How was holocaust themed art received in the “land of the perpetrators”? Well, For over two decades everyone tried to forget. It was a cultural amnesia and the path of least resistance. Make money. Raise your family. And don’t go digging into taboo subjects. There was the Eichmann trial in 1961, but public consciousness quickly faded. In 1968, Beate Klarsfeld brought some attention to this issue: at the CDU party conference she gave the then chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger a slap in the face, in order to “make the German youth aware of Kiesinger’s Nazi past.” However, for understandable reasons, many victims also try to forget. America also turned the Holocaust into a mostly forbidden zone.There were a few films such as Orson Welles’s The Stranger and The Searcher with Montgomery Clift, but little concentrated analysis.
Boris Lurie’s art aggressively disrupted the lack of narrative and with a certain moxie, exposed the hypocrisy of conventional mourning in light of the shoah. The jarring confrontations within his works lead to great irritation especially in Germany, which by means of a self-prescribed national mourning seizes upon the murdered victims, like crutches to carry their foreboding load. As Reichelt has asserted, the supposedly pornographic and filthy nature of the works and their aesthetic power disturb the ceremony of the solemn and self-righteous national memorial service. It gives a pretext to avoid understanding. A few banal monuments to pacify the conscience which only seem to reinforce the enmity towards the victims.
Reichelt also claimed that there is much proof that large parts of the population perceived the May 8th, 1945 surrender as a defeat and “disgrace.” Nevertheless, the term “liberation,” became part of conservative circles in the 1980s. It seems likely that this was an attempt to join the side of the victorious allies -the Western allies . Thereby one distanced oneself from the “evil” that made Auschwitz possible. This too is the attempt to identify oneself with the victims, this being a comfortable way of not having to deal with the perpetrators.
A representation of of this social malaise can be found in Werner Fassbinder’s film Veronika Voss which was set in 1955. He took inspiration from the actual tragedy of actress Sybille Schmitz, a performer who was blacklisted and then committed suicide. Fassbinder, with a certain elan, and relish, spins out with diagrammatic clarity, a fervent, almost religious culture of amnesia and anaesthetisation. Fassbinder examines the desire, yet impossibility of erasing the past.Its Kafka from the victor’s perspective. The film takes in not only the protagonist’s personal tragedy but also, through the worn survivors of Treblinka, a direct representation of a national atrocity that appears to have been essentially suppressed in an era of postwar economic prosperity. This was also later dramatized and allegorized quite effectively in the later film, The Marriage of Maria Braun.
Reichelt: The outrage about the long-held taboo subject matter concerning the involvement of the parent generation as perpetrators or tacit supporters was vented in universities. In the home too the parents were more and more intensely confronted with questions regarding their behaviour during the Nazi period. One of the most well known literary accomplishments coming out of this background is Die Reise by Bernhard Vesper. In the political rhetoric Auschwitz was looked upon as a synonym for the exterminatory policies of the Nazis. The politically correct enumeration of the victims led only rarely to an investigation of the various victim groups. Symptomatic of this is that Raul Hilberg’s systematic and fundamental investigation (The Destruction of the European Jews) was published in Germany in 1982 in a small left publishing house, a full 21(!) years after the American edition. An expanded edition by a major German publisher came out in 1990.
In 1987 the NGBK exhibited fascist documents, films, design and art, in an attempt to investigate the productions of the Nazi-state, in order to deal with the “Imaginary Fascination of Fascism.” Here the centre of focus was not the repression, the splitting of the working class and the elimination of its associations, butcrather the everyday life of the population under the swastika. This led to criticism on the part of traditional
antifascist organizations. The introduction of the accompanying catalogue featured an explanation by the project group: “Capitalism-Fascism, this is not only the connection between Hugenberg, IG Farben and Auschwitz. It also consists of the experiences of community, of happy sensuality and accomplished collective change, elements that German fascism knew how to exploit. The point is that Germany for most Germans was not a concentration camp. Just a few years ago the approach of this exhibition would have been criticized as minimizing and palliative, by those who term them selves antifascists. In the mean-time things have changed. Questions about the everyday of the Third Reich, about the subjective side of the system, about the tolerating of the system, about the approval and enthusiasm, have not only become admissible, but absolutely necessary. And when one traces these experiences, one discovers the eerie connection between violence and desires, wishes and fantasies, which the fascist system managed to capture and stage in pseudo-real
fulfillment.” Read More:http://text.no-art.info/en/reichelt-germundson-lurie.pdf
Reichelt: Bearing in mind the above-mentioned history of the NGBK, it should not be surprising that its members in 1994 decided by a large majority to show a retrospective of artworks that very provocatively dealt with among other things the Holocaust, differing distinctly from the conventional way this subject matter was treated in art. An additional consideration was the fact that in 1995 many official events com -memorated the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (January 27, 1945) and the liberation from fascism (May 8, 1945: capitulation of the German armed forces and thus victory of the allies over Nazi Germany). Even though the exhibitions “NO!art” and “Boris Lurie” were not officially declared as such, they were for the NGBK a contribution to the memorable year 1995.
Reichelt: Solidarity with the victims is the comfortable solution for the surviving perpetrators and their descendants. Instead of documenting the hundred-thousand-fold involvement of Germans as offenders, the grief that is truly felt by only a few people in Germany, is turned into a lie on the level of a national declaration. Author Manfred Zach describes in his novel “Die Bewerbung” this blending of perpetrators and victims:
“Nobody in Germany wanted to be reminded of the tertium imperium after it went up in smoke and flames. Everything was smoke, smoke from crematories, and smoke from ruins. A giant collective smoke-sacrifice, after whose burnout the people who lighted the fire joined the victims who they only recently had treated like animals. The indistinguishable ashes of the dead as catharsis for the living: what an elegant way to leave the disgusting event behind! How simple, how perfect, how fatefully definite.” Read More:http://text.no-art.info/en/reichelt-germundson-lurie.pdf