The Dachau International Committee Study Prize award
NS-Dokumentationszentrum Munich, 17 March 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
The awarding by the Dachau International Committee (CID) of a a scholarship rewarding outstanding work on Nazi persecution policy, the history of concentration camps, especially that of Dachau, and the way society approaches the perpetrated crimes is a signal both for science and the public domain. The awarding of this prize demonstrates that, to the present day, these subjects have lost none of their political importance, and more to it, especially at a time marked by the rise of right-wing populism. I am pleased to extend my sincere congratulations to the DIC for its choice! My name is Sybille Steinbacher, I am a historian and I work at the Fritz Bauer Institute and at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. I had the honor of chairing the jury that awarded this prize.
When Ernst Berger asked me three years ago (almost to the day) if I wanted to contribute to the constitution of a jury for this prize which would be awarded for the first time, I immediately said yes. My colleagues quickly showed their interest in this project and a high-level international commission of ten people was constituted. Its members are, in alphabetical order: Ernst Berger of the Vienna Medical University (Austria), as representative of the CID, Barbara Distel, who for many years led the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial and you all know very well Gabriele Hammermann, who succeeded her at the management of the Memorial, Annette Eberle, historian and pedagogue at the Munich School of Catholic Education (department of Benediktbeuern), Tomas Jelinek from the German-Czech Fund for the Future (Prague), Irina Scherbakowa of Memorial, Moscow (International Organization for Human Rights), Hans de Vries, (retired) historian at the Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD - Amsterdam), Nikolaus Wachsmann from the University of London (Birkbeck College), Jürgen Zarusky from the Institute of Contemporary History Munich, and myself.
The jury had a lot to do: after the announcement of the opening of the competition, we have been presented ten studies.
The candidates could present only unreleased monographs, in German or English, that have been completed less than two years ago.
The range of the presented topics was extremely broad. It went (to give only a few examples) from how the Jewish armed resistance during the Holocaust was presented in American cinemas, to the existence of the Carmelite convent at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, to the prisoners of the concentration camp at Mauthausen, the role of the Ostbahn (railway company serving the eastern territories occupied by Germany) during the Holocaust, the way in which the city of Wiesbaden faced its Nazi past, the denazification of the University of Hamburg or even a mock trial held in 1948 in the GDR, where the Nazi past played a vital role. The jury opted for a study that stands out, from all the other researches presented, for many reasons. My colleague Jürgen Zarusky will speak about it in detail in his panegyric.
Let me tell you a few more words about the man who gave his name to this prize, which will now be awarded every two years: Stanislav Zámečník, the historian of the Dachau concentration camp. Arrived at the camp at the age of 17 in 1941, he survived to his liberation. Later, Dachau became for him, the historian, a privileged subject of scientific research throughout his life. His book „That was it, Dachau”, a monograph about the history of the camp, was published in 2002 by the foundation of the CID. It is Zámečník's double perspective - that of the direct witness with his immediacy and that of the scientific researcher with his hindsight - that makes his book so special. This work quickly became a reference work translated into several languages.
Awarding his name to the CID Prize is a good choice. Along with their commitment to memorials, written memoirs and interviews as eyewitnesses, the writing of concentration camps history is part of the traditional outreach work of the survivors in order to bring light on what happened in those camps. These include names like Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, Hans Maršálek and HG Adler: all were driven by their terrible personal experience to look at the history of concentration camps to find answers to the question following: how could such places of terror exist?
Stanislav Zámečník is one of the most famous concentration camps survivors who became historians. Died in 2011, he probably was one of the last of them.
To name the CID Prize Stanislav Zámečník is equivalent to two things: to pay homage to his scientific work, but also to emphasize the link between critical analysis, as the survivors initiated it, and current historiography. I hope that in this sense the price of the CID will have a stimulating effect and will inspire other scientific researches of the same importance.
