Remembrance Day: Major Percy Rigby

The Nelson, B.C. cenotaph lists more than a hundred names of soldiers killed in World War I. This from a town of 6000. Other memorials in the Kootenay Lake area bring the total number of area men killed to around 300. “Their Names Liveth Forevermore”, taken from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, is the official war dead epitaph.  But just who were these names, these men who no one now alive has ever met?

rigby_plaque

The old Post Office/Customs House building (1902), which has also served as City Hall and city museum, bears a marble plaque dedicated to the memory of one of these men, Major Percy Rigby:

He was so loved by his men, who called themselves “Rigby’s Terriers”, that those remaining of his company would take up a collection from their meagre pay to erect a memorial to him…

Sylvia Crooks, Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I

 

 Major Percy George Rigby. Unit: 7th Battalion, 1st British Columbia Regiment, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Death: 10 March 1915 shot by sniper Near La Boutillerie Armentieres Western Front Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205387788

Major Percy George Rigby. Unit: 7th Battalion, 1st British Columbia Regiment, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Death: 10 March 1915 shot by sniper Near La Boutillerie Armentieres Western Front Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205387788

Percy Rigby was born in London, in 1871. His father, Major-General Christopher Palmer Rigby had a long army career before becoming British consul in Zanzibar. Christopher died in 1885 and Percy went on to an education at Marlborough College and Sandhurst. At the age of 19 he joined the Sherwood Foresters and, from 1896 – 1911 served in various Africa campaigns, including the Boer War. Percy was Christopher’s youngest son and had no prospects in England, aside from his Army pension. Like many other men in his position, Rigby decided to emigrate.

Canada began advertising for immigrants in 1892. At first these ads were directed generally and many East Europeans came to Canada, but as time passed, the immigration program was aimed more and more at Great Britain and “desirable” people. One prospect that enticed many Brits who shared Rigby’s circumstances was fruit ranching in British Columbia.

rigby_fertile_canada

Money grows on trees in Fertile Canada. Immigration propaganda from 1900.

Edible dessert apples, as opposed to cider fruit, had been developed as a crop only in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Members of the British Empire (the Commonwealth came much later) developed their own apple varieties — for instance, Macintosh from Canada, Granny Smith from Australia — and British and American varieties were also available. The apple trees were propagated by slips or cuttings from good trees (as they still are) and thus, always bred true. British Columbia wanted settlers, apples grew well there, and Englishmen were always welcome. In addition, ex-officers could commute their pensions into enough to meet the initial investment in fruit — much larger than that required for either cattle or grain.

So, in 1911, the same year he retired from the military, Percy Rigby travelled to British Columbia and became a fruit rancher. He settled at Boswell on Kootenay Lake, named his new residence “Sans Souci”, and soon became known for throwing great Christmas celebrations as well as his minor, but lovable, English “eccentricities”. (I haven’t been able to discover much more about these.)

Fruit Ranching in British Columbia written by John Bealby in 1909 describes the process of developing a new orchard in the area. It was tough work, but rewarding and spiced with reminisces of colorful locals — and the locals were mostly colorful, all except the new-comers from England who were, of course, English and therefore models for the world.

"Cox's Orange Pippin, Two Years Old" from Bealby's Fruit Ranching in British Columbia

“Cox’s Orange Pippin, Two Years Old” from Bealby’s Fruit Ranching in British Columbia

Perhaps by 1914, Rigby’s ranch was producing a profit — fruit trees take time — but, in August, there was a new priority. Ten days after the outbreak of World War I, Percy Rigby was training volunteers in Nelson. Shortly afterward, Rigby and 175 men travelled to Valcartier, Quebec and signed up with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Probably three quarters were English immigrants going to defend the Motherland. Another local contingent of more than 200 soon followed.

