Sunday, February 26, 2017

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999. The Calhoun Monument towers in the background. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument
by Samuel D. Gruber

A few months ago I wrote a post about a certain genre of Holocaust Memorials that I called "Things left Behind."  To the several memorials I discussed then I could have added the large Holocaust Monument  in Charleston, South Carolina, completed in 1999, where the central element is a lonely discarded tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl used by men in the synagogue and also in which for some it was customary to be wrapped for burial. Cast in bronze, the tallit lies on the floor of a rectangular space that can been seen as a synagogue, a prison, or even perhaps a gas chamber. Left behind, the tallit indicates prayer and life cut short, but also the rites of proper burial denied.

This one recognizable ritual object is set in the midst of a symbolic architecture which itself is inserted into an urban memorial field - Marion Square - rich and deceptive in the layers of history it chooses to reveal and hide. Designed by Jonathan Levi, the Holocaust Memorial was commissioned by the Charleston Jewish Federation. You can see more photos, drawings and models on the architect's website here.

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
I've made several visits to Charleston in recent years and in traveling around the historic city I've been attentive to markers and memorials that recognize and commemorate the Jewish history of the city, including the historic Jewish cemetery and the Francis Salvador marker. I've also been attentive to those markers, such as that at a former Brown Fellowship cemetery, that acknowledge - even in a small way - that for centuries Charleston was a majority African-American city where black slaves and then black citizens outnumbered whites. It can truly be said that slaves built Charleston - their sweat and toil, blood and struggles are mixed in the very bricks and mortar of the streets, churches, houses, and public buildings. Sadly, there are still too few markers commemorating and celebrating African-American history in the city (though the number is growing).  And none of these are in the three main ceremonial and commemorative spaces in the city - White Point Gardens, Washington Park, and Marion Square. These public parks have several monuments, however, that celebrate in some way the confederacy and slavery, and none is more prominent than the enormous Calhoun Monument that dominates Marion Square. Calhoun, a great defender of slavery, stands atop a tall monument fully visible from historic black churches in the area, including Mother Emanuel Church - where the terrible shootings took place in 2015. 

The Calhoun monument also towers over Charleston's and South Carolina's official Holocaust Memorial Monument. While the city's Jewish community was able to erect a memorial to the >injustices of Nazi Germany, no monument in the square explicitly mentions slavery or any of South Carolina's long history of crimes against African-Americans. A push to erect a monument in the square to Denmark Vesey, who threatened white rule, was rejected by the two private organizations, the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards which own the square and have final approval on all monuments even though the square is maintained by taxpayer dollars. Despite intensive lobbying, both organizations refused a Vesey statue. The armory (later the Citadel)which overlooks part the square was built in response to the failed Vesey slave rebellion. Nonetheless, memorials to the South's own rebellion against the United States, in which South Carolina was a leader, are legion.

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
In 2015
architect Levi said the memorial was originally designed in three parts; the sanctuary, a place of reflection meant to “transcend even the terrible events of the mid-twentieth century;” the place of assembly; and then the place of remembrance. These three divisions recall the purposes of a synagogue - a house of gathering, a house of prayer and and study. The north side is a rectangular, sunken lawn framed by graded steps, intended as a place of contemplation and a meeting ground for the annual Yom Ha Shoah (National Day of Holocaust Remembrance) ceremonies. The west side faces Calhoun Street and features a concrete and bronze inscription wall detailing the Holocaust history and now also lists names of survivors living in South Carolina. The center of the memorial, or sanctuary,is formed by a two-story high screen of mill-finish stainless steel. If the metal screen doesn't replicate any known synagogue, it does remind me of the metal bimah in Prague's Altneushul. 

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Prague, Czech Republic. Altneushul. Looking up from bimah. Photo from Arno Parik et al Prague Synagogues (Prague: Prague Jewish Mus., 2000).

On the pavement within the four sided 25 feet wide, 60 feet long, and 17 feet high metal screen lies a 12-foot bronze tallit. This reads as a quasi-sacred space - separate from the viewer, who must decide his/her own physical, emotional, and moral distance from the crimes and the victims' suffering. The abandoned tallit calls to mind all those synagogues of Europe whose congregations were dispersed and murdered.
 
