by Harold Marcuse
in: Peter Hayes (ed.), Lessons and Legacies III: Memory, Memorialization
and Denial [contents]
page created Dec. 29, 2004, last updated 1/16/06, 1/5/15
Commemorating historical events is not a simple endeavor; its complexity increases exponentially when an event as complex as "the holocaust" is the object of commemoration. For analytical purposes it is useful to distinguish between two basic ways of actualizing past events in the present. At the individual level, there is the act of remembering, the recalling to mind of actual experiences or acquired information. And on the group level, the term recollection can denote the social process of gathering together again lived and learned experiences and sharing them with other members of a collectivity. Commemoration is thus the ritual and usually public recollection of past events, while collective memory (or historical consciousness) can denote the knowledge about the past which is shared by members of a group. Collective memories arise from the interaction between individual or privately shared memories of lived experiences, and the public dissemination of historical information through films, novels, scholarly works, formal instruction and various other explicitly commemorative activities.
To write about the political aesthetics of holocaust memorials is to examine which group selected which aspects of the past to represent, and to analyze how and why that group represented those aspects as it did. Dachau, a former concentration camp located on the outskirts of a town about six miles from the center of Munich, is an ideal site for the exploration of these questions. For more than 50 years it has been subject to the competing and conflicting recollective agendas of the local populace, regional (Bavarian), national and international politicians, and survivors' organizations from nearly a dozen countries. Associated with the Dachau concentration camp are more than a dozen memorial sculptures and buildings; several more were planned but never constructed, or existed only temporarily (see Table 1). Additionally, the appearance of the memorial site as a whole reveals a great deal about the political aesthetics of holocaust commemoration.
Visitors today enter the former Dachau prisoners' compound through a gap in the southeast corner of the camp wall, roughly opposite the historical entry gate with its inscription "Arbeit macht frei" ("work liberates")(see fig. 1). They file past a large billboard with a plan of the memorial site around to the front of the former service building, which once housed the camp kitchen, showers, and a storeroom for the prisoners' civilian clothing, but which now contains the library, archive, museum, and discussion rooms. At the corner of this building the view opens across the wide expanse of the former roll-call square to the entry gate in the distance. On the right are two reconstructed barracks, on the left, in the courtyard enclosed on three sides by the museum/service building, stands the large international memorial: a broad bronze sculpture of emaciated bodies interwoven to form a barbed wire fence.
Most visits begin with a walk through the museum, which occupies the long central tract of the former service building. Visitors exit behind the international memorial (fig. 17), then proceed down the central camp street, bordered left and right by poplar saplings and low cement curbs outlining the former barrack foundations. A lone billboard stands to one side, displaying an aerial view of the street teeming with prisoners in the late 1930s. Straight ahead, 800 yards down the axial street, rises the cylindrical form of a Catholic memorial chapel, flanked left and right by the low outlines of Protestant and Jewish memorial buildings (figs. 20-22). The crematorium lies out of sight further to the left at the end of the camp street, in a separate enclosure beyond the compound wall. After traversing a bridge and passing a Russian Orthodox chapel outside the wall on the left, visitors enter the parklike area around the crematorium. Just beyond the wall an inscription on a stone proclaims "Remember how we died here;" a bit further stands a small statue of a concentration camp inmate on a high pedestal. Ahead to the right stretches the "new" crematorium, built in 1942, with its disinfection chambers, undressing room, gas chamber, morgue, furnaces, and towering rectangular chimney. Hidden behind bushes and trees on the left is the simple hut of the "old" two-oven crematorium built in 1940. Paths through the nicely landscaped park lead past benches and trilingually inscribed stones marking various historical sites: "Execution Range," "Blood Ditch," "Ash Grave." A small marker with a star of David is among them.
When visitors leave this park again, they sometimes visit the religious memorial buildings at the back of the camp, but after several hours in the museum and about a mile of walking, most people opt to go directly to the memorial site exit, crossing the gravel-strewn expanse of the former camp. Visitors who did not tour the museum at the beginning often start by walking through the one reconstructed barrack which is furnished with bunks recreating interiors from three different periods of the historical camp. Such visitors are more likely to explore the religious memorials after visiting the crematorium. Some of them may even find their way behind the Catholic chapel to a gate cut through one of the watchtowers. It leads into the courtyard of a cloister of Carmelite nuns, in which several relics from the concentration camp are displayed, including a monstrance fashioned by inmates, and a Madonna which adorned the chapel in the German priests' barrack.
With time permitting, a very few people, usually repeat visitors or people with a personal connection to the site, will drive the two miles to the Leiten cemetery and the Hebertshausen shooting range, two camp-related memorials indicated on a map at the entrance to the Dachau camp memorial site itself. On their way they will drive past the unmarked greenhouses and research buildings of the former camp plantation, a large agricultural complex now used by the town's park department and for residential purposes.
At the Leiten they climb a steep hill past carved stone Stations of the Cross and a small chapel modeled after the Roman Pantheon to a gently forested cemetery. In a clearing within a low stone wall stands a tall cross emblazoned with bronze reliefs of the apostles. A low stone star of David, several individual plaques, and a poetically inscribed monolith are nestled in the greenery along the paths. On the back side of the hill, outside the cemetery wall, a dark, 8-sided hall looms among the high trees (fig. 8). If the heavy bronze doors are open, visitors find a bronze basin resembling a baptismal font, bronze torch-holders in the corners, and painted coats-of-arms adorning the interior. From this enigmatic building, near a boarded-up wooden concession stand, another path leads back down to the parking lot.
At Hebertshausen, a short way down the road to the east, a short gravel drive brings visitors past a small explanatory sign to a massive concrete billboard whose German inscription reads: "Thousands of PRISONERS OF WAR were MURDERED here by the SS." Curious visitors may wander back through the high grass and nettles to the bullet-pocked garage-like shooting range backdrops, into which Soviet POWs were herded before being gunned down. From Hebertshausen it is several miles back past the Leiten hill and through the 30,000 inhabitant town to the public cemetery, where several thousand more concentration camp inmates are buried, and a few more commemorative markers stand. In Dachau town itself only a small, weathered plaque on a bank opposite the city hall and a small square named "Square of Resistance" (Widerstandsplatz) recall events associated with the concentration camp.