Rigby’s contingent included 26 men who carved their names into a CPR tabletop. Of these 26, 10 were killed. 80% of the first Kootenay Contingent were killed, captured, or suffered debilitating wounds. So many losses of young men had serious repercussions in sparsely populated interior British Columbia. Widows, who had little enough when their husbands went off to war, now had to subsist on inadequate pensions — inadequate, but the highest amount paid by any of the Allied nations. Many fruit ranching communities, including Rigby’s Boswell, never recovered. Some became ghost towns. Fruit ranching of the kind discussed by Bealby ceased to be a major enterprise in the Kootenays, although Christmas apples were still featured in Sears and Eaton’s catalogues as late as the 1970s. These were shipped in bulk to England and re-packaged there as “A Gift to Home”.

CPR train table carved by members of the Kootenay Contingent, (photo: Tony Holland via: Crooks, Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I

CPR train table carved by members of the Kootenay Contingent, (photo: Tony Holland via: Crooks, Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I)

In February, after three months training in England, the Kootenay Contingent was shipped to France as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. (Some individuals were assigned to Scottish regiments.) In March, the Canadians were assigned to the assault on Neuve Chapelle, a German-held town just south of the Belgian border. There was an English unit to the Canadians’ left and an Indian unit to their right. British command thought this a fine example of the Empire in action. Following a massive artillery bombardment, which obliterated the town, the Indians charged in and actually gained a foothold in Neuve Chapelle, but British forces were unable to turn the situation into an immediate victory and several days of fighting ensued before the town was taken at a cost of some 11600 Allied and an equal number of German casualties and captured. Percy Rigby saw none of this. On March 10, as the battle opened, he was shot in the chest by a German sniper.

Notes:

Sylvia Crooks, Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I was mentioned before. This is a great book and a model for local history. (And, in the end, all history, like all politics, is local.) Crooks has also written about World War II, both the names on the cenotaph and life on the home front.

 

Remembrance Day: The Unknown Deserter

During the Second World War, Germany executed many 0f its own citizens — the exact number is hard to come by, but at least 23,000 military members were put to death. They were executed for crimes such as treason, failure to follow orders, and desertion. Various categories of condemned men have received posthumous pardons for their actions. In 2002 a general pardon was issued for those who had deserted the Wehrmacht during the War. But already, monuments had been erected in their memory.

Possibly the first was set up in Bremen in 1986 by a veteran’s group opposed to NATO’s First Strike policy. The statue may wear a NATO helmet.

Sculpture by Mehmet Aksoy. Photo Via.

Sculpture in Potsdam by Mehmet Aksoy. Photo Via.

The first official memorial for the Unknown Deserter was meant to be placed in Bonn, capital of West Germany, but was finished just after the Wall came down and was set up in Potsdam. Since then, at least twenty memorials have been erected all over Germany and Austria.

Sculpture in Stuttgart by Nicholas Kernbach. Wikimedia Commons.

Sculpture in Stuttgart by Nicholas Kernbach. Wikimedia Commons.

Some 400,000 soldiers attempted to desert during World War II and 30,000 or so were caught and sentenced to death, though only 23,000 of these sentences were carried out before the War’s end. In 1998, the Bundestag pardoned those convicted of refusing to join the Nazi armed forces. Over the next few years other categories of resisters were also pardoned. Deserters joined the list in 2002.

Memorial in Ulm by Hannah Stuetz Menzel . Via.

Memorial in Ulm by Hannah Stuetz Menzel . Via.

The last category of resister to finally receive pardons was that of Treason. Some of those convicted of treason included men who had criticized the Hitler regime. One — an unnamed soldier — attempted in 1944 to transport thirteen Jews from Hungary to save them from the sweep that was sending Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. There was some opposition to pardoning this last group by Bundestag members who protested that traitors put the lives of others in danger, but investigation has shown that claim to be false.

In 1925, when monument building for World War I veterans became a national industry, Kurt Tucholsky wrote:

Of all the missing plaques, we specially miss this one:
This is for a man who refused to kill his fellow men.

Looking up at Ruedi Baur's shelter in Cologne. Wikimedia Commons.