While the original design was meant to generalize by presenting broad symbols and big ideas. In 2015, h shortly before I visited the site, it was refurbished, and specific names of 24 camps and survivors were included.

 
Texts of the plaques are transcribed on the invaluable Waymarking website and I include them here:
The Plaque for the monument reads as follows: 



From 1933 until 1945, the National Socialist (Nazi) regime in Germany implemented a racial theory declaring the “German Aryan Race” superior. The Nazis used this perverse Theory and their military and industrial might to dominate Europe and to separate, imprison and ultimately destroy millions of human beings. Those who the Nazis deemed undesirable and sought to eliminate included political dissidents, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, Roma (Gypsies) and Jehovah’s witnesses. But their chief victims were six million Jews.


What began as racial laws to strip Jews of their livelihood, their property and their civil rights accelerated into a campaign to systematically slaughter millions of men, women and children. By 1942, the machinery of mass murder was in full operation. Jews and other victims from all over Europe were sent to some 9000 concentration and labor camps throughout Europe, and to the killing centers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Majdanek, Treblinka, Belzec and Chelmno located in Poland.

The denial of Human Rights with advanced technology and a pitiless will to dominate, caused the death of innocent millions and the annihilation of most of the Jews of Europe.
 
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015


In 2015 additional plaques were added listing the names of Shoah survivors who settled in South Carolina.







Monday, February 13, 2017

Germany: Holocaust Reminders at the U-Bahn and S-Bahn Stations


Berlin, Germany. Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station. "Places of Terror We Must Never Forget," 1967. Erected by the League for Human Rights. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.
Germany: Holocaust Reminders at the U-Bahn and S-Bahn Stations
by Samuel D. Gruber

After my visit to Berlin in November, I've been posting about some of the less well known Jewish and Holocaust-related monuments and memorials in the city. I've already posted about the Münchener Strasse Synagogue monument, the Jewish cemetery on Grosse Hamburger Strasse and the monument and burial section at the Weissensee Cemetery for Jewish soldiers who died in World War I.

One of the notable aspects about the memorial landscape of Berlin is important role of train stations as sites of commemoration. This is not new to Holocaust memory - there is an impressive memorial to rail workers killed in World War I located within the Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn Station.
 
Berlin, Germany. Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn Station. Memorial to Rail Workers killed in World War I. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.

But train terminals and depots, and U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations now host several Holocaust memorial memorials and markers, too. This isn't surprising considering the central role trains played in the deportation of Jews from cities to ghettos, and from ghettos and transfer sites to death camps and execution.  Throughout Europe there are now several important memorial sites associated with train stations and rail links, the inclusion of rail tracks and old boxcars is a familiar - and even overdone - trope of modern Holocaust museums and exhibitions. The boxcar, cattle car or open coal car universally recognized symbols of the Holocaust as much as the Warsaw Ghetto boy with raised hands photographed from the Stroop Report or the stripped uniform of concentration camp inmates.

Berlin, Germany. Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station. "Places of Terror We Must Never Forget," 1967. Erected by the League for Human Rights. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.
In Berlin, at the Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn Station, is the striking memorial signpost - that lists the names of concentration and death camps as destinations as simply if they were on the schedule of daily commuter trains. The ordinariness of the sign means that thousands of Berliners and visitors pass it everyday without ta thought - but that is the idea - a reminder that that is exactly what happened when Jews were rounded up and deported in Berlin and hundreds of other towns and cities and their neighbors hardly reacted. We must remember the horrors of the Nazi regime began  and took route in the relative normality, or at least ambivalence and avoidance, of everyday daily German life. Train stations, trains, and train workers were essential to the successful removal of social undesirable, and the eventual execution of the Final Solution throughout Europe.

Today, at the Nollendorfplatz ststion, where the World War I memorial is a room of its own mostly passed by without thought by busy commuters, there is also a recent memorial affixed to the exterior of the station that commemorates the persecution and murder of homosexuals by the Nazi regime. The inscribed inverted triangle says "Put to death, put to silence - for the homosexual victims of National Socialism."Nollendorfplatz was the center of gay nightclub and social life -in the Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s, most famously at the Eldorado, and best known to English-speaking audiences through Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories," made into the musical Cabaret. Isherwood lived at Nollendorfstrase 17.

