post-war period to the Wehrmacht than I realised, however, as the case of Tübingen discussed during the symposium demonstrated).
At the end of the symposium, speakers gathered round in a podium discussion to offer suggestions as to what to do with the memorial. Hannes Heer suggested constructing a building nearby to house an exhibition on the history of the regiment. Certainly it will be hard to provide the necessary information on a so-called information stele. The crimes in which the division were implicated, in March 1944, occurred in and around the camp of Osarichi (Byelorussia), set up to hold women, children and old men and women in the course of civilian deportations triggered by the German withdrawal. As the Soviets advanced, the Germans seized able-bodied male civilians for purposes of slave labour, and concentrated the remaining ‘useless eaters’ (a term actually used in the documents) in camps. Some 40,000 people were brought to Osarichi, where about 9,000 of them had died of starvation and/or typhus before the Red Army arrived. Telling this story – which is also connected to the Nazi policy of scorched earth – is not easy, not least because the precise role of the division in the crimes concerned is difficult to pinpoint, but also because the historical context would need to be set out at some length to enable visitors to understand it. So Heer’s suggestion of an exhibition house was a good one. I, for my part, pleaded for a countermemorial at the site of the Wehrmacht memorial (see German below). Further suggestions included combining such a countermemorial with a (possibly permanent and central) exhibition in Karlsruhe either on the history of the division, or on Karlsruhe’s military history more generally (Karlsruhe has long been a garrison town). We will see how things develop…
More on the symposium at
Excerpt from my talk:
[…] Zu der Frage der 35. Infanterie-Division komme ich erst gegen Schluβ. Mein Wissen ist hier sehr begrenzt. Ich weiss zum Beispiel nicht, ob es andere umstrittene Denkmäler dieser Art in Deutschland gibt. Denkmäler, die an die toten deutschen Soldaten beider Weltkriege erinnern, gibt es allerdings sehr viele. Heute werden andere über das Problem des Karlsruher Denkmals reden, die fachkundiger sind als ich. Trotzdem möchte ich ein paar Überlegungen zu diesem Problem anstellen. In Berlin steht ein Denkmal, das an die Opfer des Krieges und der Gewaltherrschaft erinnert, auch der Gefallenen. Die Neue Wache. Es erinnert damit also auch an die toten Wehrmachtssoldaten. An welche? Alle? Die Widmung ist sehr allgemein gehalten. Es bleibt dem Besucher überlassen, eine eigene Interpretation zu liefern. Man kann also in Deutschland sehr wohl allgemein der eigenen Gefallenen ehrend gedenken, obwohl sich darunter Soldaten und ganze Einheiten befinden, die Kriegsverbrechen begangen haben. Und doch scheint es allen klar, dass das Karlsruher Denkmal, das an eine Division erinnert, die nachweislich an Kriegsverbrechen beteiligt war, nicht akzeptabel ist – auch wenn es in dieser Division sicherlich zumindest einige Soldaten gegeben hat, die nicht an diesen Verbrechen beteiligt waren. Ist das ein Widerspruch? Bei allgemeinen Widmungen an die Gefallenen insgesamt gerät die Frage der Täterschaft aus dem Blickfeld; alle werden im Rückblick zu Opfern. Sobald man aber einer spezifischen Division gedenkt, die zu irgendeinem Zeitpunkt nachweislich Kriegsverbrechen begangen hat, ist die Täterschaft nicht mehr zu übersehen. Zumindest heute nicht mehr. Nur indem man im Falle der Neuen Wache das Spezifische zugunsten des Allgemeinen oder gar Vieldeutigen auflöste, konnte man die konkreten Verbrechen verschwinden lassen.