Laudatio: Dr. Jürgen Zarusky
Jürgen Zarusky Speech at the occasion of the of the 2017 CID Prize award
Dear members of the Dachau International Committee, colleagues of the jury, ladies and gentlemen, and of course dear Mr Winter. I have the honor to warmly congratulate you for the receiving of the Dachau International Committee Study Prize. The jury unanimously declared that your doctoral thesis "Violence and memory in rural areas: the German population and the death marches", written under the direction of Alfons Kenkmann at the University of Leipzig and which was accepted in 2016, fully meets the goals of the organizers of the prize: it deals with an important topic in the research on National Socialism and concentration camps, helps to advance considerably in the knowledge of the matter and, although using a precise set of advanced methodical tools, is deeply marked by a spirit of empathy for the persecuted persons. It is for these qualities, dear Mr. Winter, that the jury unanimously decided to award your work the CID Study Prize.
The reason I was given the honorific task of delivering this speech today, is because, among other things, when the expertise to be carried out on the works submitted were divided, I immediately raised my hand when the one on the death marches has been announced. At this point, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Mrs Sybille Steinbacher, the Jury President, and to Mr Ernst Berger, the CID representative in the jury, who have worked in a remarkable way to organize the not at all easy complex process of the decision-making. But let's go back to our subject.
My big interest in the work of Martin Clemens Winter is linked to a particular experience: in the summer of 1987, a group from the RDA's Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (Action Reconciliation Peace Services) took joined International Youth Encounter Camp. The fact that young people, from the SED State (Unified Socialist Party of Germany), involved in the Church were able to participate in this event was very special and I had the chance to accompany them as a journalist.
In 1979 and 1984 three of the five members of this group had participated in the commemorative marches on the route of the death march that started in early April from Buchenwald to Flossenbürg. But these young people had to stop at the border between the two Germany's. They now wanted to take advantage of their stay in the Federal Republic of Germany to continue their march along the other side of the barbed wire of the border. So we took my car to Hof and, using a list of the graves marking the road, we mostly went to cemeteries where we met elderly people, mostly women, whom we asked about their memories of the concentration camp prisoners' marches.
We were amazed to find out, in such little time and after such a short road so many witnesses in small communes and villages, and to see to what point their memories were vivid, but also the emotional violence with which they came back to the surface after being repressed for decades.
"They suddenly arrived from Buchenwald. We were almost dead with fear ... Half-corpses ... who could not move on ... One foot in front of the other, as if they were already walking towards their graves. Alongside with these testimonies of the horror, there were also testimonies of the help offered to the prisoners , despite the prohibitions of the SS. Winter's investigation prompted stories of horror and helplessness. The Action Reconciliation Peace Services activists had heard quite similar stories on the other side of the wall in the GDR.
Fright and helpless pity are the main components of the multiple accounts of the German people's reactions to the death marches. The contrast between an idyllic image of a village and the columns of emaciated concentration camp inmates seem to make these feelings even more plausible. But appearances are deceptive, and that, in a fundamental way. "The last crimes of the Nazi society" is how Martin Clemens Winter names what happened when the death marches columns of inmates crossed the countryside. In doing so, he does not refute the fact that there have been acts of help and solidarity, on the contrary: such examples of humanity are described and analyzed in an exhaustive manner. But what is decisive is that he managed to show that the death marches could, to a certain extent, "function" only because of the participation of all local authorities, which, however, were not under a central organized control. And this is not just about infrastructure such as providing accommodation, but about crimes committed against the deportees. "The fact that a large spectrum of the local population has not only behaved passively , but participated in some way in the crimes committed in the context of the death march can now be considered a true fact" writes Winter.
