Backstage III

Jun 15 to Jul 6, 2017

Exhibition in three parts and phases

»Ozarichi, März 1944« in campus hall 25
»Megalothymia« in campus building 10, ground floor
Christian Boltanski, »Die Archive der Großeltern« in campus building 7, basement

Opening of »Backstage III« on Wednesday, June 14, at 6:30pm with short presentations and a panel discussion on cultural memory and the culture and politics of remembrance with contributions by Dr. Alexandr Dolgowski (Historian, Historical workshop Leonid Lewin Minsk), Hiltrud Lotze, M.A. (MdB, Berlin/Lueneburg), Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass (Historian, Osnabrück University), Prof. Dr. Ulf Wuggenig (Sociologist, Leuphana) and a welcome note by the president of Leuphana University, Prof. Dr. Sascha Spoun

“Hinterbühne III” continues the exhibition series dealing with effects of the militarization of the city of Lüneburg under the auspices of National Socialism as well as its perception and processing in the culture of remembrance or cultural memory.

In “Hinterbühne II,” source material was already presented documenting the site-specific “welcome culture” of the 1950s - the embrace by the political and administrative leadership of the city of Lüneburg of the traditional association of the Infantry Division 110, which had been established in December 1940 for the “Operation Barbarossa” in the Lüneburg area, founded in 1953. At that time, the city was under the leadership of lawyers - they provided Lord Mayor (OB), Lord City Manager and City Director - who were also former Wehrmacht officers. The OB, who purposefully used the mega-event of the 1000-year celebration of the city of Lüneburg in 1956 for the legitimization and municipal affiliation of traditional associations of former Wehrmacht units, was at the same time the local chairman of that “German Party” from which the NPD emerged in Bremen in the early 1960s in the form of a party split, which now seems to be increasingly dissolving into the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

“Backstage III” offers a number of clues and supporting materials that allow further partial answers to the following research question: How can it be explained within the framework of a multi-causal socio-cultural model that a war crime against civilians on the scale of Ozarichi (Osaritischi) in a northern German provincial capital of the country that prides itself on its critical culture of remembrance, despite the significant involvement of a Wehrmacht unit associated with its name, was virtually not reflected upon or discussed in public for a period of no less than 70 years? publicly discussed? In the course of this war crime, no less than 9,000 children, women, the elderly and the sick, who had previously been rounded up in barbed-wire fenced camps, were perfidiously exposed to death or directly murdered within the space of a week in March 1944 in what is now Belarus - by way of freezing to death, starvation and infection with typhus, and some of them were also misused as human shields against the Red Army, which was advancing in its summer offensive of 1944.

“Backstage III” approaches further answers to this question by examining the nature and extent of the institutional support of the veterans’ association of the North German Infantry Division (110th ID), which was significantly involved in this war crime, its efforts to socially legitimize, conceal, and reinterpret the real history of the war. In doing so, a central instance of regional cultural memory and the construction of memory - the Landeszeitung für die Lüneburger Heide (LZ) - which, as is common in highly centered regional press markets, has a strong position of opinion formation or “production of consent” (Gramsci), is scrutinized on the basis of content and discourse analysis. The analytical approach, which seeks to systematically use press coverage and commentary both as a source of data for historiography and to consider this medium in its role as an actor of memory politics or producer of memory culture, is based on the enormous expansion of societal “memory storage” in the course of the advancing digital transformation of society. Technological upheavals meanwhile make even the editions of regional newspapers such as the LZ accessible in digitized form over larger periods of time for systematic quantitative and qualitative analyses. They are initially presented in exploratory form, especially since comparative material such as the newspaper corpora of the “Wortauskunftssystem zur Deutschen Sprache in Geschichte und Gegenwart” (Word Information System for the German Language in History and the Present) from the linguistic Big Data DWDS project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities were only rudimentarily included in the “Hinterbühne” research project, which is still in its first phase.