Looking up at Ruedi Baur’s shelter in Cologne. Wikimedia Commons.

In 2009, architect Ruedi Baur constructed such a memorial in Cologne. It is a transit shelter with these words on the roof:

Homage to the soldiers who refused to shoot at the soldiers, who refused to shoot at the people, who refused to torture the people, who refused to give information against the people, who refused to brutalise the people, who refused to discriminate against the people, who refused to ridicule the people, who showed civil courage while the majority kept silent and toed the line.

 

The Exploitation of Good Taste

Pictures of that drowned child refugee have raised an odd debate. Should the pictures be published or is that exploiting a tragic event? The entire argument took me back to 1966/67 when American anti-war activists published a poster featuring one of Goya’s black paintings over the text “America Eats Its Young”. Here is the painting:

child_goya

This is a depiction of Cronos, or Saturn, devouring his children. Cronos had been told that he would be displaced as king of the world by his sons, so he ate them. Zeus escaped and did finally overcome his father. But Goya hardly cares about any of that; he has depicted a horror that is born of humanity, not the gods.

So the poster went up and immediately people said that it was insulting to America and in bad taste and should be removed. These were college professors talking about taste, because teachers are the guardians of culture. At around this same time there arose a controversy about television coverage of the Vietnam War. The images were too disturbing for many people. The controversy came to turn on the question of whether American troops should be shown cutting the ears from Vietnamese corpses. The argument against was that the news came on around suppertime and that people shouldn’t have their meals disturbed by such images.

At the time, this entire debate made me very angry. It seemed to me that the statement that Goya and video images were in bad taste was a lie. What really disturbed these folks was having to confront reality — American youths were being murdered by their government, and were being transformed by that same government into trophy-hunting killers. It seemed to me then that there should more distasteful images shown on TV, that there should be more photos and posters put up, that people should have to confront the events that they were complicit in creating.

Now this applies to the photo of that little boy’s corpse. This is a result of government policies that are intended to make it difficult for refugees to enter the country. This is the result of having an immigration policy that deliberately over regulates the entry of people into Canada, even when they are sponsored and funded and are not going to be any sort of public burden. The minister reponsible, Chris Alexander, has repeatedly lied about the number of refugees that have been allowed into the country, claiming more than 1600, when the actual number is fewer than 300. How can anyone believe that this government will bring in the 10,000 Syrian refuges that it has promised to admit into the country? The Harper government has lied about so many things, so many times. Their answer to the refugee problem in Syria? Bombing! Harper says the way to solve a humanitarian crisis is to kill people.

I think everyone should see the picture of that dead little boy. I think they should see pictures of people  being bombed and the results of bombing campaigns. I think everyone needs to be faced with the consequences of their government’s actions.  But, say, I’m not going to publish the photo of Alan Kurdi here — after all, many internet filters would then block this post because it might offend people’s sense of taste. Instead, just so we’re clear, here are pictures of two of the people who caused that child to drown. Oh, and another glimpse of Goya.

Left to right: Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Saturn devourer of children; Chris Alexander, Honorable Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

Left to right: Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Saturn, devourer of children; Chris Alexander, Honorable Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

Pictures I Like: “Red Flag Over the Reichstag”, 1945 by Yevgeni Khaldei

Either the seventh or eighth day of May, depending on where you are, is the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. This is the key image of the end of that war, but it is one that has aroused some controversy over the years.

The original photo for TASS. Note the seam along the center where the tablecloths were sewn together.

The original photo for TASS. Note the seam along the center where the tablecloths were sewn together.