This has been amply demonstrated in recent researches, especially in Daniel Blatman's important monograph on death marches in 1944/1945, which was published in 2011 in German language. But the highlight of Martin Clemens Winter's work is that he sifts what took place in rural areas, which, at first glance may seem uninvolved, thanks to a cleverly designed analysis model using the "Place", "Actors" and "Situations" categories. Winter shows how the barns or sport grounds requisitioned in the villages turned into places of violence, how officials and villagers, each in a different way, became either accomplices, or remained mere observers or simply accomplished acts of solidarity, how the SS was forced, during the crimes it perpetrated, to take into account the wishes of the villagers: it is for this reason that the acts of violence took place most of the time on the periphery of the villages. Winter also shows how the members of the Hitler Youth and Volkssturm (the popular militia), but also the women, especially as denunciators and instigators, participated in the violence against the prisoners, and how the public space was transformed by the permanent or temporary graves of the unknown victims, until the transfer of their remains. Martin Clemens Winter has painstakingly analyzed a number of individual atrocities, and for the most part one may supose that these episodes were carefully repressed at the scene of the crimes or remained unclear in the memory of the inhabitants. If his work holds the potential to launch debates on the Memory, not only at the scientific level, but also social, it is also because, apart from its scientific seriousness, the thesis is written in a clear and unadorned language. The death marches did not have an organized logistic, it was expected that there would be enough support on the ground. And , indeed, as I mentioned before, this was the case, for the murders and the pursuit of the fugitives. Even outside the walls of the camp, the detainees were clearly in enemy territory. As Winter wrote, the patterns of behavior unfolded "in a decentralized manner and throughout the entire territory”. This justifies the use of the term "crime of the Nazi society" when talking about death marches, for which part of the control and violence has been, to a certain extent, outsourced by the rural society Ideological fury played a lesser role than the fact that the confrontation of the rural inhabitants with the evacuation convoys, was considered as a problem that needed to be disposed of as quickly as possible. I quote Winter's conclusion: " If possible, the trains and transports were directed forward without stopping; if necessary, intermediate stations were prepared, prisoners were transported with their own vehicles and exhausted guards relieved or replaced.” The abandoned prisoners and the fugitives were delivered to the SS and after the passage of the convoys, they tried to remove the corpses before the arrival of the Allies. This participation of all the local authorities led to a system of protection guaranteeing the smooth passing of the death marches and to the maintaining of the dynamics of violence. A substantial part of the violence as well as initiatives stemming from the repressive apparatus of the Nazi State and the concentration camp system were virtually delegated to the level of the society. "
The author has made the most judicious decision to not only analyze the events, but also to consider their consequences, including criminal prosecution and remembrance. As with all attempts to sanction Nazi crimes, one cannot say that justice has been sufficiently served. In the case of the death marches, not only the scale of the crimes themselves, but also their decentralization slowed investigations and court proceedings. Added to these factors were the presence of former Nazis in the German judiciary system in the West, but also the widespread refusal of the local population, both in the West and in the East, to collaborate in any criminal investigation. Winter stresses, however, that despite everything, significant efforts were made. The fact that the dead were generally unknown and first had to be identified and that the whereabouts of the ones disappeared from the concentration system have to be found where also significant in the matter. In the American zone, for example, a large-scale "Death March Programming" was set up, including a questionnaire addressed to all the villages of the occupied zone.
Debates on the consequences of the death marches were very intense in the immediate post-war period. This began with the obligation for the inhabitants of the regions concerned to bury with dignity the victims, who often had only been summarily buried. Whereas in the American zone, it was often a question of confronting the Germans with the crimes of Nazism, in the Soviet occupation zone, attempts were often made to give official funerals an anti-fascist socialist character. There began what Winter call, the "commemorative monument boom", but by no means uncontested. Monuments were vandalized, but above all they were neglected and left to the mercy of nature. Even in the west - Winter compares Saxony and Bavaria – the graves were damaged and last but not least, due to relocation the graves became more and more centralized, so that at the end of the 1950s of the once about 500 concentration camp graves only 75 were left. That might have made the taking care of the graves easier but in the same time it ment the respective areas were left void of any memories. It was and it is necessary to revive Memory. This was the case, for example, with Gauting's Erinnerungsinitiative Memory Project, where in 1989 the first of many memorials designed by sculptor Hubertus Pilgrim was erected. This commemorative project and others, in the GDR also, intended to mark the death marches, are also described in the form of a comparative analysis in Martin Clemens Winter's detailed study, as is the frequent opposition to their erection.