Was soll man also machen mit dem Denkmal für die 35. Infanterie-Division? Man kann ihm natürlich ein Gegendenkmal zur Seite setzen, wie das in Hamburg der Bildhauer Alfred Hrdlicka gemacht hat. Das Ehrenmal für das Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 76, 1936 eingeweiht, wurde nicht abgerissen, sondern sozusagen in Kontrast zu Hrdlickas zwischen 1983 und 1986 gebautem kriegskritischem Mahnmal gesetzt. Wegen Geldmangels wurde Hrdlicka nicht fertig. Die Teile “Soldatentod” und “Frauenbild im Faschismus” wurden nie realisiert. Hier bietet sich also die Möglichkeit an, das, was in Hamburg nicht fertig wurde, in Karlsruhe zu Ende zu führen. Allerdings steht Hrdlickas Mahnmal am Anfang einer Gegendenkmaltradition, die inzwischen viel subtiler und komplexer geworden ist. Eine zweite Möglichkeit wäre, durch die Architektur des Denkmals einen Keil zu treiben, wie in Nürnberg auf dem ehemaligen Reichsparteitagsgelände. Allerdings handelt es sich im Falle des Denkmals für die 35. Infanterie-Division nicht um ein Nazi-Denkmal. Man kann natürlich auch irgendeinen Text vor das Denkmal stellen, oder es ganz entfernen, aber das erste scheint mir zu langweilig, und das zweite zu mutlos und wahrscheinlich für die Nachfahren der Soldaten nicht akzeptabel. Das besonders Interessante an diesem Fall ist, dass dieses Denkmal 1964 eingeweiht wurde. Tatsächlich gibt es hier die Chance, sich mit früheren bundesrepublikanischen Gedenktraditionen auseinanderzusetzen, statt sie einfach stillschweigend hinzunehmen, zu überschreiben oder ersetzen. Und von daher würde ich dann doch eher für eine Art Gegendenkmal plädieren, eines, das sich im Gegensatz zu Hrdlickas aber direkt mit dem Denkmal der Infanterie-Division auseinandersetzt – und zwar ästhetisch wie auch in der Botschaft. Man könnte dazu sicherlich auch eine Informationstele anbringen. Nur sollte dieses Gegendenkmal eines sein, das die Bürger anspricht und Reaktionen hervorruft. Es wäre schade, wenn man ein Gegendenkmal bauen würde, das sich zum Beispiel damit begnügt, festzustellen, dass die Bundeswehr von heute eine weit bessere Institution ist als die Wehrmacht. Denn das wissen wir ja alle. Es sollte keine transzendierende Botschaft bringen – nach dem Motto, wir machen das heute viel besser – sondern Fragen stellen. Denn das Problem, das aus Zivilisten Wehrmachtsoldaten und aus Wehrmachtsoldaten Mörder wurden, mag ein Problem der Vergangenheit sein. Aber das Problem, das aus normalen Bürgern Rassisten und Mörder werden, ist ein Problem auch der Gegenwart. Ein Problem in vielen europäischen Ländern. Vielleicht könnte man mit einem Gegendenkmal auch darüber nachdenken.
@ 2014-10-29 – 21:12:18
Not Poppies Again…
Members of my family are all agog at Cummins and Piper’s ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ currently to be admired at the Tower of London: 888,246 ceramic poppies recall the sacrifices of British servicemen during the First World War. A pity noone thought to include those Commonwealth soldiers who also lost their lives in a war that must have made very little sense to them, especially if they were living in India. That’s not my main problem with ‘Blood Swept Lands’, however. My real problem is the poppies. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that poppies have established themselves in Britain not only as the symbol of suffering and death in the Great War, but also as the symbol of remembrance, regeneration and charity, and one should respect that. I appreciate, too, the fact that the poppies used at the Tower will be sold to raise money for charity (indeed I think they have already all been sold). But their representational hegemony needs to be challenged, not reiterated and reaffirmed in one artwork or installation after another. (Recently, for instance, at Nottingham Contemporary, we were treated to a sea of poppies representing the Nottingham servicemen who died in the Great War). Cummins and Piper may appear to have designed their artwork imaginatively, but all they have done is arranged the symbols of blood into the appearance of blood itself, turning the metaphor back into what it represents - although to be honest the poppies gushing down from the tower remind me of the oil, hot pitch or animal fat that the defenders of castles poured down on their enemies in times gone by. There is an almost obsessive and narcissistic preoccupation with poppies in this country. When we sell ceramic poppies as mementoes of an art installation we have perfected this preoccupation. With poppies we remember - poppies. No individual symbol, not even one as rich as the poppy, can bear such a huge burden of attention. We need to find other commemorative signs and perhaps even idioms if remembrance of World War One is not to ossify in stale routine.
