2146 stones – Monument against racism
Theme: Genocide and/or Mass Crimes
Platz des unsichtbaren Mahnmals
Theme: Genocide and/or Mass Crimes
Purpose of Memory
Commemorate the victims of the Shoah in Germany through the symbolization of the 2,146 Jewish cemeteries in the country before the start of World War II
The invisible monument
The work consists of 2,146 paving stones selected from those that make up the surface of the square leading to the Saarbrücken Palace. Each one of them was removed so that the name of one of the 2,146 Jewish cemeteries existing when Nazism came to power in Germany could be engraved on it, and then they were relocated in their place with the engraved side facing downwards: in this way, the monument is “invisible” in space. The only indication of it is a plaque that renames the site (previously known as “Castle’s Square”) as “Place of the invisible memorial”.
The aforementioned palace was the regional control center of the Gestapo (the secret police of the State) during the National Socialist regime and is currently the seat of the Provincial Parliament and the administrative offices of the homonymous District.
Between 1933 and 1945, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) led by Adolf Hitler were in power in Germany and established a totalitarian system. Since 1933, a policy was implemented aimed at annulling the legal and civil equality of the Jewish population, and foster its economic dispossession and social isolation. Nazism followed ideas of racial anti-Semitism and proclaimed the superiority of the “German race” which they called the “Aryan race”. During the first months of government, hundreds of laws contrary to the Jewish population of Germany were approved. Among them, the Nuremberg laws, enacted in 1935, deprived it of their political rights.
Created in 1933, the Gestapo (short for Geheime Staatspolizei, or Secret State Police) was a criminal organization that played a key role in the persecution and extermination of opponents of the regime. Its main tasks were the intimidation, espionage, disappearance, torture and murder of people with the aim of reinforcing the Nazi doctrine, including the Jewish population. Between the years 1935 and 1938 the situation of this community worsened while, through propaganda, the abject image of the Jewish people was intensified. In January 1942, Nazi policies decreed “the final solution”, a euphemism used to name the indiscriminate and systematic annihilation of millions of Jews. As of that year, six extermination camps were established to systematically murder in gas chambers. It is estimated that approximately 6,000,000 Jewish people were killed during the conflict.
In the particular context of Nazism, the Territory of the Saar Basin, which after the First World War and until then was administered by the League of Nations, held a referendum on its territorial status in January 1935 in which more than 90% of voters opted for reunification with Germany. With the objective of controlling the important coal mines in the area, the result was heavily influenced by deception and pressure from Nazism, in opposition to communist and socialist political forces that pushed for unification once the Nazis left power. After the reunification was completed in March 1935, and under the command of Josef Bürckel first as Reichskommissar and then as Gauleiter (the highest administrative authorities of the regime in the region), the palace housed, in addition to the government offices, those of the Gestapo assigned to the Saar region.
Starting in April 1990, the artist Jochen Gerz, with the assistance of 61 Jewish communities in Germany, undertook an investigation to locate all the Jewish cemeteries that existed in the country at the time the Nazis came to power. With the final result of 2146, the next step taken by the author together with many of his students from the State School of Fine Arts was the removal of the same number of cobblestones from the approximately 8000 that make up the esplanade of the Castle’s Square, to engrave on each one the name of one of the cemeteries and put it back in its place. Initially, Gerz and his students worked on the work at night, without any official commission or even permission from the Municipality of Saarbrücken. As people and the media echoed what was happening in the place, the artist informed the regional government authorities, who in a vote and by a narrow majority resolved that the work be completed, commissioning it retrospectively.
The “Monument Against Racism” is considered one of the main works of anti-monumentalism, a trend in contemporary art that intentionally challenges all aspects (form, theme, meaning, etc.) of traditional public monuments. This “anti-monument” questions the regime of visibility and exhibition usually related to memorialization processes: in these, the inscription of the traumatic past for a community is inscribed and made present in space through the monument. In this work, artist and community face the question of how to commemoratively compensate for a form of horror that is considered unrepresentable, as well as others that are also raised in different memorials about the Holocaust: the moral obligation of artists to represent and reveal heinous crimes. versus the possibility that aesthetic pleasure may emanate from the experience of the victim, or the intention to give significant form to the extermination of a people.
By inserting a conflictive element (absence) for the established institutional narratives, “2146 stones” challenges citizens by appealing to the subjective experience of remembering rather than to conventional commemorative policies, which are usually imposed through image. Invisibility may be the key condition to create this state of contemplation, of remembrance of the Holocaust, without being interrupted by a visual entity, be it figurative or abstract. Without distractions, objects or inscriptions to reflect on and avoiding in this case the possibility of being vandalized, the work proposes the knowledge that it is a place of remembrance. That knowledge, with the accompanying references to cemeteries, is sufficient for personal, imaginative, and subjective contemplation.
The Invisible Monument thus recalls the disappearance of Jewish life that existed in Germany before 1933 in at least 2,146 communities through the “emptiness” with which it confronts the viewer. In Gerz’s words: “The invisibility of our monument was like a cure. To represent absence, absence must be created. That same absence also allows each person to become the author of their own commemorative work.”
Links of interest
Gerz, Jochen (official website), 2146 Stones - Monument against Racism/The invisible Monument
Jochen Gerz: 2146 steine, in Medien Kunst Netz
Nielsen, G. (2008), “Everything is written in memory”, published in Página 12 newspaper, July 12, 2008.
Grechi, G. (2013), Counter-monument and anti-monument: “The absolute impatience of a desire of memory”, Reenacting the past. Museography for conflict heritage, pp 320-337
Callaghan, M. (2010), Speak Out. Invisible Past, Invisible Future: A German’s alternative response to the Holocaust, Art Times, October 2010