Landeshauptstadt Dresden - 20.07.2022 13:31:29 Uhr 20.04.2024 10:11:01 Uhr

Remembering and forgetting – problematic memorials

“Monuments usually say very little about what they represent or the people whose names are immortalised on them – but they say a great deal about the people who came up with/planned/drafted/designed/funded them, and about the people who have maintained the monuments in regular rituals since they were erected in an attempt to update the intended ‘meaning’ bestowed upon the memorial”.

(Prof. Dr. Alf Schönfeldt, Gegenwind, Zeitschrift für Politik und Kultur, No. 129, 1999)

A memorial is an expression of the collective memory of a certain social group, which may be anything from a club to an entire nation. What memorials look like and how the subjects they commemorate are viewed depends on the processes of change that societies go through over time. Historically, political upheavals have often led to monuments being removed or repurposed. This was the case with large numbers of monuments from the Nazi period after the Second World War, or with relics of the Soviet occupation and GDR in eastern Germany after its reunification with the west in 1990. Numerous war memorials can still be found dating from the period after the First World War, some of which employ forms of ideologised, politically loaded commemoration that have become an issue.

One example is the commemorative obelisk in the Dresden district of Nickern. Built in October 1920 in memory of the 18 soldiers from Nickern who fell in the First World War, after the bombing of Dresden in 1945 the obelisk was dedicated instead to the victims of the aerial attacks on Dresden, in an inscription reflecting the politics of commemoration at the time: “1945, 13 February – We remember the victims of the Anglo-American bombing terror” is written on one side of the obelisk. The inscription on another side says: “That their eternal peace has meaning // is thanks only to our will // our doing” (altered around 1946/47).

This project was sponsored and kindly supported by the Commissioner for Integration and Foreigners and by the Commissioner for People with Disabilities/Seniors of the State Capital Dresden.