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.

 

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.

Turbo Sculpture

At the end of 2003 Bosnian Veselin Gatalo was drinking with his friend — call him Kavanski– and musing on the state of affairs in their war-battered country. The conversation, as reported by Gatalo:

“Do we have any heroes?” I asked Kavanski. I said nothing. I knew he had a ready answer.

“We have Bruce Lee.”

“C’mon!” I said.

We were silent for a while. And then Kavanski said: “Of course! We should erect his monument. Bronze one!”

Then we realised that I… was the president of NGO with no money, premises or phone and that we, as powerful as we were, could do something for our town and our hero.

“You are right, Mr. Kavanski.”

“You are right, too… I mean, you are right that I am right. A hero from our childhood deserves a monument. Non-smoker, non-alcoholic, hated weapon.”

“Yes, “ I said. “No one will wonder what his family was doing in the Second World War. Far away enough but so close to everybody at the same time… He was dear to Serbs, Croats and Muslims… Mr. K., you are a genius,” I said.

Sculptor Ivan Fjolic poses with his stutue of Bruce Lee.

So Gatalo phoned around, found people amenable to the idea, and launched a movement to erect a statue of Bruce Lee in Mostar. Ten years before, the city was the scene of fierce fighting. The ancient bridge of Stari Most was destroyed by artillery. Hit teams of Serbs and Croatians murdered Bosnians and each other. There hasn’t been much to cheer about since except that the killing has stopped. Gatalo’s project was cheered.

In November 2005 the bronze statue was unveiled in Mostar. A few hours after the ceremony, it was vandalized, the nunchucks were stolen, and the statue was removed to be repaired. Even so, many other towns in the former Yugoslavia were swept up in the Bruce Lee enthusiasm and resolved to erect statues of their own heroes. In 2007 the Serbian city of Zitiste erected a statue of Rocky Balboa, one very similar to that in Philadelphia.

 

Unveiling of the statue in Mostar.

Bojan Marceta, who organized the Rocky monument, explained:

 “Nobody from the wars of the 1990s or from the former Yugoslavia deserves a monument, because all our leaders did was to prevent us from progressing… My generation can’t find role models so we have to look elsewhere. Hollywood can provide an answer.”

Soon other places were putting up statues. The town of Meda said they would create a statue of Johny Weissmuller, who was born in Meda. The statue would depict him as Tarzan “because [Tarzan] began with nothing and managed to survive against all odds in the jungle”. Meda’s city hall wants to remind people that, after World War II, refugees from a number of ethnicities found refuge in Meda: “They needed to be strong just like Tarzan.”

Bob Marley sculpture, Banatski Sokolac.

A statue of Bob Marley was erected in Banatski Sokolac and Serb and Croatian groups played at the unveiling, reminding people that Marley “promoted peace and tolerance”. A statue of Tupac Shakur is planned for Belgrade. It will go up in the poorest part of the city, in an area known to be very dangerous. “There is no part of the city that looks more like a ghetto than this.” In fact, the neighborhood is inhabited by gypsies. The idea is to both underscore the plight of the Romany in East Europe and to provide a model for youth.

Samantha Fox

Not all of these projects have turned out well. When Samantha Fox agreed to perform at an awards ceremony in Cacak, the city decided to put up her statue. But after Fox endured shouts of “Show us your tits!” at the concert she ignored the dedication ceremony and only a bare pedestal bearing the words “The Rumour” marks the concept.

The construction of monuments to pop culture figures is called Turbo Sculpture from 1980s songwriter Rambo Amadeus (yes) who said:

Folk is the people. Turbo is a system of injecting fuel under pressure into the motor cylinder with internal combustion. Turbo-folk is a burning of a nation. Turbo-folk is not music. Turbo-folk is the beloved of the masses. Awakening of the lowest human desires. I did not invent Turbo-folk, I gave it its name.

 

A little girl sits on the pedestal meant for Samantha Fox, Cracak.

The term “Turbo” became applied to a great deal of post-war culture in the former Yugoslavia — Turbo TV, Turbo Politics, Turbo Architecture. The Turbo idea in general rejects the nationalist and extreme ethnic views of the wartime period and refuses to accept the leaders and fighters of that era as heroes. The painter Mileta Prodanovic served on a committee to create a monument to those lost in the war. The committee dissolved after being unable to agree on a design. Prodanovic sees value in Turbo Sculpture:

These Hollywood monuments are a subversive response [to the governments of that time], which they are mocking. People realize that many of our soldiers in the wars of the 1990s were criminals who stole, robbed and killed. So people are searching for alternative role models and this is a healthy rejection of nationalism.