When examining holocaust memorials such as those in Dachau, it is important to realize that, both among different groups and at different points in time, there have been radically different conceptions of the underlying event to be recollected. A survey of memorials in Dachau yields a typology of eight different "holocausts" which have been recollected over the years by as many groups. Each one is fairly specific, focusing on selected aspects of a complex phenomenon, and each one is highly dependent on the shared experiences, beliefs and characteristics that bind together the recollecting group (i.e. its identity, to use an overused term).
The most tenacious recollected image in West Germany from 1945 to the late 1980s has been of what I have elsewhere called the "clean" concentration camps, that is, the Nazi propaganda image of the concentration camps as educational work camps which was disseminated in the official media of the day. Never very close to the historical reality of the camps, this image was recollected by a "quiet majority" of the West German populace primarily during the 1950s and 1960s; it has figured in the literature of "Holocaust deniers" since its emergence in the 1950s. Although it was never publicly accepted by scholars or mainstream politicians, it has, as i will show, been realized in Dachau and several other West German memorial sites conceived in the 1950s and 1960s
Several other recollected images correspond to different phases in the Nazi-era history of the camps. Historically, the first of these commemorated aspects was the system of punitive political prison camps set up by the Nazi government in 1933 to neutralize and liquidate real or perceived opponents. Not surprisingly, this "holocaust" is recollected by survivors from that period, primarily by members of the past and present German communist parties, but also by some conservatives, Social Democrats, and Jews.
In a third type of recollection the camps are conceived of as extermination centers and factories of annihilation as they were experienced especially by Jews. This conception of the Nazi camps is most tangible in the memoir literature by survivors of camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka or Sobibor, although there were no survivors of the "quintessential" experience: gassing immediately upon arrival at the extermination center. A fourth image derives from the experience of foreign prisoners after 1943: huge, barbaric slave labor complexes. Since this experience was eclipsed by the dissolution of the camp system at the end of the war, and because this memory group has never wielded much political power, this type of camp has rarely been publicly recollected. A fifth image of the concentration camps has figured prominently in the recollective activities of Britain and the United States, whose publics learned about the camps primarily at liberation: the chaotic and pestilent "death camps" that merged during the final phase of the war in 1945.
Other groups, similar to the political prisoners who were specifically targeted during the first phase of the camps, have positioned the Nazi concentration camps within their own system of understanding. Religious Catholics, for example, especially those who were themselves imprisoned by the Nazis, tend to envision the camps as part of a divine plan. Many Protestants, on the other hand, have viewed the holocaust as part of a burden for which atonement is due. Finally, we can distinguish an eighth recollected image of the Nazi camps one might call historical: a multifaceted reality encompassing several of the images described above. This historicized view, to use a term whose utility was hotly debated in the mid-1980s, is, not surprisingly, held by interested members of younger generations without any immediate personal connection to the camps or their survivors.
The plethora of memorials representing these different holocausts at Dachau can be analyzed best if we subdivide the post-war decades into five periods: (1) the first months after liberation in 1945; (2) the years from 1946 to 1955, when a process of forgetting and then eradicating historical aspects of the Dachau camp took place; (3) the years from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, when political and religious groups established memorials enshrining the holocausts of their collective memories; (4) a transitional decade, and (5) the years since 1980, which have witnessed the gradual modification of the memorial site to present a more complex, historicized view of the holocaust.
The first memorials proposed for Dachau illustrate an important feature of all successful memorials: They draw on older, inherited symbolic and stylistic languages. In order to function in the recollective process, the message of a memorial must be understood by its viewers. Thus most early holocaust memorials did not present aspects of the camps, which had never before been symbolically represented. Instead, they were based on traditional religious symbolism or a heroic monumental style. They did not refer specifically to any of the individual holocausts listed above, but rather to the cessation of an unspecified historical calamity. They did not refer back to a past which was still all too present in the minds of contemporaries, but directed commemorative attention toward the future. Let us return to liberation day at the end of April, 1945, to examine the historical context of their origins.
When Allied soldiers entered Dachau, more than 2000 corpses in various states of decomposition were strewn throughout the camp. To alleviate the sanitary crisis, these corpses were added to mass graves on a nearby hill which had been used by the SS since November 1944, when a lack of fuel curtailed the operation of the crematorium. Shortly after this first postwar burial, in which the corpses were transported through the town in open farm wagons, the US military ordered local officials to construct a memorial at the gravesite. The first design considered by the town elders consisted of two columns, one crowned by a cross, the other topped by a star of David.
In June 1945 this design was proposed for the camp roll-call square and endorsed by the archbishop of Munich, one of the few uncompromised figures of regional public life. The newly instated Dachau town leaders, representing a cross section of the political spectrum (2 Communists, 2 Social Democrats, 2 Bavarian Catholic Party members, and 2 non-aligned) found it suitable as well, but it was abandoned only weeks later when it was discovered that its designer had been a member of the Nazi Party. In July the town council decided to solicit alternative designs.
Although the two columns were never erected in that form, this first proposal had a long afterlife in the memorial history of Dachau. A large wooden cross erected shortly after liberation by Polish survivors did adorn the roll-call square for a year or more in 1945-46 (fig. 4). And in 1949 a wooden cross and a star of David were erected at the mass grave on the Leiten hill, to be replaced in 1956 by the more permanent versions in bronze and stone which still stand today. In 1960 they appeared in yet another project, when a suffragan bishop who had been imprisoned in the concentration camp, and who had just spearheaded the construction of a Catholic chapel at the end of the central camp street, suggested that such crowned columns flank his chapel to represent what he referred to as the "other two major world religions," Judaism and Protestantism. The popularity of these ahistorical memorials reveals a continuing desire not to recollect any holocaust, but instead to use the historical location to affirm a bond with the recollective community in the present.
