Archive

Memorials Abroad

by Roger Smither, IWM Research Associate

On holiday in Germany in September 2012, I noticed the St Georgsbrunnen, a striking war memorial fountain in the city of Speyer: water flows into a stone basin from a large metal bowl surmounted by an obelisk topped by a statue of St George slaying the dragon. Although St George is strongly identified as England’s patron saint, he is also one of Germany’s; he is also associated with soldiers and chivalry, so the use of his image on a German memorial should not be considered particularly surprising.

Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

It was not just the memorial that caught my attention, however, but also the fact that the authorities had put up a plaque nearby offering a kind of apologia for it. Translated, this says: ‘The fountain was erected in 1930 as a memorial to the fallen of the First World War. The inscriptions and reliefs are an expression of the spirit of that time.’ It then notes that ‘The city of Speyer’s memorial for the victims of war and violence has, since 1985, been located in the northern Cathedral Garden.’

This struck me as sufficiently unusual to invite a closer look. Do the inscriptions and reliefs on the fountain obviously invite controversy or demand an apology?

There are four inscriptions on the stone basin of the fountain, three of which were originally illustrated by accompanying relief sculptures.

The main inscription readsUNSEREN GEFALLENEN ZUM GEDACHTNIS UND UNS SELBST ALS STETE MAHNUNG 1914+1918’, which may be translated as ‘In Memory of our fallen and as a reminder to ourselves’ – a common sentiment for a war memorial, and scarcely contentious.

The other three inscriptions are all quotations from songs or poems.

St George and the dragon, Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

St George and the dragon, Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

One offers the first two lines of Der gute Kamerad (The Good Comrade), a poem written by Ludwig Uhland in 1809 – ‘ICH HATT EINEN KAMERADEN, EINEN BESSERN FINDST DU NIT’ (I had a comrade, you won’t find a better one). Set to music by Friedrich Silcher In 1825, the poem long pre-dates the ideologies of the 1930s, and remains the traditional mourning song of the German Army. The accompanying relief illustrates the line – one soldier falls wounded in a marching group.

The second reads ‘DEUTSCHE FRAUEN, DEUTSCHE TREUE’ (German women, German loyalty), and is taken from the second verse of the Deutschlandlied – ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ – written by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841. This verse is little known these days, but it is ignored more because of its male chauvinist tendencies than because of its nationalism: it equates women with wine as inspirational pleasures of traditional Germany. This time, the accompanying relief shows two women digging in a field, to symbolise the home front war effort.

The third inscription reads ‘DEUTSCHLAND MUSS LEBEN AUCH WENN WIR STERBEN MÜSSEN’ (Germany must live, even if we must perish), which is the closing line of each verse of a 1914 poem, Soldatenabschied (Soldier’s Farewell) by Heinrich Lersch. This does sound quite nationalistic, but English readers will recall Rudyard Kipling’s very similar line ‘Who dies if England live?‘ which comes at the end of verse 4 of his poem For All We Have and Are, also written in 1914. On the fountain in this case the accompanying relief is missing, but it is possible to find reproductions of old postcards on the web, where it appears that the sculptor had depicted two soldiers in a trench.

Modern inscription near the Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

Modern inscription near the Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

None of this seems hugely controversial. A search of the IWM’s War Memorials Archive database finds over 60 memorials in the United Kingdom with ‘Who dies if England live?’ as part of their inscription, and it is hard to imagine that the relevant local authority has thought it necessary to add an explanation or apology in any of those cases. As an example of even more overt nationalism on a British memorial, Frances Casey, Project Manager of the Archive, has drawn my attention to the one at Brierley Hill, which includes – without any hint of apology – the following text:

THIS MONUMENT / WAS ERECTED BY THEIR FELLOW / TOWN FOLK TO THE MEMORY OF / BRIERLEY HILL MEN / WHO LOYALLY GAVE THEIR LIVES / IN DEFENCE OF / COUNTRY AND CIVILISATION / AGAINST AGGRESSIVE / AMBITIONS OF / GERMANY / AUSTRIA & TURKEY / IN THE GREAT WAR

Brierley Hill First World War memorial (IWM WMA 17472,  ©G A Cox)

Brierley Hill First World War memorial (IWM WMA 17472, ©G A Cox)

With the help of Christa Rinner, a researcher based in Karlsruhe, I have learned that the memorial fountain in Speyer is the work of the architect Karl Latteyer of Ludwigshafen and a British-born sculptor named William Ohly, who both attended its official inauguration on 29 June 1930, and that – although there does not seem to have been any specific event in Speyer to prompt it – the explanatory plaque was added in 1996, when the need to replace some of the piping led to a full-scale restoration of the fountain.

There may not have been such an episode in Speyer but it remains true, of course, that war memorials can be controversial, and they have undoubtedly been the focus of protest elsewhere. Demonstrators in the former Eastern Bloc have often targeted Soviet war memorials with either hostility or derision, including an episode in Bulgaria in 2011 when a street artist painted the figures on the Soviet memorial in Sofia to represent American comic-book characters.

The Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003 prompted a French protestor to spray-paint ‘Rosbeefs Go Home’ and other slogans on the cross of a CWGC cemetery at Etaples, and there was outrage in India in 2012 when protestors in Mumbai were photographed attacking the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial which commemorates two Sepoys executed during the 1857 uprising.

More recently, the Animals in War and Bomber Command memorials in London were subjected to graffiti following the murder outside Woolwich Barracks of Drummer Rigby, 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I wonder, do war memorials present political statements in themselves? Why are they used as sites of protest? How often do civic authorities try to defuse objections before they are raised? It strikes me that the politics of war memorials could be an interesting topic for further research.


 
 
 
 

by Irene Glausiusz, Office Volunteer

Yesterday, athletes of TeamGB Olympic and Paralympic teams took part in a parade through London to mark their achievements in the recent games and also to mark the end of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Munich Olympics 1972 (©Hackney Gazette, 2012)

During this same games, after a span of forty years, or in other terms 10 Olympic Games, a memorial plaque was erected to the 11 Israeli Olympians who were kidnapped and later killed by the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The plaque is mounted on an outside wall at the Arthaus in Hackney and the unveiling took place in the week prior to the opening of the London 2012 Olympics. The dedicatory inscription names all 11 athletes killed and includes weight-lifters, referees and coaches.

London Mayor, Boris Johnson, together with other invited guests, jointly unveiled the plaque, which was draped by both the flag of Israel and the Union flag. The Mayor said “It is entirely right that we should remember those events and let us hope that the 2012 Olympic Games are only happy and peaceful.” Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government also spoke.

The relatives of the athletes had asked the International Olympic Committee to hold one minute’s silence in memory of the athletes at the opening ceremony of the games, but President Jacques Rogge felt that it would be inappropriate and refused the request.

Large portraits of the 11 athletes were displayed along a hallway at the Guildhall in London where a commemorative service took place on 6th August attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband.

It is a fact that there are Munich memorials at various Jewish centres worldwide. One interesting example is an abstract sculpture at the Jewish Community Campus in Rockland County USA. Created in stainless steel, it symbolises an eternal flame in the spirit of the Olympics; the base divided into 11 segments, inscribed with each of the athlete’s names. However, Martin Sugarman, Chair of the Anglo-Israel Friendship Association maintains that the London memorial is a “first” to the Munich athletes to be sited on a public building in the UK.

The Munich Olympic memorial project was spearheaded by Hackney Cllr Linda Kelly and Martin Sugarman. They also raised funds for the unveiling ceremony. The Hackney location is appropriate as one of the boroughs closest to the London 2012 Olympic Village.

by Irene Glausiusz, Office Volunteer

‘Many war memorials commemorate people who have died’ said Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy, Head of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, when he spoke at City Hall in London during the recent 2012 Holocaust Memorial Day event, hosted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. What is different about the monument in the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv, Rabbi Levy observed, is that it is dedicated to those that ‘Did Live!’.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2012, City Hall, Anita Lasker-Wallfish calls for individuals to 'Speak up, Speak out'.

On 10th March 1943 the Jewish residents of Plovdiv were to be deported to the Nazi death camps, but an official from the Greek Orthodox hierarchy protested.  Lo and behold, deportation was cancelled and the people were told to go home.  In 1998 a marble pillar was raised to remember this event and sited on the very spot from which deportation had been scheduled.  Tragedy was averted because someone did ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’. It was this call to action that formed the theme of this year’s event.

A few of those who were spared, now in their eighties and nineties, are still living in Plovdiv in a retirement home. The keynote speaker, 84 year old Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, was arrested by the Nazis after it was discovered she was forging documents for prisoners of war. 

She was taken to Auschwitz and in all likelihood would have been killed, but her life was spared because she was an accomplished cellist and the camp orchestra needed one. To this day, she cannot imagine how it was that she survived.  Subsequently transported from Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen, she felt her life was ebbing away until miraculously, just in time, the camp was liberated by the British Army. She made the point that ‘Genocides arise when despots seek land or power. The victims had neither.’

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch said that sometimes TV viewers are warned about sights they might prefer not to watch.  Her contention was ‘Don’t look away.  You should know what is happening in war zones even now in the 21st Century.’ Later, Anita’s grandson Abraham gave a short cello recital which echoed his family’s musical virtuosity.

Testimonies were given by young people who had visited Auschwitz, sponsored by the Holocaust Educational Trust.  They would never forget the experience which opened their eyes to the evils of anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice, which regrettably are still prevalent in today’s society linked to hatred and discrimination.

Plovdiv Monument of Gratitude, 2012

Boris Johnson, addressing the gathering, said ‘This event is our chance to remember lives lost, as well as the remarkable resilience of survivors and everyone affected by one of the darkest periods in human history’.

 The Plovdiv memorial is named Monument of Gratitude and the dedicatory inscription in Hebrew is: To the memory of the man who assisted in the saving of the Jews of Plovdiv on 10th March 1943. The English inscription reads: To all who helped to save us on 10th March 1943, from the grateful Jewish community of Plovdiv.