Yevgeny Khaldei had been a photographer with TASS and then the Red Army since 1936. Now he was photographing the push toward Berlin — a massive battle that took a month and involved more than three million soldiers altogether. It became known to the Soviet war photographers that Stalin wanted an historic flag-raising scene — Stalin had been very impressed by Joe Rosenthal’s photo of US Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi while taking Iwo Jima. So Khaldei got his uncle, a tailor, to sew together three tablecloths and make a flag from them. He carried this home-made flag into Berlin. By the end of March the Red Army had taken Vienna and was pushing into Germany. Following a huge battle at the Seelow Heights, Soviet forces pressed into Berlin and had entered the city limits by April 20. Stalin had two generals with their respective armies attacking Berlin and he pressed each man to be the One, the general who took Berlin. Meanwhile, the Americans were unwilling to expend the manpower necessary to take Berlin — after all, they still had to defeat Japan. The bloody battle for Okinawa was to be the next big American fight. Even so, American bombers pounded Berlin for weeks, creating a great deal of destruction. The Red Army advanced into Berlin, fighting the Germans who took cover in the rubble. As the Soviets moved deeper into the city, German troops ensconced themselves on the rooftops and upper windows of the massive buildings. (Albert Speer recalled that everything was built to the scale of gods, not of men.) On April 22, the Red Army first attacked the Reichstag building. The defenders were mainly SS with a large contingent of non-German troops — Dutch, Swedes, Danes — they had nowhere to go and saw no alternative to fighting to the death. Here, the Soviet forces bogged down for a bit. The prime date for taking Berlin was Mayday. An all-out assault on April 29 -30 brought Soviet troops into the foyer of the huge building, but German soldiers firing from the wrecked floors above turned the lobby into a slaughterhouse. Still, the Soviets pressed forward, through the lobby, and managed to get on the upper floors where the battle was fought, room to room, until May 2. A force of Red soldiers managed to get onto the Reichstag roof and raise a flag on April 30, but it was too dark to photograph and German snipers soon brought it down. On May 2 (probably) Khaldei managed to get up on the roof and persuaded some soldiers to raise his tablecloth flag. Khaldei shot an entire roll of film on his Leica, 36 images, of the event. Jubilant, he sent his pictures back to Moscow. Then he was summoned back to the TASS main office in Moscow. An editor threw a print of the flag-raising on the table. “What is this?” he demanded, “That soldier is wearing two wristwatches. That means he has been looting. Red Army soldiers do not loot! Remove a watch!” So, Khaldei scratched out a wristwatch on the soldier to the right of the man raising the flag. (Some say that the item on the man’s right wrist is a compass, not a watch.) Khaldei also sharpened and darkened the smoke in the distance. Later, the photo was colored, resulting in this: khaldei_color Khaldei never expressed regret for retouching the photo, nor was he shy about staging the flag raising. Some perspective might result from remembering that Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photo was a re-enacted event, though Joe Rosenthal always denied that it was staged, even though James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, was on the scene and demanded a bigger flag be raised for the camera. Khaldei also photographed his flag being raised over other Berlin landmarks, including the Brandenburg Gate, and other photographers recorded flag-raisings throughout the city, from the Adlon Hotel to the Tempelhof airport. The men who are shown raising the flag are now thought to be, left to right: Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailov, and (outside the frame in some photos) Leonid (or perhaps Alexei) Gorychev. Kovalyov was Ukrainian, Ismailov was from Dagestan, Gorychev from Minsk. Those names were supplied in 1995. For propaganda reasons, in 1945, the soldiers identified as raising the flag were Meliton Kantaria, a Georgian (like Stalin) and the man below,  Mikhail Yegorov, a Russian. The third man, Alexei Berest, was a Ukrainian and his name was deleted from the official captions. Mikhail Minin may have been the actual soldier who raised the “Victory Flag” on April 30, but by now who can say? Khaldei’s photo is the accepted popular version. With all of this, it is no wonder that some claim that Khaldei’s photo was “doctored”. Khaldei himself said that it was a good photo and depicted truth. And that leads into debates about photography and authenticity that I don’t want to get into here. Doctored or not, the photo is great propaganda. Khaldei had gone to work with TASS in 1936. He photographed much of the Second World War, including shots of Russian crowds hearing the official announcement that Germany had invaded, right through to photographs of the Nuremburg war crimes trial. Shots of Göring predominate there, although Khaldei claimed that Göring blamed him for some indignity suffered at the hands of a guard and covered his face when Khaldei approached. In Hungary, Khaldei photographed Jewish men and women wearing yellow stars, then ripped the stars from their clothing. His father and three of his four sisters were murdered by the Nazis. Khaldei’s mother and a grandfather were murdered in a Ukrainian pogrom before the War. In 1948, Khaldei was fired from TASS because, according to Khaldei, he was a Jew. Khaldei free-lanced until 1959 when Pravda hired him. In 1970 he was fired again. All during his career, Khaldei got others to take his picture as he posed before places he had just photographed minutes before.