Not everyone thinks highly of Turbo Sculpture. Milica Tomic, an artist who also served on the committee, said:

This turning to Rocky or Tarzan is unhealthy and dangerous.We need to find a way of representing our grief, our responsibility and our despair. Until we do that, Serbia cannot come to terms with the present and the future.

Milica Tomic illustrating her concept (artnet.com)

Tomic represents grief, etc. by decorating herself with fake wounds and posing for photographs. She is a very serious artist. Turbo Sculpture lacks seriousness. And, of course, despair.

Sometimes people who think a lot about conceptual art cannot recognize a non-grant funded concept that is right in front of them.

(via metafilter.com)

The major essay on Turbo Sculpture is linked several times above and here. It was also available in a narrated slide-show here but I can no longer get the thing to play for me probably because Vimeo hates Canada.

Remembrance Day: The Memorial at Vladslo

In August 1914 an excited Peter Kollwitz told his mother, the artist Käthe Kollwitz, that he had enlisted. She was apprehensive but didn’t want to dampen her youngest son’s enthusiasm. Kollwitz confided to her diary that: “The idea of mere boys going into battle strikes me as senseless. It is all so pointless, so insane…” Nineteen-year-old Peter reached the Front in October. Three days later he was killed at the opening of the first Ypres or Yser campaign.

Kollwitz was devastated by grief and by guilt that she had not worked harder to persuade her son not to go to war. She fell into depression but soon decided to work on a memorial to Peter. By 1921 she had found some joy by tending her grandson, named Peter after his fallen uncle. And, during this time, she began many designs for the memorial that she wanted to create; none of these designs satisfied her and she destroyed them all.

In 1926, Käthe and her husband travelled to Belgium to visit the graveyard at Roggeveld where her son was buried.

What an impression: cross upon cross. Some of the graves had originally largish wooden crosses which the weather had ruined, and these  had fallen over; but on most of the graves were low, yellow wooden crosses. A small metal plaque in the center gives the name and number. So we found our grave… We cut three tiny roses from a wild briar and laid these on the ground beside the cross. All that is left of him lies there in a row-grave. None of the mounds are separated; there are only the same little crosses placed quite close together. That is what the whole cemetery is like, and almost everwhere is the naked, yellow soil. Here and there relatives have planted flowers, mostly wild roses, which are lovely because they cover and arch over the grave and reach out to the adjoining graves which no one tends for to the right and left, at least half the graves bear the sign allemand inconnu.

That night, back in the inn where she was staying, Käthe Kollwitz had a dream, or perhaps a vision: She saw with terrible clarity that there was going to be another war, that many, many more young men would die. Unless, she dreamed, unless she did everything she possibly could to stop it.

The cemetery at Roggeveld with the newly installed sculptures in the distance. (http://tinyurl.com/78254fn)

Six years later, the sculptues that Kollwitz called die Eltern, The Parents, were placed at Roggevelde. They are kneeling life-size figures, a man and a woman. The man grips his arms, holding in his emotion, numb with pain. The woman bows her head over the arms crossed on her breast where once she had held her child. The figures are modelled on Käthe Kollwitz and her husband. The graves in front seemed like “a flock of lost children” to Kollwitz. Most war memorials are about valor, honor, or national pride. The Kollwitz sculptures are about grief.

The memorial, now at Vladslo.

In 1942, Käthe Kollwitz received word that her grandson Peter, had been killed on the Eastern Front. Sometimes, in those years, she lapsed into despair: “…every war already carries within the war which will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything, everything is smashed.” But in one of the last entries in her journal, she wrote:

One day, a new ideal will arise, and there will be an end to all wars. I die convinced of this. It will need much hard work, but it will be achieved… The important thing, until that happens, is to hold one’s banner high and to struggle…

Käthe Kollwitz died in April 1945, a few weeks before war ended in Europe. In 1954, the German graves and the memorial she had sculpted were moved from Roggevelde to Vladslo, where the parents kneel today.

Graves at Vladslo with the kneeling figures in distance. (photo by Tijl Vercaemer _skender's_ photostream on Flickr)

 Quotes from Diary and Letters of Kaethe Kollwitz