Introduction to the presentation on 5th of november 2008
Dr. Holger Birkholz (HfBK Dresden)
"audioscript" is a collection of thirteen audio selections which mainly exist as spoken text. The topic of the collection is the persecution and extermination of the Jews in Dresden during Nation Socialism. There are different types of texts combined with each other: reports from contemporaries, texts from historians and philosophers, and dialogue and texts from the authors of “audioscript.” The spectrum of the texts allows for a differentiating look at the historical events, and also—and this is crucial—at our handling of them today. At the same time, the possibilities of historical representations, their exploitation, and the conditions of historical texts are reflected on in the audioscripts as well.
"audioscript" originated as a cooperation between people from very different backgrounds of art and sociology who live here in Dresden. The formidable list of authors, speakers, producers, cooperation partners, and others involved mirrors a sophisticated network that shows what kind of significance a reflective discussion with the history of the Holocaust in Dresden can have.
The audio selections will lead you as a listener through thirteen different places in Dresden. You can borrow the playing equipment or download the selections off the Internet and be on your way. These texts will allow you to experience Dresden in a new perspective different from your daily experience of the city. Through these, the historical realm of the '30s and '40s can be revealed, as well as today's meaning of the Shoah.
Places of Memory
The discussion about places of memory has within the last years experienced another upswing, especially in reference to the construction of the Berlin Memorials for the Murder of European Jews. The multiple voices of this controversy also stimulated a wide spectrum of analysis about the different forms of remembrance and of memory.
Inherent classical remembrance services and memorials have been shaped by the occidental art history. They occupy a widespread, conservative need for memorials in the form of architecture and plastic, which is also shown in an actual, upcoming flood of such monuments in the capital city. Certainly they have a societal right; and moreover, every individual has the possibility to show his or her personal opinion through them.
It has often been mentioned that these forms can't suffice in the face of a historical event that is so incomparable to the magnitude of its human distain.
Especially in the field of arts, different proposals were made that reflect the inconceivable of those atrocities.
In their involvement with the murder of the European Jews through Nazi Germany, many artists work on the dilemma to find a shape for something so inconceivable that can be recognized as a try for understanding, a try for memory, a try for reminding, and, in a certain way, also for an impossible realization.
In 1986 Jochen Gerz and his wife Esther Shalev-Gerz created a memorial for Hamburg Harburg that in time sank into the ground, and that today is only visible as a floor slab.
Between 1990 and 1992 Gerz changed the stones on the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart. On these stones the names of 2,146 Jewish cemeteries where burials took place until 1933 were engraved. Gerz placed these stones with the writing face down so that the stones are not differentiatable from the others of the Schlossplatz.
In 1987 Horst Hoheisel reconstructed the Aschrott fountain in Kassel as a negative form. Originally, the fountain in front of the Kassler town hall was donated by the Jewish Industrialists Aschrott as a sign of his citizenry commitment for the city. Today the fountain with its pointed obelisk digs like a steak into the ground. The water no longer collects in the basin of the early fountain, but falls into the deepness of the negative form.
These artistic approaches of the '80s are in common with the involvement of negative form. They create a form which deals with absence, which signifies the absence of an unbelievably high number of people.
In this context it is impossible not to citate Adorno, even though his words have been repeated uncountable times since he wrote them in 1951. In his dictum he writes that it would be barbaric to write a poem after Auschwitz. With this he crystallizes the dilemma that every form of traditional, cultural involvement with Auschwitz and the extermination of the Jews shows an exploitation. And out of this dilemma, there is no escape for this society.
"Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation"
(Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, tr. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), p. 34.)
After Adorno it is therefore not only problematic to write poetry today, but also in a certain way to speak about it is impossible. The Metaelevel is suspect because it too is an instrument of reification that is set against the bearing of diversity while it produces a factum. The dictum of the inexpressible is suspect so long as it is voiced.
The "audioscript" project also works with the problem of preventability. Contrary to the medium, it places on today another strong necessity for memorials, which is from a certain cursoriness - the language.
In the linguistic formulation, and it always means here in the conversational form, the diversity which talks about the past is shown.
There are plenty of views and opinions. At times they are politically motivated. Sometimes they are impelled by the purpose of a broad refurbishment of the historical events. Finally they are personal opinions that grow from an individual point of view in consideration of history. Thereby two basic lines meet each other – first, the idea of a proper understanding of what happened; second, what I take of this knowledge for myself.
Problems of Places
One topic from "audioscript" is the question about the places of memory. In our society exist certain connections between memory and certain places. We go there specifically to be reminded. In this places is memory is more strongly formulated, which is fixed by the design of the memorial sites.
On a historical event like the pursuit and the extermination of Jews, the concentration on one place belies that the event itself was not punctual on one place but that it existed in many parts of society and it came into contact with every person from that time and with the people of the following generations.
For "audioscript", on the other hand, places were chosen by means of exemplary events of the Jewish persecution and analysis of this theme which comes with language. It is a try at decentralizing remembrance that is at the same time known, that a conscience formulation and monopolization doesn't escape.
Beyond that is the simple fact that many people in the future can walk through Dresden with the media player, using the device like a mobile memorial. It connects the mobility of the mind with the imagination of the continuity of the place. Language is a medium that is experienced in sequence, even when fixed through the repeatablity of the single features. However, our imagination of the places in the city near a historical event which happened exactly there can be experienced based on the continutity of the space.
Even if the place has fully changed in the last seventy years and perhaps doesn't hold the historical meaning that the place constitutes, when we go to the place of the Judenhäuser today, we position our bodies in the place of historical happenings. Other places remain also when they have been changed: living spaces, in which the Jewish population of Dresden were instructed to go and ghettozised, or industries like the former Goehlewerk on the Riesaer Straße.
Everyone of us produces the connection for our selves. We are they who carry the memory to the places and so the past for us today is again made visible also when we are conscience of our distance to history.
In this way the dialectics also reflect several of the tracts by confronting the texts with different characters. There are, on the one hand, the accounts of contemporaries like Victor Klemperer and Henny Brenner. On the other hand, are compiled passages of historical facts. Philosophical and analytical texts play an important roll—like the texts formally mentioned by Theodor W. Adorno or Jean Amèry—critical research by historians which, in part, necessitate a high level of abstraction and reflection from the listener.
Additionally, the texts and dialogues were brought in which were written by the authors of "audioscript" and in which we particularly are the focus: we can listen to the opinions and positions of our contemporaries in which we can more or less recognize ourselves and others. In this way, a stress field of views and versions of history develops. In the truest sense are these views, then they find their place there where we stand and where we come in contact with history. The places in Dresden, where the audioscript shows us a different vantage point, are the book-burning sites, the place of deportation, or a position near the death march route.
Thereby the city surely changed but shades of history remain. Or even the absence of these shades of historical events which took place there make a certain contact with the place clear. So it's experienced on the place of the camp at Hellerberg which today hold no traces of the past, and where we find inhospitable spaces along Radeburger Street, a frequently driven road. When we walk through the city with the "audioscript" text, we carry in the literal sense the memories to the places. We are oursleves an interface between the spacial, concrete place and the reflection of it. In this way memory and the involvement with it is selectively realized in each of us.