Once most of the survivors of Dachau had been repatriated in the summer of 1945, the camp was used by the US Army as an internment center for German army officers and Nazi party officials. Commemorative markers in the camp were not accessible to the public, so by default the Leiten gravesite became the focal point of commemorative activity.
The next proposal for a Dachau memorial, unveiled on 9 November 1945 at an internationally broadcast commemorative ceremony in the castle of Dachau township, abandoned religious symbolism and drew upon a different memorial tradition: large structures in prominent natural settings, such as the national monuments of the 19th century and the Bismarck towers of the early 20th. This proposal, which I will refer to as a "temple of liberation," was envisioned by Karl Knappe, a Munich artist who had sculpted war memorials during the Weimar and Nazi periods (such as the prone figure of a uniformed soldier in Munich's tomblike World War I memorial)(figs. 5,6).
The base of this rectangular building atop the Leiten hill was to be 35m wide and 20m high, containing cavernous rooms with memorial plaques, paintings and frescoes. A steep exterior staircase led to the roof, which offered a panoramic view of the former concentration camp in the foreground and the peaks of the Alps in distance. From this base rose a 15m tall pylon consisting of an obelisk crowned by a large sunlike gold mosaic disk, which would have been visible from afar. The temple's "rugged mass" was to have, as the artist phrased it, an "elemental naturalness." He explained his conception as follows:
My idea ... [is] to point to the gravity of the events only in the lower rooms, and then to guide the visitors of this memorial site up onto the walls, which were to be built out of the ruins of Munich. Visitors would have climbed onto these walls and found ... a "liberating" view of the Alps. I think it would have been sufficient to allude to the horrors in the large lower rooms, and not eternally block the road to freedom and salvation with remembrance.
The candid formulation of the concluding sentence concisely expresses the predominant anti-recollective sentiments of the broader German populace at the time, which was composed to a substantial extent of former followers and supporters of the National Socialist regime. However, that silent majority was not in a position to express approval or dissent. Several progressive German architects publicly criticized the design, linking it to nationalistic and militaristic monuments of Germany's past. This prompted US military and Bavarian authorities to withdraw their support for the project shortly after the November 1945 ceremony, and it was never built.
This unrealized project is not the only example of a German holocaust monument drawing on this monumental tradition, however. At Buchenwald near Weimar, in what was communist East Germany, an expansive memorial site near the camp was designed in the mid-1950s and dedicated in September 1958 (fig. 3). Its centerpiece is a 50m tall stone bell tower erected on the foundations of a Bismarck tower torn down to make room for it. The ensemble features a massive entry gate, a series of large narrative bas reliefs, huge pylons with flame basins, and funnel-shaped, concrete-lined circular graves, as well as a monumental sculptural group with figures almost twice life size. In contrast to the Leiten temple project, which would have been limited to unspecified "allusions" to camp life in the interior rooms, the narrative reliefs and sculptural group in Buchenwald are unequivocal representations of the "political" holocaust in the concentration camps of the early 1930s. Throughout the history of East Germany, that was the holocaust whose recollection was supported by the state apparatus.
In the years after 1945 two developments facilitated the break with older commemorative traditions in West Germany. On the one hand, Cold War politics and pressing problems in day-to-day life enabled many Germans to forget the hideous images of the concentration camps that had been forced into their consciousness at war's end. This led to a dearth of official commemorative activities relating to the holocaust during the late 1940s and early 1950s. On the other hand, especially after commemorative activities began to revive in the mid-1950s, artists and memorial makers found new forms and symbols which did more than mark the concentration camp sites as symbolic cemeteries. From 1945 to the early 1960s a whole iconography of the Nazi camps gradually evolved, including barbed wire, triangle badges, smokestacks, emaciated or skeletized bodies, coffins, chains, flames, walls, ramps, fences, railroad tracks and cattle cars. Two international artistic competitions also helped to break with the established memorial tradition: that for the "Unknown Political Prisoner" in 1953, and that for a memorial for Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1956.
One early example of this new language is a plaque erected by the VVN, an organization of German survivors, on a bank in downtown Dachau in 1947. Dachau camp inmates and oppositional townsmen attempted to wrest power from the town's Nazi leadership shortly before Allied troops arrived. The revolt was unsuccessful, however, and the corpses of insurgents were displayed as a public warning in front of a bank opposite city hall. The plaque, which simply names the victims and the event, has a row of triangle badges, which were used in the concentration camps to designate categories of prisoners according to the reason for their imprisonment. This badge of shame, which was unmistakably linked to the Nazi camps, was now used as a badge of honor.
The first figurative memorial proposed for Dachau, a smaller than life-sized statue depicting a concentration camp inmate holding a naked and emaciated comrade with his left arm, shows how the traditional sculptural motif was adapted to present an old message with icons of these new events (fig. 9). Fritz Koelle, a well-known proletarian sculptor of the 1920s working in an expressionistic style, took the centuries-old motif of the pietà (the Virgin Mary holding her dead son), which represents mourning, sacrifice for the greater good, and a close bond between the two figures, and applied symbols of the camps to it: emaciation, a shorn head, pajama-like uniform, and a sallow face with sunken eyes. Koelle gave the pair an unsettling twist in that the clothed figure's right hand is raised and pointing out the emaciated comrade to viewers with an accusatory gesture.
The pietà motif is common in memorial sculpture and has been adapted to other situations as well: a World War I soldiers' monument in the German town of Rot on the Rot shows a statue of Christ as the Man of Sorrows supporting a fully uniformed German soldier (fig. 11); a poster by the Dachau survivors information office in 1946 shows a German civilian supporting a clothed prisoner in striped garb (fig. 12); and Nathan Rapoport's bronze statue "The Liberator," dedicated in 1985 in New Jersey's Liberty Park, depicts a US soldier carrying a fragile concentration camp inmate. In each case, the commissioners of the figures wanted to represent a bond between the two symbolic figures: Christ's sacrifice and that of the fallen German soldiers of World War I; German civilians and the sacrifice of concentration camp inmates; US GIs and liberated concentration camp prisoners.
