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Sunday, 4. December 2005

Several new additions...

The Sites of Memory webpage now has 333 photos of approximately 50 historical markers on 37 pages. The latest additions include: The photo is of the memorial marker for a German officer killed in the First World War. I saw several examples of helmut designs from classical antiquity in the World War One section of the cemetery.

Monday, 28. November 2005

America now online...

Thanks to Bill Cooper, the Sites of Memory webpage now has its first two markers from the United States. Find them on the main list. The one from my home town of Manhattan Beach, California, reminds visitors to a local park that the land for the park was administratively robbed from African American families in the 1920s. At the page I comment at length on why I think that event is more significant than the marker at the site implies.

The other is a memorial in the neighboring city of Hermosa Beach for the seven astronauts who died in the Challenger crash in 1986. One of them was local Greg Jarvis, a man I knew casually. The photo here is from that memorial near the city pier.

It would be fantastic to find more partners in the United States to collect markers and memorials from around the country for this site. If you are interested in history or photography, please go to the submissions page and get in touch.

Monday, 21. November 2005

New memorials now online...

I have just added four new sites to the Sites of Memory project. In addition to the Ehrenstaette Eberhardtshoehe, the memorial for the fallen from the local university here in Tuebingen, I have three submissions based on photographs submitted by others. A friend of mine, Christian Harde, submitted two memorials he "picked up" on a recent trip to France and one of my students captured a very interesting memorial ensemble in Wuerzburg, Germany:

If you have a memorial or historical marker near you that you would like to contribute, please go to my submissions page and get in touch with me. I would love to include more work from others.

Sunday, 20. November 2005

Honoring deserters in Ulm...

Today in Ulm a memorial to Wehrmacht deserters was unveiled – 17 years after it was constructed! Pictures, background information and links are available at Sites of Memory.

The controversy cuts right to the heart of all the problems surrounding Germany's post war culture of memory and identity. On the one hand, there is every effort to reject Nazi Germany as a source of traditions and symbols. These controversies rage across several fronts of symbolic politics: the naming of barracks after Nazi-era military heroes, the use of particular public spaces, the recognition of certain dates. On the other hand, biographies and families are, like in any other country, tied into the war years, making total rejection of the period very difficult. The difficulty is illustrated by the fact that it took the German parliament until 2002 to revoke the convictions of the 15,000 men executed for desertion under the Nazis, despite the long-standing recognition of Nazi crimes and illegality.

The difficulty stems from the instinctive feeling in any society that any recognition of deserters is a recognition of those who reject that society. In a recent classroom discussion of why societies have war memorials at all, one of my students said it was because the society seeks a way to thank those who the society called upon to give their lives. Society selects members to die. If we think about it that way, then honoring deserters would make those who answered the call and those who didn't equal, in a way dishonoring the obedient. Markus Kienle, one of the sponsors of the Ulm memorial, has emphasized its inclusive nature, adding to the pantheon of wartime victims, not detracting from it.

What if a society's motives for making that call to die, its methods of enforcing it, and the total public ethic of that society change dramatically and it comes to reject an earlier version of itself? Does it therefore turn the tables on the question of who gets honor and who doesn't? How much more controversial would a deserters' memorial be in a country without such a level of introspection, without such an obvious and universally recognized record of villainy? France recently forgave its World War One deserters. I am not aware that any other countries have followed suit.

Do the big questions of the regime and the war make a difference at the local village level or, at the front line, at the company level, where ideology or nation was likely less important than the fact that every man in the line might decide the fate of all in the next battle, where every man missing can be seen as having sought to save his own skin at the expense of his fellows? Does the righteousness or injustice of the war make a difference at that level? Are those in Germany who reject these memorials – such as some Bundeswehr officers or the Ulm city council in 1989 and 1995 – thinking, perhaps subconsciously, in those terms?