But this culture of memory has had other positive consequences: thanks to Gauting's Erinnerungsinitiative project, former Dachau detainees and death march survivors living in Israel have come into close contact with the memory work provided in Germany. ; among them the current vice president of the International Committee of Dachau, Abba Naor, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in a few days.
It seems to me that this link also shows that by rewarding Martin Clemens Winter's doctoral dissertation, the jury of the CID Prize has made a good choice, or even, and this is my personal conviction, an excellent choice.
Award of the Dachau International Committee Study Prize for the PhD thesis
"Violence and remembrance in rural areas: the German population and the death marches"
Munich, March 17, 2018
Dear Jean-Michel Thomas,
Members of the Dachau International Committee, dear Mrs. Steinbacher, dear members of the jury, dear Sir Nerdinger, dear Mr. Zarusky,
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
I am both very moved and totally grateful! The fact that you have chosen my thesis for your prize gives me an immense joy. It's not just a wonderful conclusion of an almost six years work, but for me it is also a closing of a biographical circle because at the beginning of my extensive research on Nazi crimes, was my work as a civil employee at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial. This is where my first very intense contacts with the survivors of the camp took place, and at the same time I made the decision to study history, giving priority to the analysis of the guilty, men and women, of National Socialism. Parallel to my studies, I started to work as a volunteer at the Memorial and other institutions, for example for the Association "Jugend für Dora" (Youth for Dora), for which the meetings with the survivors of this Concentration camp has always been at the center of its activities. I am very grateful for the many meetings, which were not always simple, but which were always extremely rewarding - and memorable.
Another reason for which this prize represents something special for me: it is given to me by an association with a long tradition, the International Committee of Dachau, which for me makes the bond between the scientific analysis of the Nazi crimes with former deportees and their families
That is why my thanks go first to all the former deportees who share their story with the younger generations.
I would like to thank my supervisor, university professor Alfons Kenkmann, and my second director, university professor Michael Wildt, for their trust and guidance in the design and writing of my work. I must not forget to mention that for a long time my project did not find support. Fortunately, the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation awarded me a promotion grant which allowed me to start my research work.
Although I can not name them all here, many colleagues have contributed to the success of my dissertation through their remarks, critical readings of certain chapters or their indications for sources. A big thank you to everyone !
I would also like to thank my family for their support: my parents, unfortunately deceased while I was writing my thesis, who aroused my passion for history, I also thank Ruben, my little boy, who often widened my horizon and especially Josephine Ulbricht who, being both my beloved wife and my most uncompromising critic, was probably the one who suffered the most with me. But at the same time it is mainly thanks to her that my work became what it is and that one day I could really finish it.
Finally, I thank again the members of the jury and the entire committee.
This award will also allow me to publish my thesis as a book soon.
It is a great honor for me to receive this award!
Overview on my thesis
I do not want to try to present my thesis at all costs, but rather to highlight each part of my work by focusing on examples. I have chosen them especially according to the occasion, they therefore concern the evacuation of the Dachau camp and Bavaria as a region of analysis.
1. The facts: Poing
Late April 1945, a train with nearly 3,000 deportees from the Mühldorf complex, an annex camp of the Dachau concentration camp, stopped in the station of the small town of Poing, only about 20 km from here,
The evacuation of these camps had begun shortly before. As, from Poing on, the railway line was no longer usable, the train remained blocked in Poing station
At first the atmosphere - at least for the local population – was of a deceptive calm.
A passer-by later recalled: "It was a beautiful sunny day and the SS were sitting on the embankment watching the prisoners. At about the same time, here in Munich, began the crucial phase of the "Freiheitsaktion Bayern" ("Bavaria Liberty Action"). The exact link between the insurgency attempt and the events taking place in Poing, is difficult to reconstruct
Any way, in the afternoon of April 27 or 28, the rumor that the war was over, circulated among the SS troops who were watching the train. Because of that, many SS guards left their posts, the doors were opened and the surprised prisoners thought they were free
They began to look for food and for that they also went to the village. The inhabitants later remembered that the SS guards informed them about the presumed end of the war and the release of concentration camp prisoners.
