Concept

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Photo: Frame of steel timbers at the former place of arrival. Shot at night.

The gas chamber, the morgue and the crematorium are the places in which the National Socialist mass murder took place. However, these places do not tell the story themselves. The reason for this is the fact that the National Socialists returned the rooms back to their original state in 1944/5. All the apparatus needed for the killing process was removed so that at a quick glance no evidence remained to remind one of the events of 1940-1944.
The rooms have to be 'questioned' as such as to their history. It is only when traces are found and certified, that they can be 'read' as such by the visitor.
It is with this in mind that traces in these rooms have been treated: walled up doors, traces of gas pipes, the impression left in mortar of removed tiles have been opened up and named. The most decisive change made was to make a cross-section through the rooms of death, which illustrates the route the condemned made. A gang- plank leads through this cross-section, which is the route the visitor takes. One can go through the rooms as such without really entering each one. It is from this distanced vantage point that the visitor may decide for him/herself how close he/she wants to come with the historical facts.

 

Place of Deeds–Place of Remembrance The concept of the Euthanasia Memorial in Hartheim Palace

The Challenge

“Herbert Friedl’s pages are active resistance versus the successful strategy of forgetting,” is what Gottfried Bachl wrote in 1986 about my series “Even objects have their tears”. That is exactly my point: my artistic work is all about the dignity of man.  For the last two decades I have tried to seek possibilities to do justice and express pain, suffering and death, and particularly the injuries suffered by Human Rights in my images. However, there are still the same questions, which hound me when it comes to the question of how to make human suffering the content of artistic form.   “Is the transition of pain into the condition of enjoyment, a process that cannot be halted?”… “ “Is art an instrument of transition of pain to something which may be qualified as higher entertainment?”… “Is it not so that then even the most ghastly deeds become entertaining?” are the questions posed by Gottfried Bachl. “Is creativity a suitable medium to counteract this?” I am convinced that it is possible and attempt to make this point clear in my work in redesigning the memorial in Hartheim Palace.

Resistance to Forgetting

My greatest concern is to keep the process of remembering alive. This means that a new reality has to be created which stands at a distance to the historic reality. It is upon this that I built my concept. The aim is not to recreate the interior or things that happened or even to put them on stage as such, but rather call them back to one’s memory with the help of abstract form.

Presence through Emptiness

The commemorative rooms do not present themselves to the visitor as an audacious, sentimental and painfully expressed memorial, but rather as “emptiness,” which is an important element in my concept. This enables the remaining traces to grow in strength. Irritations assist memory I intend to irritate and disrupt the palace building and its harmony by unobtrusively marking the tragic events that took place here.

The Form

The material used in the memorial area is mostly steel: this represents what happened, glass, on the other hand, represents the victims and light which comes after it all. Visiting the memorial, one takes virtually the same route as the victims did as their last route. The rooms are demarcated from the outside, partly with shutters made of steel, partly with steel panels which surround the area which was formerly the garage. A glass panel has been added with the names of the places of origin of the victims.

This is where the persons concerned got out of the buses. One enters the memorial area through a glass door. A trail of light goes from the place of arrival, along the northern and eastern arcade to the Meditation Room, another light trail goes though the memorial rooms. The arcades are lined with steel panels, which remind one that they were once panelled with wood. To the extreme left, they are covered with a striped / numbered code (1940 – the beginning of the Euthanasia programme). A gang- plank goes through the admission chamber, the gas chamber, the technical installations room, the morgue and the crematorium. A cross-section of one of the pits containing ash, bones and personal belongings can be viewed in the admission chamber, which dramatically illustrates what happened here. This excavation block is surrounded by glass panels, upon which the names of the victims are listed. A quiet indication of memorial is to be found in the crematorium- the exact place where the furnaces once stood, is lit up from the ceiling- light replaces fire. The Meditation Room- or inter-confessional memorial room- is entered into through a glass door from the southeast. This is where the route through the memorial ends.

Herbert Friedl