It’s not always a monument depicting a conquistador or a fascist political figure that occupies public space. Sometimes it’s less visible what a sculpture, a piece of metal or stone can evoke in the public sphere. The usage and the way of understanding and reading such physical images change with its social environment. This case-study of the Memorial against War and Fascism in central Vienna exemplifies a controversy in the Austrian landscape of memory: A memorial from the society of perpetration for the society of perpetration.
Although the Memorial clearly tries to publicly express disgust for hatred and aims a confrontation with Austria’s guilt and shame through participation in World War II, it failed by leaving out a crucial part: the nation's own role and position. Instead it reproduces an image of the othering, of the Jew as an eternal victim and hence can be seen as a memorial from the society of perpetration for the society of perpetration.
However, What happens when a problematic pub-lic artwork is not turned down and continues to occupy public space, influencing passers-by? This work explores responses and interventions in public space that happened during the decades since its instalment. It became the site of artistic inter-ventions that demanded an ongoing confrontation with a past many Austrians did not find adequately represented. For this reason we need to first decode and contextualize the Memorial, that has been critizised by the public as mythological, historical, realistic, fragmental and polemic.
(Detail: Barb-Wire on Sculpture, 3D Model of the Memorial)
(1) CONTEXTUALIZING A
PROBLEMATIC PUBLIC ARTWORK
2 — Moscow Declaration, 1945
2.1 — Allies
The memorial emerged in a struggle of post-war identity which made its creation possible. After 1945, and after the Moscow Declaration no political party was willing to acknowledge Austria's share in Nazi guilt. Generations of politicians which would come after, have been greatly accepted this victim role and the narrative that Austria is innocent and has been invaded by force. Unlike Germany, which encouraged the Jews' return and paid restitution, Austria obstructed the return of Austrian Jews and refused them the status accorded to Nazi political victims. Not only made the victimhood it easier for a whole nation to be silent, and to deny political change and even the participation in the third reich. It also made it easier for Asutria to sign the state treaty sooner, and the withdrawal of Allied troops.
The population remained antisemitic. Negotiations finally began in 1953 and were dragged out to 1961, with unsatisfactory results. Jewish children born in postwar Vienna experienced antisemitism and social isolation. Their hopes of the youth rebellion of the 1960s were disappointed when their New Left comrades either ignored the existence of Jews and antisemitism or turned the Jews into symbolic victims.
In 1979 the viennese artist Alfred Hrdlicka, well known for his passion in depicting the suffering of humankind, was commissioned with the erection of a memorial for the victims of the NS-regime – without having any other artistic competition or democratic procedure.
However, before and after its unveiling the memorial caused much debate and political turmoil, since the memorial might seem like a “honorable concern” to remind viennese citizen on the past, but it also was never debated with or inclusive to the jewish population of Vienna, who specifically had concerns about its antisemitic coding.