In a first step, the Big Data-based analysis of the LZ’s reporting over more than 70 years (1945-2017) offers insights into the extent of the support, whether conscious or factual or naïve, given to successor organizations of former Wehrmacht units, whose real and symbolic political strategies since their founding in the 1950s aimed at socially anchoring their members and legitimizing their involvement in a criminal war of aggression and extermination. In this respect, a city like Lüneburg, with its self-image as a garrison town, is understood as an exemplary case of a Protestant-influenced German provincial metropolis, in which a critical reflection on the past began only after a long delay, not least because of the long-standing research weakness of its university, which was initiated by the British occupying power with anti-fascist intentions and originally had a purely pedagogical orientation.

On the basis of the empirical analyses carried out, a remarkably close interaction between the leadership of veterans’ associations, which after the return of prisoners of war from the East made forced efforts to anchor themselves in society, gain recognition and rehabilitate them, the political and administrative leadership of the city, representatives of the Protestant church in the traditional association as well as in the city of Lüneburg, the local Bundeswehr and, last but not least, the regional press under consideration can be stated. Until the early 1980s, the position of editor-in-chief was held by a former Wehrmacht air force officer. In this context, complicity played a not insignificant role, as did the effectiveness of systematic disinformation - fake in the narrower sense as opposed to erroneous - by leading representatives of the tradition association. It can be traced just as much in writings as in lectures designed as division chronicles, some of which were held in the most representative rooms of the city hall of Lüneburg in the presence of its political-administrative leadership or council members.

Among the features that characterize the regional culture of remembrance with regard to former Wehrmacht units is the phenomenon of non-comparative, essentially locally held remembrance. Against the background of an orientation of public remembrance or commemorative culture distorted by the perspective of the perpetrators and their descendants, there was neither an exchange with those places where deportees stayed or still stay today - about half of those affected in the Ozarichi area were still children in 1944 - nor were images of memorial sites from the affected area made present in Belarus.

“Backstage III” therefore also provides visual insights into the place of remembrance built in the Ozarichi area in 1965 - about two decades after the deportations and massacres of March 1944. In 2004, a museum was also opened, a “place of memory” of the “victims of the Ozarichi death zones”. Images in the “Split Memory” display of “Backstage III” in the “Megalothymia” section of the exhibition shed light on aspects of the social use of these reference points of collective memory and identity.

As far as the institutionalized memory of Infantry Division 110 is concerned, the situation in Lüneburg is furthermore as follows: In 1960, at the instigation of the leadership of the Traditionsverband, an association founded in Verden in 1953, a “memorial” to this unit and its “fallen” was erected in Lüneburg on municipal land within the former city walls, i.e. relatively close to the city center, without any examination of the possible involvement of this division in serious war crimes by those jurists who were responsible for running the city. At the same time, this was - in the words of the then chief town director - taken into the “care” of the town. From 1960 until the last meeting of the Veterans Association in 1990 in the Lüneburg Scharnhorst barracks, which at that time still housed federal military units, remembrance rituals took place regularly in Lüneburg in front of the erected memorial. On this stone, which had been erected not as a reference point of private but public remembrance, the following meaningful “epigram” can still be found today: “Let no one say that our fallen are dead”. Its defenders defend this statement of an ex-army unit on a memorial in public space, which was not created for private but for public remembrance, as a statement compatible with freedom of expression. A smaller “memorial stone” of the 110th ID, also from 1960, was maintained without comment until 1992 in a grove of honor in the Scharnhorst barracks used by the Bundeswehr until 1993, regardless of the tradition decree of the Bundeswehr, which was anchored in modified form in 1982 and stipulated the break with all lines of tradition leading back to the Wehrmacht. The Field Artillery Battalion 31 of the Bundeswehr, located in this barracks, maintained a particularly close relationship with the tradition association of the former 110th ID since the early 1980s, e.g. provided honor posts or honor guards to the regular meetings of the veterans at their memorial Am Graalwall.

