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From Ravensbrück to Berlin: Will Lammert’s Monument to the Deported Jews 1957/1985

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Author: Natasha Goldman
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In 1985 one of the earliest memorials dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust was installed in East Berlin. The Monument to the Deported Jews was an arrangement of thirteen bronze figures in expressionist style. Will Lammert, the artist, originally designed the figures for the base of his monument for Ravensbrück in 1957. The artist died in 1957, however, before finalizing his design for the monument. Only two figures on a pylon were installed at the concentration camp in 1959. The figures meant for the base of the Ravensbrück memorial were unfinished, but were nonetheless cast in bronze by the artist’s family. Thirteen of those figures were installed on the Große Hamburger Straße in 1985 by the artist’s grandson, Mark Lammert.

This essay analyzes the Große Hamburger Straße monument in three ways: first, it returns to the literature on the Ravensbrück memorial in order to better understand the role that the unfinished figures would have played, had they been installed. I argue that they originally were most likely meant to depict “Strafestehen”—or torture by standing—at Ravensbrück. Secondly, it aims to explain why and how Lammert’s seemingly expressionist memorial would have been acceptable to East Germany in 1959. While Western art historical attitudes toward East Germany up until the 1990s assumed that Soviet socialist realism was the de facto art style of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), some elements of expressionism were being theorized in the late 1950s, at precisely the time when Lammert designed the Ravensbrück monument. Finally, I analyze the role that a monument for Ravensbrück plays in this particular neighborhood of Mitte, Berlin: standing silently, they are no longer legible as women being tortured by standing. Instead, the sculptures signify, at the same time, the deported Jews of Berlin and the harrowing aftermath of their deportations, the improbable return of the deported Jews, and the changing attitudes toward the history of the neighborhood in which the sculptural group is located.

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