Article – Holocaust commemoration and the urban landscape

In September Charlotte Lemanski and myself lead an undergraduate field course to Berlin exploring commemoration and memoralisation within the urban landscape. In the run up (and perhaps during the trip itself) I will be flagging up some relevant news stories; reports that highlight (amongst other things) the contentious nature of commemoration, the role of memorials in simultaneously affirming and undermining identity claims, and the role of aesthetics in shaping public reception of commemoration.

In the August 12th edition of The Guardian, the journalist Shaun Walker examines public debates surrounding commemoration of the Holocaust in the Ukraine. The report explores the sensitive nature of commemorating the murder of Jews during World War II in the Ukraine, since such memorials have challenged some of the established narratives of Ukrainian nationalism, discourses that have long emphasised the heroic nature of their actions against Soviet forces. As Walker explains, the construction of Holocaust memorials can challenge such accounts and unsettles simple categorisations of victim and perpetrator. One of the clear conclusions that can be drawn from the article is the significance of geopolitical context in shaping public responses to commemoration: for example, how the recent Russian intervention in the Crimea or the Ukranian revolution of 2014 shape the possibilities for, and uses of, commemoration.

The image above doesn’t directly relate to the story but is an example of two Stolperstein (‘Stumbling Stones’) on Große Hamburger Straße in Berlin. These are cobble-sized commemorations designed by artist Gunter Demnig that mark the living quarters of victims of the Holocaust (each Stolperstein starts ‘Here lived…’). Though tiny in size, these have become one the most prevalent commemorations of the Holocaust in Germany, and their relative concealment  makes us think about the extent to which commemoration is about disruption of the urban landscape, or about blending in to the banality of urban infrastructures.

Alex Jeffrey, August 2015


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