@ 2014-10-27 – 11:44:37
Polemics sell well in Germany. Author Karen Duve seems to have joined the polemics bandwagon with her new essay-cum-book "Warum die Sache schiefgeht", which bemoans the failure of the politicians to tackle climate change, and tells us why Duve thinks so many managers are psychopaths. Bound to sell well, then. A few months ago, Akif Pirincci published his "Deutschland von Sinnen", a laboured, unimaginative and tedious attack on all possible forms of political correctness. It sold well. So did Sarrazin's "Tugendterror", though perhaps not as well as "Deutschland schafft sich ab". Denouncing or, even better, declaring yourself a victim of political correctness is an extraordinarily lucrative business. I suspect that books by victims of the Stasi or of terrorism don't sell as well. We all love to hate political correctness. Yet it is not even clear that it really exists, at least not in the forms evoked in the anti-PC books. In fact, anti-PC books are arguably very politically correct, because they feed the market, satisfy the modern desire for scandalisation and distract us all from dealing with the real issues. Whatever those might be....
@ 2014-10-10 – 12:03:43
Below is a link to an article on the new exhibition at the German Historical Museum, "The Eyes of War". It shows photographs of people blinded by war (in this case, the Second World War). The Dutch photographer, Martin Roemers, took his subjects from a number of countries. The victims were all very young at the time.
@ 2014-10-09 – 20:14:02
Congratulations to Modiano for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but what is this I keep reading in the British press reactions that Modiano is "not really known outside his own country". Just because he is not widely known HERE does not mean he is not known anywhere else. Why do we keep confusing our own parish with the world?
He is certainly known in Germany, for instance, his works have been appeared with Fischer, DTV, Hanser etc. Hardly 'unknown'.
@ 2014-10-07 – 17:54:22
Sad news - Siegfried Lenz, a much quieter but no less magisterial literary institution in West Germany than Guenter Grass, is no longer with us. More at
@ 2014-10-06 – 21:04:38
...for his novel 'Kruso'...
@ 2014-09-27 – 22:00:15
Just seen Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix”. Another brilliant performance from Nina Hoss. The reviews seem basically positive, some with significant caveats. Below are a few links to these reviews. I was gripped, certainly. Watching Nina Hoss’s face – her ability to mirror in it the tiniest movements of the soul and the sway of contrary emotion – gets me through any film she is in without even needing to bother about the story. But there is certainly a story in this film. Nelly, a German Jew who has miraculously survived Auschwitz, rediscovers her husband Johnny (played by Ronald Zehrfeld) among the ruins of Berlin, but he does not recognise her. Instead, he thinks she bears an incredible likeness to Nelly, whom he assumes to be dead, along with the rest of her family. Hoping to benefit from a possible inheritance now that her family are dead, he persuades Nelly – whom, as I said, he takes to be someone else – to pretend to be Nelly, and share in the spoils. Nelly goes along with this, i.e. she pretends to be Nelly, although she already is Nelly. Confused? There is the issue that Nelly returned from Auschwitz badly disfigured and estranged from herself; in ‘playing’ Nelly for Johnny, she hopes, no doubt, to step back into her real self. But the self Johnny has in mind is a Nelly far removed from the reality of having experienced Auschwitz. He wants to stage her return from the East, but with her wearing a flashy red dress and shoes bought in Paris. She is not to show any trace of the camps. This is how he, and his and her friends from the time before she was deported want to see her. In this, of course, lies a critique of the postwar era in Germany – Auschwitz is to be written out. Not for nothing is the film dedicated to the courageous lawyer who did so much so activate legal proceedings against former Nazis in West Germany – Fritz Bauer, about whom, incidentally, a feature film has just been made (it will soon be running in German cinemas). I won’t betray the end. Betrayal – yes, there is that in the film, too, for it seems likely Nelly’s husband betrayed her to the Gestapo, and agreed to divorce her shortly before she was deported. But all of that remains unclear. What is clear is his preparedness to make money out of the Holocaust. He is a postwar opportunist, calculating, on the make at any cost. Yet Petzold is too clever to turn this into a tale of Jewish revenge. Nelly seems submissively attached to her treacherous husband (hints of Caviani). Her Jewish friend and counterfoil , Lene, is disgusted at Nelly’s apparent forgiveness of Johnny, and wants her to come with her to Palestine and turn her back on the Germans. She gives Nelly a gun, but Nelly never uses it. Nor does Lene turn out to be all that she seems. This is a film about how Germans want the Jews to be, the role they cut out for them . Johnny wants Nelly to play the Nelly of old, he and she are to act in a game of German-Jewish symbiosis which masks the crass reality of his betrayal in the recent past and heartless materialism in the present, and her experience of Auschwitz. His game-playing has the opposite effect to that intended.