The message at the unveiling went even further than honoring those who refused to fight for Hitler. The texts read there by the Jugend für Frieden group called on or strongly implied a total rejection of any service in any military. Might that be the implication that opponents of the memorial fear the most, that society must retain its right to call on its members to die, regardless of the changes in regimes or public ethics? Is there a real fear that honoring deserters from back then might offer hope to deserters now or in the future that they, too, will be thanked (if perhaps under a different regime)? We find ourselves thrown back on the 60 year discussion in Germany since the rearmament about whether societies need armies in principle. Do those who reject the memorial expect another levee en masse to be necessary? Are those who support the memorial on terms of total disarmament naïve?

Friday, 11. November 2005

Anniversaries of Tragedy...

Today is Veterans' Day at home in the States, Memorial Day in other countries. For Germany other days have taken higher priority. The 9th of November has been a very important day in German history: the fall of the wall in 1989, the Reichskristallnacht, when Nazis all over Germany harassed, beat-up and murdered German Jews and burned down their places of worship, in 1923, when Hitler's first bid for power, the "Beerhall Putsch", was defeated, in 1918, when revolution broke out in Germany, in 1848, when the Frankfurt Parliament – which had offered the Prussian King the crown of all Germany as a constitutional monarch under a democratic constitution – was broken up by force of Prussian arms. Decisive moments in national memory with contradictory meanings and opposing constituencies.

Obviously, the last two events are foremost in Germans' minds. The tragedy and shame associated with the Reichskristallnacht prohibit any overtly joyous expressions of joy over the fall of the Wall. Somber memorial ceremonies and events surrounding the former event take precedence over remembrance of the latter, at least in public expression.

Here in Tübingen, Germany, the local Förderverein zur Erforschung der Heimatgeschichte des Nationalsozialismus im Landkreis Tübingen e.V. (an organization to promote the study of the local history of National Socialism in Tübingen) conducted a walk through Tübingen led by Sylvia Takacs. About a dozen people showed up. Starting at Gräberfeld X, where victims of the Nazis, whose bodies were used for medical research at the Tübingen anatomical institute were buried, the route continued to the memorial plaques at entryway of the Neue Aula, and on to Münzgasse in down town Tübingen, where the police and, during the Nazi period, the Gestapo was headquartered. It is right around the corner from the memorial plaques in the city center. Finally, we ended up at the memorial ceremonies at Synagogenplatz, the place where the Tübingen synagogue was located until being torched by Nazis 67 years before.

The event was an interesting mix of Gedenken ("remembrance") and education. At Gräberfeld X, the university and at the synagogue memorial there were elements of both: wreath layings and moments of silence and poetry on the one hand, historical background information on the other. Martin Ulmer of the Geschichtswerkstatt presented information about the fate of Tübingens Jews at the down town locations. Especially interesting was his recounting of how one of the city's main clothing stores, Haidt, right across from the memorial plaques, was "aryanized", "bought" far below value, from a Tübingen Jew in 1938 and the scandal it caused when the Haidt store celebrated its 50th jubilee in 1988. It reminded me of the recent discussion about the new book by historian Götz Aly (link in German), who unmasked the local economic reasons why many people supported Nazi anti-Semitism and terror.

One of the highlights was also a visit to the chapel of the city cemetery where Andreas Vogt showed us artwork by Ilona Lenk. It symbolically refers to the 13 unidentified victims of the Nazis interred at Gräberfeld X (see above). The photo here shows her work, 13 cloth-covered cubes arranged in a large X formation; the banner in the background lists the known names of victims buried there. Visitors to the cemetery can view the work, accompanied by the song, "The Train" by Valerio R. Pizzorno in the chapel until 20 November from 1400-1600 on Thursdays and Fridays and 1100-1600 on weekends.

At the synagogue location, there were many more people. A survivor of the Reichskristallnacht in Dortmund, Professor Reynold Koppel, recalled his experiences, and Professor of German Jürgen Wertheimer spoke on the language of memory associated with anniversaries and memorial ceremonies - remarks I will summarize in a later entry. Many then proceeded to the church for a memorial ceremony. I hurried home to help get the kids into bed.