The Dachau pietà was selected in 1948 for a memorial to be established in front of the Dachau crematorium by Phillip Auerbach, a Jewish German businessman who had survived the camps and returned to Munich to head the Bavarian Office of Restitution. Auerbach, who wrote a doctoral thesis on German resistance against the Third Reich, identified himself more with the political resistance in Germany than with Jewish survivors per se, although as their Jewish advocate he clearly sympathized with the latter group as well. A short time after he began a fund-raising drive for the figure, because of negative feedback he had received, Auerbach abandoned the prisoner-pietà and selected another sculpture by the same artist: a solitary, shorn inmate in the typical camp garb.
The "unknown concentration camp inmate," as the sculpture has come to be known, wears an overcoat, pants and clogs, so that only his gaunt face betrays emaciation. The accusatory right hand of the earlier group is now buried in the coat pocket; the knit brows and focused gaze have been raised in a dreamy, undirected look. This new design without the naked, emaciated second figure changed the meaning expressed in the first sculpture dramatically. The accusatory presentation of the inhumanity that reigned in the Nazi camps and the solidarity among the prisoners have been replaced by a detached, isolated, unimposing figure. The combined political and Jewish holocausts represented in the first statue were replaced by a vague and palatable representation of a victim of a relatively "clean" camp. It appears that Auerbach, in his desire to gain acceptance from the wider German populace, had chosen a statue with which that group could also identify.
This new monument was dedicated in September 1950 in front of the Dachau crematorium, where it still stands today. The transition from the graphic depiction of the earlier sculpture to the restrained mood of the second reflects the second development in the late 1940s and 1950s which facilitated the break from the older memorial tradition: the cessation of commemorative activities for the Nazi holocausts. During the 1950s the history of the Dachau camp itself, as well as of the Leiten gravesite and an exhibition in the crematorium-gas chamber building, illustrates the attempt to recast the former concentration camp as the "clean" camp that it had never been.
The first Nuremberg trial, one of whose purposes had been to inform the German people about the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, ended in October 1946. The United States conducted a subsequent series of trials at the international court there, while at Dachau a US military court tried Germans accused of crimes against Allied personnel until 1947. By that time tensions between the US and the Soviet Union had become increasingly manifest, and the emerging superpowers began to relax their hard-line punitive stance towards occupied Germany. In the spring and summer of 1948 the remaining Dachau internees were amnestied and released in droves, a precursor of the "release" of images of the holocaust from West German collective memory.
In 1949 West Germany became the semi-sovereign Federal Republic of Germany. This gave national leaders more autonomy in setting the country's commemorative agenda. Until 1955, when Chancellor Adenauer concluded an agreement bringing home German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union, West German recollective activities focused on these absent men, and public officials avoided holocaust commemorations as much as possible. To give just one example: From 1951 to 1955 a national "Week of the Prisoners of War" was celebrated with lavish support from government agencies. Although this memorial week was first held in late October, it was moved in 1952 to the first week of May, when the liberation of the concentration camps was usually celebrated.
In Dachau, as the internment camp emptied, Bavarian authorities speculated about uses for the complex once it reverted to German control. In January 1948 the Bavarian legislature unanimously passed a bill calling for the conversion of the Dachau camp complex into a work camp for the many "asocial elements" in pre-currency reform Germany. The language of the bill unselfconsciously echoed the official descriptions of purportedly "clean" concentration camps during the 1930s. As the stream of refugees from the East mounted in the Spring of 1948, however, the legislature decided instead to convert the concentration camp barracks into apartments and create a refugee settlement (fig. 2). This plan was realized in spite of more cost-effective alternative proposals having nothing to do with the former camp, whose Nazi-era history was studiously avoided in the printed reports and official correspondence regarding the decision.
The history of the Leiten gravesite after the rejection of the temple project offers another example of the passage of the holocaust into West German recollective oblivion in the late 1940s. When Knappe's monumental temple project was officially abandoned in January 1946, a commission was formed by Bavarian Prime Minister Hoegner to find a new solution. The commission's recommendation, released in March 1946, closely followed the suggestion proposed by Knappe's critics:
This recommendation was publicly announced in June, and by September 1946, 21 entries had been submitted. The jury deemed none of them acceptable, and decided to request new designs from the creators of the four most promising models. They now specified more precisely the submission of projects having "the character of a cemetery," so that they would "resemble neither a museum nor a place for an outing." A room for ritual activities and private commemorative markers was to be included, as was a "living and meaningful connection to the surroundings," such as a bell tower. These conditions were set exclusively by state officials; survivors of the camp had no input into the process. In the ensuing months the State Chancellory and the Ministry of Culture did not allocate the funds for the new competition, and the entire project was forgotten by the bureaucracy until 1949, when an international scandal catapulted it back on to the public agenda.
In the summer of that year, a steam shovel mining fine sand at the base of Leiten hill exposed several skeletons. Although it was later determined that the skeletons predated the Nazi era, the disinterment spotlighted the negligence of State and local authorities in maintaining the gravesite atop the hill. When the story broke, no one could recall the precise location of the concentration camp graves, nor even the approximate number of corpses: The first estimates ranged wildly from 2,000 to 20,000 (in reality there were about 5600). Even the searing experience of farm wagons laden with decomposing corpses being led through the town had not anchored the gravesite in collective memory. Local residents may have privately remembered the macabre processions, but even in the short span of four years the lack of public recollection had helped to isolate these images from their historical context and strip them of their significance for the collectivity.
To rectify the impression of past neglect, the state mounted massive public relations efforts in 1949-50, including the final realization of the Leiten memorial project begun in 1945, and the renovation of the exhibition in the crematorium which had been installed in 1945-46 during the first Dachau war crimes trial (fig. 13). The descriptions of the new Leiten project reveal that little change had occurred in the ahistorical recollection typical of the immediate post-war period. In December 1949 Dachau county governor Junker declared that "a kind of trans-denominational pantheon with several altars for the various religions" was to be erected. In February 1950, when a new competition was officially initiated, the guidelines prescribed a design symbolizing "the religious and national idea of sacrifice on behalf of peace."