But when after about an hour,in Poing, it was clear that the news of the end of the war were false, the situation degenerated: suddenly, prisoners were no longer considered as being released, but as fugitives. " In neighboring villages, a manhunt for escaped concentration camp prisoner was launched, involving the SS, Wehrmacht, police, the Reich Labor Service and railwaymen, as well as the civilian population. A lieutenant of the Luftwaffe tried to motivate the railwaymen to perform acts of violence against the prisoners. The chief of the railway station brought rifles from the village and posted an armed railwayman at the entrance of the station. Surviving prisoners later told the US military that the mayor of Poing had also participated in the killings.
According to the statements of the survivors, nearly 200 prisoners were killed in this manhunt. Days and weeks later corpses were still found in the forests and surrounding villages. In addition, shortly after, there was a low-level aerial attack over the station, during which prisoners were also killed. During the night that followed, the train set out again for Munich.
Poing is not the only village where such situations took place, the traveling concentration camps had also crossed other villages and remained blocked there. Transport could neither advance nor retreat, and it was not known when, how and where the road would continue. In addition, stations considered as railway traffic points were particularly threatened by air strikes and the loading of trains - thousands of hungry prisoners - was perceived as a danger to the population. This reinforced the feeling of imminent danger to the inhabitants. It was for this reason that they feverishly sought a way out so that trains and passengers leave the municipalities as quickly as possible. The evolution of events depended very much on local actors. Although the origin of the rumors announcing the end of the war was unclear, the inhabitants themselves completed the massacres of evacuation convoys in Poing. Here, based on a rumor, a supposed moment of liberation appeared, which was followed by very concrete consequences because the protagonists, observing each other, made sure to do what was necessary: the guards allowed the prisoners to leave without being worried. On the other hand, this behavior showed the civilians that indeed something fundamental was happening and they behaved accordingly. The prisoners then left the wagons, the station, and then the village. They were partly helped by the inhabitants, who also assumed that the war was over. The guards' troops saw the moment to try and disappear as quickly as possible or to merge with the mass of prisoners. But when it was clear that the war was not over, some of the SS guards and the other actors mentioned earlier tried to cancel the release and that ended in an explosion of violence against the prisoners. The local population interpreted the situation in a different way: from "liberated", the prisoners suddenly became "fugitives". Consequently, they received no further help and were instead pursued and delivered to the SS guards. A surviving prisoner, Ernst Bornstein, described the moment when the attitude of the population changed radically: "We asked the peasant to hide us in his cellar or let us enter a barn. But the expression of his face suddenly became hostile and there was no trace of his previous kindness. With his face frozen, he told us he could not hide us and that we had to leave immediately from his house. "
The case of Poing is so striking, because the place, the time and the ways of behavior are focused towards the extreme, offering a magnifying view as through a magnifying glass allowing also to consider other situations involving the death marches: the events depended mainly on the behavior of the protagonists at the time and the way in which they interpreted them.
2. Sanctions and search for victims: Upper Bavaria
I was very fortunate to be able, together with other colleagues, to analyze for the first time a large number of documents on the death marches that were almost inaccessible until then. These are documents from the International Tracing Service (ITS) dating back to the late 1940s and early 1950s; it is to my knowledge the most important and complete inventory of serial sources on the death marches.
The International Research Service and its predecessors have tried for years to find and identify the victims of the death marches. On one hand, the families of the deportees had to be certain about their destiny. On the other hand, only the registration of deaths would have made it possible to settle inheritance cases, pension and pension rights.
n 1947, the "Death March Programming", whose goal was to create a file for each known death march and to support it with sources collected on the place was launched. Two years later the "Attempted Identification of Unknown Dead" program was added, during which attempts were made to establish the identity of the victims. By the spring of 1947, questionnaires were sent to all regions. Nearly every German commune, at least in the US occupation zone, received a form requiring information on the death marches.