The annual historical walk was announced (in German) here. It was reported on in the Schwäbisches Tagblatt on 11 November.

Sunday, 6. November 2005

Speaking for the dead...

Is magical thinking an inherent part of cultures of memory? Two recent stories about historical memory have popped out of the background noise at me.

One is about an issue quite nearby, up in Stuttgart. In September, during construction work, 34 bodies were found at the Stuttgart airport. They were among the 119 people killed by the Nazis at that location – Jewish forced laborers from the concentration camp at nearby Echterdingen. The location of other bodies has been known for a long time. They are buried at the New Jewish Cemetery in nearby Esslingen. Click here for photos and information in German. Ever since the newest find, there was a conflict of interest between those interested in investigating the original murders – the attorney general's office wanted to look for any and all evidence and two Jews who wanted DNA tests done on the bodies so that they could have the remains of their father returned to them – and those who wanted to avoid further disturbing the remains of the dead, including the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe and the Israelite Congregation in Württemberg. Finally, the Minister of Justice Ulrich Göll decided the matter in favor of the Jewish congregations. The bodies will be interred again at the place they were originally found, but in individual wooden coffins (instead of just lying together as they were originally found). No DNA tests will be done and the graves will be located behind the barbed wire of the American airfield at Stuttgart.

With the exception of the attorney general, all factions use arguments which draw on emotive, almost "magical" thinking, projecting motives onto the dead. The relatives (in Holland) want the dead body of their father buried in a place near where they live that they can visit. The Jewish community doesn't want further violence done to the deceased – as if they would really mind. Göll agreed, arguing against having teeth, thy, and back bones removed for DNA tests by stating, "Should we really do that to these 34 men, whose will is not known?" He added, "The prisoners died by state violence, and now we cannot do violence to them again." The Jewish groups called such an investigation a "great torture" for the dead and, in the hope that future finds would not be exhumed at all, argued that "The principle of not disturbing the grave, one of the main pillars of Jewish religion, should never be broken again." One type of magical thinking - the imperative to not disturb the dead - takes precidence over another kind - the increased "functionality" of memorial actually being accessable or of an accessable one actually containing the dead bodies of those being remembered during a visit.

The living on both sides are arguing for their needs by purporting to argue for the dead. It is reminiscent of the texts on countless memorials and in countless eulogies putting words into the mouths of the fallen.

Another case is far away, in Afghanistan. In the summer of 2001, two large Buddha statues (constructed in the 6th century!) were destroyed by the Taliban, ostensibly to combat idolatry but more likely as revenge for U.N. sanctions against the country. Now, the battle is raging over what to do with the sites. The Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata wants to re-create the Buddhas as laser images projected onto the cliffs. Archeologists want to continue investigating the ruins. Others want to reconstruct the statues, but there is disagreement about whether to use the original materials – such as with the recent reconstruction of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany – or with cement. Apparently, it is possible to reconstruct the statues putting each original piece back into its original position. This kind of reconstruction is called a anastylosis and is favored by preservationists. My question is this: What is gained by putting in the enormous effort to put the original pieces in their original positions? That requires extraordinary puzzle work and costly chemical analyses. Isn't that another case of "magical" thinking? Does it really make a difference, to someone visiting the site, that the statues are exactly the way they were, especially since the use of modern building methods and adhesives to keep it all together would belie that claim anyway? What rational purpose is served by that proposal? I propose that there is some expectation that the site will be more "real" in some magical way. The pieces of rubble are very useful to archeologists and would arguably be of no consequence to visitors. A Swiss project to rebuild the statues using original kinds of materials from the area seems like the most rational solution.

I suppose one could argue that if a copy is good enough and the ruins are useful to someone, historic sites should be systematically destroyed and rebuilt. That too, seems obviously absurd.

One proposal is to leave the gaping holes in the cliffs as a kind of memorial, reminding visitors of the costs of war and intolerance. Sonja Zekri writing for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung answered that proposal succinctly: "Dresden gave itself a new Frauenkirche and Berlin [rebuilt the city castle]... But Afghanistan is supposed to meditate on the two holes in the wall, as if it needs another ruin. As if it could ever forget". See Zwei Löcher, hundert Pläne, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 3 November, 2005.