The text of the document sealed in the cornerstone of the Leiten Hall confirms the official wish to associate the commemoration of the victims of the Nazis with self-sacrifice for high ideals:
According to the reasoning implicit in this text, since the Dachau deaths were meaningful, their commemoration would not renew old hatred against the Germans, but promote Germany's integration into the international community. Such government-formulated conceptions not only excluded the suffering, barbarity, exploitation, and senselessness of the inmate experience in the Nazi camps, they flew in the face of the image of the camps as "clean" correctional penal institutions for "asocial" inmates in popular West German historical consciousness. As the 74 year old mayor of Dachau told a British journalist in late 1959:
In the limelight of international attention a decade earlier, however, it was not expedient for German officials to recollect this image, so they limited their historical pronouncements to vacuous generalities and proceeded to select artistic designs which would not be offensive to the sensibilities of the local populace.
When the artistic competition concluded two months later, a newspaper reviewer summarized his impression of the 175 entries as follows:
This indicates the powerful hold these older commemorative traditions still had on the artistic community, but not only on them: When the jury met to examine the entries, it found the following characteristics most appealing because they were "rooted in local tradition" (heimatverbunden): octagonal ground plan, stained glass windows, and careful landscaping.
Considerations of cost-the original projection of 1-2 millions had been reduced to DM600,000 for both landscaping and construction-dictated a relatively simple memorial. Ultimately the third place entry by architect Harald Roth and sculptor Anton Hiller, subject to some reductions, was selected for realization (fig. 7). Construction was delayed until Spring 1951 because funds had not been budgeted, another example of the bureaucratic foot-dragging which characterized the treatment of the Dachau project from 1946 to 1949.
The memorial hall ultimately constructed on the Leiten in 1951-52 has some similarities to the monumental tradition of its 1945 predecessor, the 35m tall temple of liberation (figs. 5, 8). The eight-sided hall of rough-hewn basalt, however, is only 10.5m high and 9m in diameter, but its bronze doors, torch mounts, and 33 national coats of arms are reminiscent both of the 1945 Knappe project, and more traditional heroic monuments such as the 8-sided Tannenberg (1924-27) and Annaberg (1938) monuments, or the German soldiers' memorial erected at El Alamain in Egypt at roughly the same time. Today the Leiten's pseudo-Germanic hall is concealed by enshrouding trees, hidden from public attention like the graves of the concentration camp victims themselves. When the octagonal hall was completed in 1952, no public ceremony marked the event.
Another element of the public relations effort in the wake of the Leiten scandal was the renovation of an exhibition installed in the rooms of the crematorium building by survivors in late 1945. The original display included mannequins reenacting scenes of torture, and graphic pictures, including a series of photographs of prisoners reenacting the cremation procedure with real corpses after liberation (fig. 13). After a major redesign in 1950 the mannequins were removed and most of those pictures were replaced by charts, statistics and photographs of postwar commemoration (fig. 14). This exhibition did not last long, however. In 1951 Auerbach, who had been the only Bavarian state official advocating commemoration in Dachau, was accused of embezzlement, arrested, and put on trial. After he was convicted of several unrelated minor offenses, he committed suicide in August 1952. Responsibility for the Dachau memorial site was transferred to the Ministry of Finance, and at the next opportunity, right after the eighth anniversary of liberation in 1953, the exhibition was removed by Bavarian authorities. Subsequently, plans were floated to close and tear down the crematorium building, and demolition of the watchtowers was actually begun.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the recollective programs of two groups coincided: some survivors such as Auerbach who saw the camps as places of senseless death and wanted to turn them into quiet parks to honor the victims, and those Germans represented by the Bavarian Ministry of Finance (which owned the site) and the local county governor's office (which worked to end public access) both of whom professed to remember the camps as "clean" institutions for the retraining of the "work-shy" and wanted to remove evidence to the contrary. The neat landscaping in the crematorium area and on the Leiten hill in Dachau today are remainders of this period.
The West German attempt to recollect the "clean camps" did not end with the creation of the memorial parks, however. It also left its mark on the overall appearance of the memorial site in the former concentration camp itself (compare figs. 1 and 2). By 1955 the marginalization of organizations of former political prisoners and the eradicatory measures of the early 1950s prompted the survivors to take action and lobby for the creation of a historically concrete memorial site. However, time and again the Bavarian government forced them to modify their plans in such a way as to reduce historical concreteness.
Although the survivors planned to retain some or all of the barracks in the memorial site, for instance, state officials argued that because of dilapidation and subsequent modifications all wooden structures on the site would have to be demolished. From 1962 to 1964 all of the prisoner barracks were torn down, as were the rabbit hutches, kennels, greenhouses, infirmary, canteen, library, disinfection building, chapel, brothel and the many other buildings that had made up the multifarious life in the concentration camp. As a compromise, the two barrack buildings immediately adjacent to the roll-call square, the infirmary and canteen, were reconstructed as sleeping barracks, but with cement floors, locking doors, and tightly fitting windows. One reconstruction remained empty, the other was fitted with typical furnishings from three periods in the camp's history; still missing were the relatively comfortable quarters where the barrack elders slept; only one set of toilets and lavatories was reconstructed.
By 1965 this compromise between Dachau survivors and Bavarian authorities resulted in a minimalist solution, a reduction of "Dachau" to the barest designators of the "Holocaust" in the narrow sense: an enclosed compound with an entry gate, watch towers, some barbed wire fencing, two barracks, a gas chamber and a crematorium. The rest of the camp was strewn with light colored pebbles, and the locations of the other 32 barracks were marked by low concrete curbs. Thus the memorial site symbolically reincarnated the propaganda image of the "clean" camp, with a few icons of the early political camps and the later extermination centers superimposed upon it. There is no indication that some barracks had been enclosed by barbed wire fences, that Czechs lived in one barrack, Frenchmen in another, Polish priests in a third, German priests in a fourth with a chapel, or that two others housed the so-called punishment company, or that medical experiments were conducted in yet another. Attentive visitors to the memorial site might notice that only 30 of the 34 barrack outlines have numbers. Nothing indicates that the remaining four housed the infirmary, canteen, and prison library, which had been stocked with thousands of books. The complexities of the contradictory universe of the Nazi camps were erased from Dachau's memorial topography.