The first questions concerned the number and direction of the convoys, then the number of prisoners and of the dead, as well as the location of their graves and, finally, the existing witnesses in the commune.
These questionnaires are collected by the thousands at ITS and an exhaustive analysis remains to be done. As part of my thesis, I tried to do both an example of statistic evaluation and a content analysis for a specific region. In my case, I opted for the administrative district of Upper Bavaria. As many marches have crossed this region, information is available for almost the entire area. In addition, it is very easy to cross-check the questionnaires with other sources such as the US Army's 1945 survey and the Bavarian police survey made ten years later.
Firstly let's take a look at the figures: at the time in question, in Upper Bavaria, there were 1,166 independent communities. Each of them was supposed to complete a questionnaire on the death marches. For nearly half of the communities- 581 - responses to Death March Programming are available. According to their own statements, 166 of them were crossed by convoys. This represents 14% of all communities in the respective administrative district. Half of them (88) reported that concentration camp prisoners died on their territory.
Cross-referencing, though, with other sources shows that these indications were almost unreliable. I have found many examples in which neither death marches nor dead prisoners were reported to the Research Service, although documents show that this was well known fact.
What interested me most was the responses regarding witnesses among the population. I categorized the documents into three categories: firstly, statements that there were no witnesses, secondly, that all the inhabitants of the community were designated as witnesses or, thirdly, that only some had were named as witnesses.
More than half of the statements were from the last category. The indications, however, were frequently limited to officials: mayors, police officers, town hall secretaries, railway personnel, priests or gravediggers. These were exactly the type of people who had precisely to do with the convoys and their names were anyway known in these communities. But their nomination was also a way for the local population to distance themselves from the events, thus avoiding to be associated with the death marches. What was surprising to me was that frequently, they were not residents of the commune who were cited as eyewitnesses but former prisoners. From the point of view of the German administration, mentioning them was an easy way to remove the local population from position of complices. Nearly a third of the communes replied that it was impossible to designate a person able to provide information on the course of events, generating, in part, the phenomenon that even nobody would have seen anything many people have helped.
And finally, about 13% of the population said that all the inhabitants had witnessed the death marches. In the absolute, this is impressive, but it makes room for the other side as well: to collectively appoint a large number of inhabitants or their totality often had the function to avoid naming anyone as interlocutor. In Neuötting, for example, the responses concerning the direct witnesses were formulated as follows: "A large part of the population. No specific names. "
The way in which the research bureau used the data collected is made explicit by the example of the march from Dachau to Bad Tölz: the search service was based on a brochure produced at the time by the International Information Office (IIO) of Dachau, thus by survivors of the Dachau camp, in which were quoted the statements of the prisoners from the march of death towards the Alps. The route was reconstituted after their indications and the created maps which were combined with the answers of the questionnaires. Thus only for this march, one could count 287 dead, of which were determined 47 names, 45 numbers and, in 22 cases, at least the nationality. For the whole Upper Bavarian administrative district, the ITS recorded 9,802 death from the concentration camp, but for more than 8,000 of them, neither their names nor their numbers are known.
This situation lead us to the abandoning of the "Attempted Identification" program in 1951. The data collected were indeed far too vague to allow reliable statements about the life and death of different people: many detainees had changed their clothes on their way, numbers had been assigned several times in different camps or had been noted with errors. Ultimately, it was not possible for the tracing service to complete the demobilization of people into numbers and undo the dissolution of the last structures during eviction.
The German municipalities, on their part, showed little interest in supporting this enterprise. Their responses clearly show that what began during the death marches continued after the war: concentration camp prisoners had been perceived as an anonymous mass, a problem that needed to be solved quickly and discreetly, and if possible without leaving traces.
