German artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock shared the story behind their creation of city-wide holocaust memorials in Berlin at a lecture on Wednesday.
In 1993 Stih and Schnock’s memorials in Berlin-Schoneberg sprung up as a remembrance of Jews living there during the Third Reich. The memorial consists of 80 signs posted on lampposts throughout the city, each bearing a color illustration and short texts on one side. These short texts are condensed versions of laws passed against Jews from 1933-1945.
Stih and Schnock consider their project an artistic work as it shocked and even angered some Schoneberg residents. As two workers were posting a sign on a neighborhood street, Stih recalled one resident who objected to their project, yelling “Go away you bloody Jews.”
The second phase of the project was plaques which indicated the first signs were ’memorials’. Before the second signs were labeled as memorials, however, police had confiscated the signs, saying they were scandalous. “We saw policemen standing in front of signs writing things down,” Stih said. The labels were instituted as a compromise, but Stih explained that the labels exist solely to allow the signs to remain. “We did [the labels] but didn’t do it because you can’t really read it,” Stih said.
Though first-year Art History graduate student Julie Chae said she saw the project as a “way to bring the history of the city back to the people of today,” she also saw another side of the project. “I was concerned about the reaction a little bit, about the unforeseen present effects,” Chae said.
The placement of the signs reflect the location and information on each sign. In front of a bakery, a memorial sign said, “Jews in Berlin are only allowed to buy food between four and five o’clock in the afternoon. July 4, 1940.” Signs like these were placed in front of veterinary offices, park benches, metro
stops, churches, playing fields, etc.. Stih and Schnock described this project as one in which “the observer can relate to the way in which these regulations eroded basic human rights.”
The Graduate Program in Art History, the departments of Art and German, the Bronfman Committee on Judaic Studies, the Williams College Museum of Art and Mass MoCA sponsored the lecture.