Khaldei at Nuremburg. Goring is in the dock, possibly shielding his eyes from the glare. The defendants began wearing dark glasses soon after.

Khaldei at Nuremburg. Goring is in the dock, possibly shielding his eyes from the glare. The defendants began wearing dark glasses soon after.

The general Communist principle was that “art workers” were only a voice of the masses and not individuals, so it was many years after the War before Soviet authorities attached his name to his photographs. Khaldei began receiving recognition in the 1980s and, when a book of his photos was published in the early ’90s, Khaldei received enough money to buy a new camera: a Rolleiflex. “I never had such a camera in all my life!” he said. Khaldei died in 1997 at the age of 80.

Notes: At least eight of the 36 exposures made by Khaldei can be found via various Google searches. So far as I can determine none are copyright because the Soviet Union didn’t believe in such stuff. Khaldei was interviewed several times after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Here is a short piece where he describes retouching the wristwatch. Some of Khaldei’s images in a short video promoting a book about Khaldei. Witness to History: The Photographs of Yevgeny Khaldei and this is the book promoted above. More about the Reichstag flag on Iconic Photos, here and here.

Pour la rire

Charlie Hebdo exposed the ridiculous and laughed at it. Since the magazine’s artists thought most of human activity was ridiculous, Charlie laughed a lot. In 2005 Charlie‘s cover was a caricature of Mohammed hiding his eyes as he muttered, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots”. The magazine was sued for that. The suit was dismissed since it was ridiculous. In 2011 Charlie Hebdo‘s offices were fire bombed; a week later, the following cover ran:

01-1012.qxp

I got nothing more to add.

Christmas Poop

As the immortal Arnold once said, “Not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas the same way. Everywhere is different.” Why, he himself was visited by the Devil as part of his native Yuletide tradition. True story. One place that is very different is Catalonia.

Catalan nativity scenes usually include a figure known as Caganer, which is to say, Shitter. Caganer may be a small boy or a grown man dressed in traditional Catalan costume who is taking a dump in a corner of the creche:

Caganer figure from Barcelona [Ekasha; Wikipedia.com]

Caganer figure from Barcelona [Ekasha; Wikipedia.com]

But there are many variations on the Caganer theme:

Partial screen shot for "caganer catalog" on Google Images. This hardly scratches the surface. You can find Caganer Putin, Einstein, Antonio Gaudi, Edward and his bride (in wedding dress, kissing). Hello Kitty, every single character from Star Wars (may the farts be with you), Tintin and Snowy pooping in tandem, and every single soccer player in history.

Partial screen shot for “caganer catalog” on Google Images. This hardly scratches the surface. You can find Caganer Putin, Einstein, Antonio Gaudi, Edward and his bride (in wedding dress, kissing). Hello Kitty, every single character from Star Wars (may the farts be with you), Tintin and Snowy pooping in tandem, and every single soccer player in history.

I suppose that the Caganer figures are a way of expressing humanity’s need for humility since sometimes we all have to go. But maybe I’m full of shit. You can buy Caganer figures via caganer.com or fold your own paper version from here (#10).