While this historical neutralization may be difficult to understand in retrospect, it may have been a necessary didactic step: First the holocaust in its most general meaning had to be reestablished as a historical fact in the face of repression and denial; only then could its complexity, internal contradictions, and non-linearity be explored and represented. There are other examples of this "flattening" of history as well. Originally large letters on the roof of the service building (which had housed storerooms, the camp kitchen and showers, and now contains the memorial site's museum, offices, and archive) mockingly proclaimed virtues such as obedience, sobriety, cleanliness, and industry to be the "milestones to freedom" to the prisoners standing at attention in the roll-call square below every morning and evening (fig. 4). This inscription, a cynical outgrowth of the Nazi-era "clean camp" ideology, was never reconstructed. Another example of didactic simplification was a sign put up at the entrance to the gas chamber in 1960, explaining the word "Brausebad" (showers) stenciled over the door (fig. 16):
However, the gas chamber did indeed work: it was tested with Cyclon B gas and possibly combat gasses as well. But it was never used for the systematic murder of prisoners; perhaps because by the time it was completed, deaths due to mistreatment, malnutrition and disease already surpassed the capacity of the crematorium. The explanation was probably an overly sensitive reaction to claims that no one was ever gassed at Dachau. Such pseudo-academically argued denials highlighted the need for definitive research about the many dimensions of the Nazi holocaust. As this literature gradually accumulated in the 1960s and 70s, a number of groups worked to enshrine their images of the holocaust in memorials.
The commemorative buildings erected by various groups in Dachau in the 1960s illustrate another fundamental principle of the political aesthetics of holocaust memorials: they have more to do with the politics and world view of the recollecting group than with the historical events they purport to represent. The first of these monuments in Dachau (which was coincidentally one of the last to be completed) was an international memorial initiated with a symbolic cornerstone-laying in 1956 by the International Dachau Survivors' Committee (Comité International de Dachau, CID), the umbrella organization of Dachau survivors. Most of the CID's members had been imprisoned for political reasons, but the German and non-German organizations held widely disparate views of the concentration camps. While most of the Germans in the CID had been political opponents of the Nazi regime arrested in the early 1930s and treated preferentially by the SS, the other foreign groups had experienced the camps during the exacerbated conditions of the war years and had been subject to much harsher treatment. Thus while the Germans in the CID saw the camps as places where heroic resistors had struggled valiantly against overwhelmingly powerful opponents, the foreigners tended to see them as places of barbarous cruelty and senseless death.
As the project moved slowly towards realizationthe 2000 individuals and families living in the former camp first had to be relocated, the differences between these two collective memories began to surface. In 1959 an international competition was held which brought in 63 entries from 18 countries. The Belgian and French national committees, who had dominated the CID leadership since its reestablishment in 1955, favored a sculpture by Yugoslavian artist Glid Nandor in which stylized emaciated bodies with barblike hands were interwoven to resemble a barbed wire fence (fig. 17). The West German committee, in contrast, liked a model by a German architect in which a slender, 35m tall column of jagged, interconnected strands towered over a large and a smaller stone triangle thrusting in opposite directions (fig. 19).
These designs reflect the collective memories of each group: The dynamic, vertical German design would have honored stalwart resistance under adverse conditions, as symbolized by the hunched, thrusting triangles. The jagged tower, in addition to the importance expressed by its height, connoted the deadly, essentially insurmountable ascent to victory over the Nazis. The Yugoslavian design, which was ultimately erected, expressed the inhuman treatment of human beings, the nameless, faceless mass death of people penned up in enclosures like worthless animals. As a compromise between the two groups, before the memorial was completed in 1968 a second sculpture was added within the ramplike base of the Yugoslavian design to symbolize the international solidarity of the prisoners within the camp. This bas relief consists of three huge links of a symbolic chain adorned with triangles glazed in the colors of the badges worn by various groups in the concentration camp (fig. 19). However, several of the colors used in the camps are not included in the sculpture: the green of the "professional criminals," the black of the "asocial elements," and the pink of the homosexuals. Whereas the absence of the first is quite logical, the lack of the other two colors reveals the prejudices and limits of solidarity of the more politically oriented survivors. The black badge was sometimes assigned by the SS as an additional humiliation, and homosexuals were victims as innocent as Jews, whose yellow double triangles are amply represented in the sculpture.
If the chain insignia represents the groups assembled in the CID, not the concentration camp, it still refers explicitly to the historical experience. In contrast, Christian religious commemoration at Dachau draws on traditions much older than and often completely unrelated to the Nazi holocaust. Constructed in less than six months and dedicated in August 1960, the Catholic "Chapel of the Mortal Agony of Christ" was the first religious building within the camp perimeter constructed explicitly for commemorative purposes (figs. 21, 17). This 15m tall cylindrical structure 15m in diameter is located on the central axis of the camp, at the end opposite the roll-call square. A wide opening from top to bottom of the side visible from the camp reveals a raised altar with an abstract crucifix hanging over it. Suspended under the inset conical roof is a huge abstract crown of thorns woven from iron rails reminiscent of the heat-twisted girders and truck chassis used as grates for burning corpses. The chapel is surrounded by a ring of lawn and a circle of oak trees (fig. 1). This greenery is a last remnant of Suffragan Bishop Neuhäusler's 1960 plan for the entire memorial site: a grove of trees without any remnants of the camp. Neuhäusler was allowed to realize his plan only in the immediate vicinity of the Catholic chapel because of protest from the German survivors, who, by that time, were more interested in historically concrete commemoration than Auerbach had been in the early 1950s.
The "Mortal Agony" chapel is an example of the Catholic recollection of the holocaust within the Christian system of belief as an element of a divine plan. The celebration of mass and the crown of thorns linking Christ to a concentration camp victim turn the commemorative ritual into a religious affirmation. If the chapel were located elsewhere, hardly anything would indicate its commemorative significance. This is only slightly less true for the other Catholic commemorative building in the camp, a convent just behind the chapel.