3. Memory: in Gauting and elsewhere
In Gauting, municipality of Upper Bavaria, the SPD (socialist party) and Grüne (ecologist party) filed in 1985 a request for of a monument commemorating the death marches to be erected in the village. Following this request, , Ekkehard Knobloch (member of the CSU, Christian Social Union) sent a letter to 14 municipalities located between Dachau and Königsdorf and launched a survey. He wanted to know if there were already memorials in these communities, if they had the intention to build such monuments, or how would they feel to place memorial stones in each community or erect a common monument in a central place. The result, however, was extremely disappointing: not a single commune voted in favor of commemorative monuments in all localities, only two were for a central monument and no more than five declared themselves ready to discuss the matter. Ekkehard Knobloch’s counterpart in Königsdorf, for example, responded in a very subtle way that the city councilors "regretted" that the proposal did not meet with approval and declared that a central monument would bring nothing to the respective municipalities, but only to the one where he would be placed. Nor did he agreed with the idea of the municipality of Königsdorf to simply propose itself as a location. Specifically, no memorial was wanted because "the Königsdorf municipality had to maintain an already existing war memorial, a few plague columns, Field crosses and other, at relatively high costs. " The hypocrisy of the so-called "regrets" was confirmed in a second letter. It said councilors were unanimously against the installation of memorials. The mayor, Hans Baader, not only lectured his colleagues in a paternalistic tone, but even allowed himself to speak on behalf of the prisoners: "In the interest of a common future and thereby in the interests of the victims who have survived, it is time both sides begin to forget."
Despite these very reserved reactions, Knobloch, the Mayor of Gauting, did not abandon his project and managed to convince more and more municipalities to participate anyway. However, the call for tenders for the construction of the monument by an artist prompted a new controversy: from 60 of the projects presented, that of Hubertus von Pilgrim was chosen as a laureate project which you can also see here in slightly modified form.Criticism of this sculpture, however, argued that it reduced the problem to those who had suffered, by excluding the historical and political dimension. Von Pilgrim's project was however realized and the first commemorative memorials of the death marches were built starting 1989. Until 2001, 22 identical sculptures were placed on the route of this march of death, an additional sculpture is found at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem since 1992, and only five years later, even Königsdorf has lined up and installed one in the commune. Finally, a copy has been installed here at the Documentation Center on Nazism. The identical sculptures show a group of people, represented in half-size, with amorphous faces, seeming rather tottering than marching. The first of the group seem to collapse, their bodies merging. A bronze plaque comments: "It is here that, in April 1945, passed the path of the ordeal of the prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp marching towards the unknown. " These memorials symbolize a new approach to Nazi crimes: the blatant defense mechanisms mentioned, such as those in Königsdorf, had become obsolete. So here we are witnessing a positive evolution in the debate around the death marches. At the same time, one may wonder whether this may have been possible because various aspects passed in the background. In their time already, critics of the Hubertus Pilgrim's sculpture criticized him, among other things, because he payed tribute to the victims, without mentioning neither the guilty nor the witnesses. In addition, the monument gives no indication of the actual events that took place on site. They deserve to be better explained than the inscription does. Moreover, the terms used are singular: instead of talking about the "march of death", a term known everywhere and used by the survivors themselves, it is here a question of a "Calvary", expression clearly attenuated. Finally, it leads "to the unknown", which perhaps expresses the feelings of the witnesses of the time, but can rather think today of an attempt at mystification.
It is interesting in this context to make a comparison with other memorials. The idea of punctuating with identical signs of memory the roads of the death marches had indeed already been achieved in the GDR decades ago - naturally according to the modern aesthetic principles of this state and its political and ideological historical propaganda. These monuments certainly had a totally different orientation as to their external appearance and their significance, but they had in common with their counterparts in Bavaria this vague and imprecise character concerning events which took place in the full view and with the knowledge of all the inhabitants of the village, the numerous culprits and the spectators, even more numerous, of the death marches.
This is something that, for decades, has been the driving force behind the historic work on the death marches: when it comes to the concrete participation of the inhabitants to the crimes during the death one can feel even today a certain refusal to precisely clarify the facts. I hope that my work can help to identify these shortcomings and raise public awareness that atrocious crimes may have occurred - and certainly could continue today - in front of our doors and under the eyes of many witnesses.
Thank you for your attention !