Catalonia has a second Christmas shit tradition: Tió de Nadal. Tió is a log. A face is attached to one cut side and the log is then propped up on a bipod as though this anthropomorphized object was trying to raise itself from the ground:

Tió de Nadal [Toniher, Wikimedia Commons]

Tió de Nadal [Toniher, Wikimedia Commons]

Tió has good reason to raise up and run (if he had stick legs) because on Christmas Catalan kids beat him with a stick Singing:

Shit, Log
shit nougats
hazelnuts and cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

And Tió responds, crapping out goodies. His nether parts (the other end of the log) are covered with a cloth that is pulled back to reveal a pile of candy — chocolate, I assume, including some of those truffles that look like little dried turds — then adds a bit of smelly herring to indicate that the kids have beaten all the shit out of him and he is now evacuating his undigested dinner.

Catalan kids hitting the log[a href="http://suitelife.com/2010/12/15/caga-tio-and-caganer/">Suite life

Catalan kids hitting the log [via Suite Life ]

All of this is grist for the psychologist’s mill since “log” can equal a turd and shit is connected with wealth and stuff — but that’s boring. The real question is: what is the relationship between Tió de Nadal and Caganer? And, until a few years ago, there was none. But then Benito Cereno and Anthony Clark created a tale for Comics Alliance which tells the real back story behind these two mythic figures. Click on the sample below to read the entire thing:

poop_Benito Cereno & Anthony Clark Bring You a True X-Mas Story of Poop Candy [Exclus

Remembrance Day: The War Memorials of Ernst Barlach

When war broke out in 1914, Ernst Barlach decided to enlist. He believed the romantic nonsense of the day — that war was a revitalizing, renewing force — but these beliefs were confounded by the casualty rates that were soon reported. Even so, Barlach wanted to see for himself and was finally pronounced fit for service in 1915, even though he was 44 years old and had a heart condition. By 1916, Barlach had seen enough and obtained his release from the armed forces. He was now a committed pacifist. The Christmas issue of der Bildermann has a Barlach lithograph on the cover. The Virgin Mary is depicted with hands to her face surrounded by seven swords, medieval symbols for the Seven Sorrows of Mary. “Give Us Peace” the picture pleads.

At the War’s end, there was tremendous demand for memorial cenotaphs and Barlach was approached about designing several. He finally accepted a commission from the Nicolai Church at Kiel and reworked his Bildermann design into a large wood sculpture with the aggrieved figure of Mary thrusting forward from a panel that included the seven swords. “My heart bleeds with grief but You give me strength” read the inscription. This memorial was destroyed during World War II.

Barlach’s next commission was for the church in Güstrow where he lived in seclusion most of his life. Finally installed in 1927, the sculpture is a bronze casting more than two meters long and is suspended over the baptismal. It depicts an angel, arms folded and eyes closed hovering above the heads of humanity. The expression on the angel’s face is one of deep compassion felt by this other-worldly being for the human beings below who are inflicting so much pain on one another. “Recollection and inner reflection” was the proper attitude for a war memorial to inspire, said Barlach.

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Jens Burkhardt-Plückhahn]

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Jens Burkhardt-Plückhahn]

While modeling the angel’s head, Barlach became aware that it resembled fellow artist, Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz was three years older than Barlach and was, like him, associated with the Secession Movement, though neither was particularly interested in being described as a Movement artist. Even though she was opposed to war, Kollwitz had given permission for her youngest son, who was under age, to join the Army. Ten days after he enlisted, the boy was killed. Kollwitz was devastated by grief and guilt. She began designing a memorial for her son, destroying several versions before finally creating the bereft couple that kneel in mute agony among the graves of the fallen at Vladslo.