The convent "Sacred Blood" of the Carmelite order, built in 1963-64, can be entered through a gate broken into the base of a watch tower (fig. 1, at top). Plans to construct a cloister at Dachau go back to the weeks immediately after liberation, when freed priests tried to win US General Patton for their plan to construct a church around and over the crematorium, which would have become a kind of crypt in this religious edifice. The situation at the time precluded the immediate realization of the plan, which was forgotten in the flurry of West German reconstruction. However, after the "Mortal Agony" chapel was completed in 1960, the plan was revived. As the prioress of a Carmelite cloister near Bonn wrote to the Archbishop of Munich in 1962:
This is a clear formulation of how the holocaust was to be made part of this group's identity: as part of a path to salvation in which liturgical practice mirrors divine sacrifice without tangible links to the holocaust, thus reinforcing religious identity, not historical consciousness.
Yet another Catholic chapel was erected by Italian Dachau survivors in the early 1960s on the slope of the Leiten hill. Fundraising for the votive chapel "Maria Pacis" ('Mary, Queen of Peace'), modelled after the Roman pantheon by Italian architect Ehea Ronca, began in 1955. Ground was broken in August 1960, when Bishop Neuhäusler's "Mortal Agony" chapel was dedicated. The Italian chapel was completed in September 1962 and dedicated after stone "Stations of the Cross" along the path leading up to it were completed a few weeks later. It, too, contains no references to the history of Dachau or the concentration camps, but serves solely as a place of worship for Catholic "pilgrims." These purely religious stations stand in sharp contrast to the purely secular stations of the induction into concentration camp life that mark the descending path in the Buchenwald memorial.
After the completion of the "Mortal Agony" chapel in the memorial site in 1960, considerations of religious equity prompted Bishop Neuhäusler to call for the construction of Jewish and Protestant memorials as well. When he first invited the Organization of Bavarian Jews and the German Protestant Church to erect memorials of their own, he suggested that simple columns with a cross and a star of David might be sufficient, but both groups ultimately decided that more elaborate memorials would be more appropriate.
For the Jews, Dachau was a dead place, and they did not want to erect a house of God there. After initially acquiescing to a simple star of David, it was decided that a non-liturgical memorial building would be more suitable. The Jewish architect Hermann Guttmann, who had designed post-war synagogues in Dusseldorf and Hanover, was commissioned to design the project, for which a cornerstone was laid in June 1964.
The Jewish memorial in Dachau is wedge-shaped in the horizontal and vertical planes, a kind of trapezoid with a parabolic perimeter (fig. 21). The entrance to the building is on the open side of the parabola; an 18m long ramp leads from ground level downward to the interior 1.8m below. The roof of the building, which begins above the bottom of the ramp, slopes upward towards the rear. The ramp, bordered above ground on both sides with pickets of stylized barbed wire, ends at a gate of barbed bars in the 10m wide opening of the building. A vertical strip of light marble set in the apex of the parabola extends through a small round hole at the highest point of the roof, where it is crowned by a menorah. The column of light entering from the hole in the roof symbolizes not only the chimney that was the only exit for Jews who descended the ramps of the gas chambers, but also hope, salvation, and freedom. The marble strip was hewn at Peki'in in Israel, a place where at least one Jew is supposed to have been living at all times in biblical history. It thus symbolizes the continuity of Judaism and its connection with Israel. The menorah represents the salvation that is the goal of the continual Jewish hope. In contrast to the unbounded hopelessness the vast majority of Jews experienced in the concentration and extermination camps, as well as in the ghettos and mass shootings, the Jewish memorial in Dachau emphasizes aspects of contemporary relevance with little historical justification, although it does include unmistakable icons of the extermination camps: the barbed wire enclosure, the ramp, the underground gas chamber, the chimney.
The German Protestant Church initially responded negatively to Suffragan Bishop Neuhäusler's call to erect a Protestant chapel in the Dachau memorial site. Since the Catholic chapel did not have any explicitly denominational attributes, Protestant Church leaders first thought that it would be sufficient to donate an item to help furnish that chapel. When Dutch survivors requested a specifically Protestant place of commemoration of the concentration camp victims in Germany in 1961, German Protestant leaders saw Bergen-Belsen, located in a predominantly Protestant area of West Germany (in contrast to Catholic Bavaria), as a more suitable location for such a project. If Bergen-Belsen were too isolated, they suggested, the chapel might be located in Frankfurt, a hub of foreign traffic to Germany. Such arguments reveal the emptiness of their recollections of the Nazi holocausts.
Finally, after the Dutch suggested that a former concentration camp would be a more appropriate location than a commercial center, and after Jewish groups protested against the Belsen site because so many Jews were buried there, Dachau became the location of choice. A cornerstone was laid on 9 November 1963, the 25th anniversary of the 1938 anti-Jewish pogrom. This date was found convenient because a high Church official could announce it during his trip to Israel in late October. In his consecration speech, Church Council President Kurt Scharf emphasized the role that the Dachau church was to play in the group identity of contemporary German Protestants:
This quotation makes clear that the recollection of the past was to affirm a Protestant agenda in the present.
The naming of the planned church also shows the close link between commemoration and group identity. The original suggestion, "Church of Atonement" (Sühnekirche), was rejected because it excluded the participation of foreign Protestants and camp survivors in the project, but also because it was misleading: "because the crimes were so horrible that no expiation is possible," as one church leader put it. The solution "Church of the Christ's Expiation" (Sühne Christi-Kirche), which was used in the official proclamation of the project in November 1963, was later deemed unsatisfactory because it resembled the name of the Catholic chapel, "Church of the Mortal Agony of Christ" (Todesangst-Christi Kapelle) too closely, and because non-German survivors saw their sufferings in the following of Christ's, so that they did not need his expiation. The troubling implications of the holocaust for the non-camp-survivor collective German subconscious are manifest in other suggested names: "Church of Penance and Supplication" (Buß- und Bittkirche), and "Church of Judgment and Mercy" (Gericht- und Gnadekirche). The potential awkwardness of these names was recognized, however, and by the time the building was dedicated in May 1967, the name "Church of Reconciliation" (Versöhnungskirche) had been chosen.