Thursday, 3. November 2005

Two more sites up...

Two more sites went up today. The glorious weather and light conditions made for some good photos on All Saints Day at the Tuebingen Hill Cemetery. The mood was perfect for my purpose.

The early October pictures of the memorial ensemble at the church in down town Frickenhausen is up now as well. Is that a case of a living, central and active culture of memory - or the case of people using some dead space in the center of town as a kind of graveyard for memories? Pour your tragedies into stone and move on.

That will be that last submission of new material for a while, however. I am behind on my teaching duties and am starved to get back to work on my dissertation. I have quiered several people in the know about some of the sites, however, so smaller updates with new information may be forthcoming in the very near future.

Tuesday, 1. November 2005

A new blog for a new website...

Today the new name and new look for Mark R. Hatlie's "places and monuments" webpage went online as "Sites of Memory." That site needs a blog to record changes and comments and this is that blog.

The name "Sites of Memory" stems from the book by historian Jay Winter, "Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning" about cultures of memory after the First World War. Any google search, however, will show you that the term is in quite common use in a variety of social studies contexts. Instead of searching desperately for an original title, I thought it would be better to use a title that people would recognize and immediately understand. The purpose of the site is academic and educational. Students and academics can go to the site and find information and photographs on cultures and memory associated with particular places. There, I am cataloging places of memory that I encounter or seek out as well as hunting down and linking to other websites I find with similar content. Furthermore, I am collecting a bibliography of online and print resources for the study of historical markers, cemeteries, memorials and similar sites.

All Saints Day is an appropriate time, I guess, to give this project a facelift. But that should not in any way lend support to any impression that this project is about practicing remembrance. It is about observing, recording, studying and understanding remembrance within human communities.

My trip to a local cemetery this afternoon can serve as an illustration. I took my three-year-old son along for a walk, but had my camera at the ready. We were not there to visit any graves or to pay our respects to anyone. Niklas was there to kick leaves and walk; I was there to be with him and hunt for historical markers in the landscape. We both got what we came for.

I found a military cemetery with over 300 graves, including a seperate section for civilian victims of a January, 1945 air raid on our town of Tuebingen, Germany. At least that is what I think happened. I'll need to look into it a bit before I post the photos. At the adjacent memorial ensemble (three crosses, as on Golgotha, and a low platform), there were a few dozen people assembled for an All Saints Day service. Candles had been lit and wreaths had been laid. This was memorial culture in action. We got there as the ceremony was ending, so I took a few photos from a discreet distance, then asked an old woman if she had been here in Tuebingen in 1945. She had, but couldn't tell me what had happened on January 15th, 1945, because, "worked in a bank and had a sick sister". That would speak against my air raid thesis, I suppose - even someone in a bank would remember that. A priest was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. I'll put everything I know about the memorials at the Bergfriedhof in Tuebingen at the Sites of Memory on its own special page soon.

Right now, you'll already find a few dozen other sites of memory there, primarily from Tuebingen, Germany and Riga, Latvia, photographed and described in various degrees of thoroughness. The lists of links and other resources is extremely modest at present, but will grow quickly. I hope the website proves useful and popular as it continues to expand.

Mark R. Hatlie


Sites of Memory


This blog grew out of the sites-of-memory.de project. It features impressions and analysis of past and present memorial culture.

If you would like to be an author for this blog, see our call for contributors.

The blog logo is a photo of a statue at the soldiers' "Brethren Cemetery" in Riga, Latvia.

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Mark R. Hatlie
Im Feuerhägle 1
72072 Tübingen
Cell: +49-163-1341718


The authors are solely responsible for what they write in this blog. We do not accept responsibility for the content behind any of the links posted here. We make every effort to check them, but their content can change. The owners of the webpages linked to are solely responsible for the content of those webpages.


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