Left, Kathe Kollwitz, 1919 [Wikimedia Commons], Right, Head of Gustrow angel[Barlach Museum, Wedel

Left, Kathe Kollwitz, 1919 [Wikimedia Commons], Right, Head of Gustrow angel[Barlach Museum, Wedel]

For the 1929 memorial at Magdeburg, Barlach returned to wood sculpture, a favored medium. A large panel features three German soldiers at top, possibly meant to show a young recruit, a junior officer with bandaged head, and an older reservist. The central figure embraces a large cross inscribed with the dates “1914 1915 1916 1917 1918”.  At the bottom are the heads of a weeping woman, a rotted corpse wearing a helmet, and a self-portrait of Barlach, hands to his horrified face, gas mask hanging from his neck.

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Chris 73]

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Chris 73]

The memorial was attacked by Nazi ideologue Julius Rosenberg who claimed that the soldier on the right was a Russian. (Strangely,  this concept has persisted with some people still believing that the figures are German, French, and Russian, respectively.) The attempt to link Barlach with Russia was part of a campaign to paint him as a non-German. Barlach was also called a Jew and a Communist.

The grieving mother has been a theme in Western art at least since the Mater Dolorosa of the medieval era and developed into the Pieta of the Renaissance. Barlach had begun his memorials with this image, now he returned to it for the 1931 cenotaph at Hamburg. A grieving pregnant woman comforts a younger girl. This bas-relief was carved on one side of a large stele which had these words carved on the other side: “40,000 sons of the city gave their lives for you”. Barlach did not write the inscription and was not overly pleased with it.

Hamburger Ehrenmal [ via Bilder Blog

Hamburger Ehrenmal [ via Bilder Blog]

The memorial was seen by Nazis as an insult to soldiers and the nation. The mother’s features were described as Slavic and accusations about Barlach’s racial affinities and politics were published. The 76ers, a Hamburg veterans group, lobbied to have the stele removed. But Barlach’s international reputation made Hamburg afraid of embarrassing itself. Louis Mumford, for instance, praised the work and described its opponents as “Ku Klux Klansmen”. “What really troubles the Nazis is that the whole monument is so free of pomp and bluster..,” he wrote. In 1933, the city compromised by allotting space for the 76ers own memorial which depicts a group of more than eighty heroic soldiers and bears the inscription: “Germany must live even if we must die.”

Barlach was working on another memorial that featured a Pieta design of a woman holding a dead soldier in her lap, but the political atmosphere had become so poisonous that he gave it up. Barlach was disdainful of the Nazis and was open about this with his friends. Although he was careful about not allowing his letters to fall into government hands, Barlach’s attitude was well-known in official circles. One by one, his war memorials were taken down. The relief on the Hamburg stele was replaced with an eagle. Friends spirited away the Magdeburg carving before it was seized by the authorities. In 1938, the Kiel angel was removed and was later melted down to be turned into war materials. Some of Barlach’s friends rescued the plaster mold that he used to form the sculpture and cast a new copy which they kept hidden.

Die Klage: Memorial for Ernst Barlach by Kathe Kollwitz, 1938 Casting is about 27 X 25 cm. [via Christie's Auction House ]

Die Klage: Memorial for Ernst Barlach by Kathe Kollwitz, 1938 Casting is about 27 X 25 cm. [via Christie’s Auction House ]

By now, Barlach’s work was officially declared “degenerate” and non-German, a silly accusation to make about wood sculpture that so obviously is derived from medieval German forms. In 1938, authorities seized works exhibited by Barlach and Kollwitz. Later that year, Barlach’s heart finally gave out.

After the Second World War ended, Barlach’s work was brought out of hiding. The Magdeburg panel was remounted. The Hamburg stele was repaired and a controversy now rose about whether the 76er memorial should be removed. Eventually, it was decided to let it stay but with various disclaimers attached to it (including counter-sculptures) by the city. The Güstrow angel was placed in Cologne. Güstrow asked for its return but that city was in the East and the angel became a Cold War issue. In 1953, Cologne made another casting, this time from a mold prepared from their copy, and presented it to Güstrow where it regained its place over the baptismal font. Every year, on the anniversary of the angel’s removal, the church observes a ceremony where members silently recollect and reflect on the past.