This Protestant church is by far the most complex religious memorial in the Dachau memorial site (fig. 22). Its design was found through a limited competition in which 7 architects were invited to submit plans. The winning entry by Mannheim architect Helmut Striffler, published in the summer of 1965, sought to break the orthogonal symmetry of the camp with a curving outer wall of unfinished concrete, which was also intended to link the church, a parsons' quarters, a meeting room, and a central courtyard into one enclosed, protected space. Unlike the tall Catholic chapel, which was built amidst a number of other buildings in a camp full of barracks, the Versöhnungskirche, designed after the barracks had been torn down in 1964, had a low-lying, varying contour, "in complete contrast to the pathetic flatness of the camp," as the architect put it. Thus its architectural form already reflected the sanitized memorial site around it.
About 2/3 of the building are below ground level. A broad, open stairway narrows as it leads down from the street level to the enclosed courtyard with the meeting room on the left and the austere chapel straight ahead. All surfaces except the carpeted floor of the meeting room and the glass window are unfinished concrete, creating an impression of barrenness. The building can be exited through the sanctuary, on an ascending ramp leading from the glass doors separating the courtyard from the sanctuary to a heavy bronze portal at the rear. Visitors coming from the crematorium, which is only a short distance away, read a multilingual inscription on the outside of the massive door: "Refuge is in the shadow of Your wings.' This biblical quotation reflects the architect's conception, which was to "afford a short breathing space, a gesture of help, to visitors to the camp as they make their way through it."
Not only do the architecture and naming of the building suggest that the German Protestant Church conceives of the holocaust as a legacy which calls for active atonement, the activities which take place in the building also confirm this impression. The meeting or "community room" is not merely another means by which "breathing space" is provided; its primary purpose is to "anticipate the impartial questioning of the young" and make available information about the activities of the Protestant Church during the Nazi era. A clergyman residing full time in the Church of Reconciliation was to support this educational mission, and since 1979 volunteers from the Protestant youth group Aktion Sühnezeichen ('Operation Sign of Atonement," now renamed "Operation Sign of Atonement/Services for Peace," ASF) have been doing year-long internships at the memorial site. They organize exhibition, discussion, and lectures, and guide tour groups through the site.
Since this younger generation began taking an active role in holocaust commemoration in the 1970s, the nature of recollection in Dachau has changed. This generation gap in collective memory was eloquently formulated by Ludger Bült, one of the first group of ASF resident volunteers in Dachau in 1979-80. In a speech he held on the tenth anniversary of continuous ASF work in Dachau in 1989, Bült criticized official Church commemoration for emphasizing self-referential themes such as "sadness," "hurt," and "deep inner shock," because they functionalized the concentration camp experience for religious ends. Instead of these "metaphors of pain," he called for "education about the causes and goals of National-Socialism," and for the investigation of hitherto ignored dimensions of the holocaust, such as the use of prisoner labor by German firms, and the fates of homosexuals in the camps.
The effects of this generational shift are not immediately apparent in the outward appearance of the Dachau memorial site, although they have left some traces. In the 1970s no new memorials were established, but more subtle changes were made: the exhibition was expanded to include the Jewish Holocaust, regular showings of a documentary film about the concentration camp were instituted, and a catalog of the museum was published. The number of young people visiting the memorial site, most of them on organized school field trips, climbed sharply during that period, so that by the 1980s a host of changes were necessary.
A number of large maps and photographs on billboards were erected throughout the memorial site in an attempt to convey a visual impression of what life in the camp had been like. In the 1980s the Dachau town administration continued the eradicatory work begun in the 1950s with the demolition of several World War I factory buildings that had been part of the original camp in 1933, the commandant's villa, and railroad tracks leading from the town into the camp. In response, several local groups mobilized to prevent the disappearance of this historic material. Although these groups only succeeded in rescuing one small section of the rail line, their public relations work did help to anchor the former concentration camp in public recollection. Within this relatively secure enclave other dimensions of the concentration camp experience are being explored and recollected, which in earlier periods would have jeopardized public commemoration of the holocaust.
Traces of this new multi-dimensional conception of the holocaust can be found in several places. In 1985 the memorial site inaugurated an annual journal, the Dachauer Hefte, which published new research and inaccessible source material. Its thematic issues have explored, for example, slave labor in the camps, women's unique experiences as prisoners, and medical experiments in the camps. In the Dachau memorial site itself a kind of architectonic inertia set in with the dedication of the international memorial in September 1968, so that this new multidimensionality has not yet found artistic expression. A move in this direction, an attempt to erect a plaque commemorating the homosexual victims of the concentration camp, ended in 1985 in a standoff between the survivors in the CID and the young initiative group. For a number of years the granite slab was displayed in the semi-private space of the Protestant Church of Reconciliation's meeting room, but in the early 1990s it has found a permanent home in the museum's hall of commemoration, where other private plaques and ribbons from commemorative wreaths are exhibited.
In the early 1990s a number of towns along the route of the deadly evacuation marches of April 1945 erected memorials to recollect their town's personal contact with the Dachau camp. In 1996, the same year that construction was begun on a youth hostel in the town, the Bavarian Minstry of Culture and the CID decided that a complete overhaul and reconception of the 30-year-old exhibition was necessary so that it would adequately represent the evolving recollection of the holocaust. In Buchenwald, whose memorial site was also reconceived after the fall of East Germany in 1989-90, a monument was erected to commemorate the systematic murder of Sinti and Roma, a group which had hitherto been ignored in all German memorial sites. Such memorials for marginalized groups and forgotten aspects of the holocaust have begun to enliven the rather barren landscape of holocaust commemoration in Germany. Coupled with continuing efforts to eradicate remains, they reveal that public recollection is a dialectical process of remembering and forgetting, collective memory a contested terrain upon which symbolic battles take place over the signification of events giving meaning to our lives.