Berlin, Germany. Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn Station, Memorial to gay victims of Nazi repression and murder. Photo: CHailey (flickr)

I'm told by a friend that riginally a large free-standing monument to contemporary Gay Pride in the form of a rainbow-colored pencil, was erected nearby the wall plaque.  Due to vandalism, however, it was moved across the street onto a better protected, but more isolated, traffic island. Now the link between past persecution and the contemporary gay pride movement is less clear.  This especially seems to be the case since I couldn't find information about the "pencil" monument online or in guidebooks. So if you know - tell me more!

Berlin, Germany. Nollendorfplatz rainbow pencil monument to gay pride. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016.
 
Another memorial is the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime, which stands  in the Tiergarten, opposite the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The most impressive - and costly - of the rail station memorials is the Grunewald Deportations Memorial and Track 17, erected in two parts - in 1991 and 1998 - to commemorate the approximately 35,000 Jews who were deported from the Grunewald Freight Depot to their deaths in East European Ghettos and Camps. The memorials are near the Berlin-Grunewald S-Bahn Station. In 1991, Polish sculptor Karol Bronitowski designed a eighteen meter long and three meter high concrete wall that appears partly broken and with deep cracks and with impressions of human silhouettes. An inscription on a column tells - very briefly - of the deportations. Bronitowski's memorial is mostly about the round up Jew's and their transport to the deportation platform.

In 1998, another memorial, called Track 17 was dedicated. Commissioned  by Deutsche Bahn, it is almost adjacent to the first, and focuses specifically on the deportation by train. This monument, designed by German architects Nikolaus Hirsch, Wolfgang Lorch and Andrea Wandel consists of partly broken sheets of steel along a railroad track and upon the edges of the platform the dates, destinations and numbers of victims of each deportation are cast in steel.  According to Deutsche Bahn:
 "The core element of the memorial is composed of 186 cast steel objects arranged in chronological order and set in the ballast next to the platform edge. Each object states the date of a transport, the number of deportees, the point of departure in Berlin and the destination. The vegetation that has developed at Platform 17 over the years has been left to grow between the rails and now forms an integral part of the memorial as a symbol that no more trains will ever depart from this platform."
The monument was initiated by the German national railway company Deutsche Bahn,, to successor  deportations to the Deutsche Reichsbahn, which has carried out the train deportations. According to Deutsche Bahn:
No business company can whitewash its history or choose which events in its past it wishes to remember. To keep the memory of the victims of National Socialism alive, the management board decided to erect one central memorial at Grunewald station on behalf of Deutsche Bahn AG, commemorating the deportation transports handled by Deutsche Reichsbahn during the years of the Nazi regime....Deutsche Bahn AG hopes that the memorial will help to ensure that the crimes committed during the National Socialist regime will never be forgotten. The memorial commemorates the victims, is a warning to future generations, and a place of remembrance.
Berlin, Germany. Grunewald Memorial Wall. Karol Bronitowski, Sculptor, 1991. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003
Berlin, Germany. Grunewald, Track 17 Memorial. Hirsch, Lorch & Wandel, architects, 1998. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.
Berlin, Germany. Grunewald, Track 17 Memorial. Hirsch, Lorch & Wandel, architects, 1998. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.
Berlin, Germany. Grunewald, Track 17 Memorial. Hirsch, Lorch & Wandel, architects, 1998. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

There is another memorial to the deported on the Putlitz Bridge in Berlin, the runs across the railroad tracks of the Moabit freight depot. This was another point of departure for cattle cars carrying Jews heading east. The abstract monument, designed by Volkmaar Haase and erected in 1987.  I have not seen this monument personally, so cannot comment on its effectiveness. There is another memorial to the deported on the Putlitz Bridge in Berlin, the runs across the railroad tracks of the Moabit freight depot. This was another point of departure for cattle cars carrying Jews heading east. The abstract monument, designed by Volkmaar Haase and erected in 1987.  I have not seen this monument personally, so cannot comment on its effectiveness.
There is another memorial to the deported on the Putlitz Bridge in Berlin, the runs across the railroad tracks of the Moabit freight depot. This was another point of departure for cattle cars carrying Jews heading east. The abstract monument, designed by Volkmaar Haase and erected in 1987.