Stephen Lewis: Memorials Without Words.

Stephen Lewis: Memorials without Words

Auf zwei besondere Stadtführer durch Wien haben wir bereits hingewiesen: Walter Sauers “Expeditionen ins Afrikanische Österreich” und den Guide “Die zerstörten Synagogen Wiens. Virtuelle Stadtspaziergänge” von Bob Martens und Herbert Peter. Was beide eint ist die Suche nach dem Versteckten, dem Namenlosen, dem Wortlosen; die Suche nach einer neuen Sprache, nach einem Miteinander von Menschen unterschiedlicher Zugehörigkeiten: Aspekte, die auch Stephen Lewis, Philosoph, Stadtforscher und Fotograf, in den Mittelpunkt seiner Arbeit rückt. Aus seinem Essay “Remembering November 10, 1938: Phantasm and Reflection, Two Memorials Without Words”:

“The night of November 9-10, 1938: Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass:  Throughout Nazi Germany (including Austria, which had folded itself seamlessly into Nazi Germany some months before) synagogues were plundered and set afire, with crowds of bystanders cheering, and police and fire brigades standing idly by.  Shops owned by Jews were looted and destroyed, Jewish men beaten and arrested, Jewish women terrorized and molested.  All this a seeming apotheosis of European religious antisemitism, exclusionary nationalism, “scientific” racism, nostalgia for a past that never was, and urban economic, social, and spatial competition. In Vienna, all but one of the city’s monumental synagogues and modest prayer-houses were destroyed during the 24-hour rampage.  How are they remembered today?” (S.L.)

Lewis Eingangsbild zeigt das Mahnmal “Fenster im Alltag” des Künstlers Hans Kuppelwieser zur Erinnerung an die im November 1938 zerstörte Synagoge “Neue Welt Tempel” in Hietzing an der Ecke Wien 13, Eitelbergergasse, Neue-Welt-Gasse. Es stellt gegenüber dem heute dort befindlichen Wohnhaus einen Spiegel mit Ansicht der Synagoge dar, eine Art optische Täuschung, ein Trugbild, in dem Vergangenheit und Gegenwart zu verschmelzen scheinen. 

“Silkscreened onto the surface of the glass plaque is a finely-rastered, semi-translucent reproduction of an archival photograph of the exterior of the Neue Welt Tempel taken sometime in the mid-1930s, probably from the exact location where the plaque now stands.  By positioning oneself at just the right angle and distance from the plaque, a viewer is treated to a mirage … suddenly, the present and past are juxtaposed, and a ghost-like image of the Neue Welt Tempel appears to sprout from the surface of the yellow apartment house now standing on its former site. For a moment, the Neue Welt Tempel reappears as if still there … and then, just as suddenly, juxtaposition is lost and the illusion fades.” (S. L.)

Ein zweites Bild zeigt das “Denkmal Turnertempel”, gestaltet von Iris Andraschek, Hubert Lobnig, Maria Auböck und János Kárász.

“In the photograph below, a sparse, minimalist garden fills the length and part of the width of the one-time footprint of the 1870s, Neo-Renaissance style, “Turnertempel” synagogue at Turnergasse 22 in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, not far from the Gürtel and the shopping thoroughfare of Mariahilfestrasse.   The greenery at the edges of the garden offsets the starkness of the gravel surface, concrete pathways, and benches of well-weathered wooden beams.  The trees at the left of the photo are lindens. Summers, the scent of linden blossoms fills the garden and, as the weeks pass, fallen linden petals turn into perfumed dust that cushions the garden’s gravel surface. The total effect is apt: life emerging from, but never quite obliterating, destruction.

This past summer, I stopped at the Turnergasse memorial garden a number of times to read, write, reflect and rest.  There were few other visitors: workmen on lunch and cigarette breaks, occasional pairs of daytime beer drinkers, small numbers of neighborhood residents, judging by their appearances and voices, immigrants mostly, from the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East.  Did they know what once stood at the site where they were sitting?  Were they aware of its fate?  Could they sense the one-time prayers, concerns, and celebrations of people who had preceded them, and who had played out-sized roles in Vienna’s former greatness and in the shaping of the city in which they now live and of the rights and security they now enjoy?  Probably not.  Most people in Vienna,  like most people elsewhere, are propelled by the intentionality of their own immediate concerns.  Others in Vienna, native-born Austrians and immigrants both, turn up their noses at the memories of Jews and bristle at reminders of their murder.  But for those of us open to it, to those of us who bear the weight of its absence, a presence seems to hover in the garden at Turnergasse.” (S. L.)

Um gerecht zu sein, darf man nicht vergessen, schrieb Ernst Toller. Ein “postkoloniales Wien” ist kein Konkurrenzprojekt zum “jüdischen Wien”, sondern eine suchende Verbindung und verbindende Suche. 

Stephen Lewis ist Philosoph, Stadtforscher, Fotograf, lebt und arbeitet derzeit in New York City. Das Essay und mehr zum Thema Architektur und Geschichte findet ihr auf seinem Weblog


Fotos copyright Stephen Lewis