Before the university moved into the facility built in 1935 and 1936, this stone was then transferred to one of the groves of honor at the Theodor Körner Barracks of the German Armed Forces, ex-Fliegerhorst der Wehrmacht. This memorial stone placement has already been visually documented in “Backstage II”.

A plaque near the Lüneburg memorial of ID 110 refers to the “Kesselschlacht von Minsk” and to the associated “war trauma” of the soldiers of Infantry Division 110 who, together with numerous other units, were caught in this kettle. In fact, this was one of the most costly battles of the Second World War, which was part of the Red Army’s summer offensive in Belarus in 1944, “Operation Bagration”. Thus, the consequences of that war event, which - regardless of Stalingrad - from the perspective of military history is ultimately considered the greatest and most consequential defeat in German military history, are remembered for the soldiers from northern Germany who were stationed in the city of Lüneburg.

Just as little as in the brochure of the so-called Lüneburg “Peace Trail” offered for sale in the Lüneburg City Hall, in which the trauma of Minsk is also remembered from a perpetrator-empathic perspective, there are references on the plaque to what the name of the city of Minsk also symbolizes in connection with the Second World War. Thus, during the bombing of Minsk by the German Air Force in 1941, at the beginning of the war of extermination against the Soviet Union, no less than about 80% of the housing stock of this city was destroyed. And the Belarusian capital Minsk also stands for the mass persecution of Jews who lived in the city or to which they were deported from the German Reich, in the most brutal form. Already three weeks after the occupation of Minsk by the Wehrmacht in June 1941, the German military administration established a ghetto for the approximately 80,000 Jews living in Minsk. Then, starting in November 1941, transports of Jews arrived in Minsk from what is now Germany, from Austria, especially Vienna, and from Bohemia and Moravia. The village of Malyj Trostenez, located 12 kilometers southeast of Minsk, became the site of the largest Nazi extermination site on the territory of the occupied Soviet Union in 1942. In Malyj Trostenez, mainly Jews, partisans, political prisoners and Belarusian civilians were murdered. The Jews came both from the Minsk Ghetto and from deportations from the German Reich to Minsk or directly to Malyi Trostenez. The number of those murdered at Malyi Trostenez can be estimated at at least 60,000. Before the Wehrmacht and SS fled from the approaching Red Army, one last murder action was realized in Malyi Trostenez: From June 28 to 30, 1944, the last forced laborers of Malyj Trostenez as well as several thousand prisoners of prisons in Minsk were shot in a barn. When 6,500 bodies piled up in the barn, the building was burned down along with the corpses. Three days later, the Red Army reached the place.

A situation map from the final phase of “Operation Bagration” presented in “Backstage III” shows the locations of the 110th Infantry Division in the immediate vicinity of the death zone of Malyi Trostenez for June 29 to July 3, 1944. On July 7, 1944, the unit was disbanded by its last commander, Lieutenant General Eberhard von Kurowski, later convicted as a war criminal in the Gomel trial, but finally not southeast but southwest of Minsk.

As a further phenomenon of remembrance culture and politics in Lüneburg, it seems worth mentioning that the visual symbolic protest against the memorial of the 110th Infantry Division in the first half of 2017 in Lüneburg did not have sufficient news value for the regional press, even when a police intervention took place. Meanwhile, in 2017, there have already been three interventions against the memorial of the 110th ID at Graalwall - two coverings of the stone and pasting over the explanatory panel of the so-called “peace path” with an alternative text. They are in the line of protest, triggered by the way of consideration of this monument in the so-called “Peace Path” since 2014, renewed in a second wave, when joint plaintiffs of the Lüneburg Auschwitz trial of 2015 became aware of the immediate spatial proximity of the building of the negotiations - the Knight’s Academy - to the memorial of the 110th ID.

Available photographic documentation of Interventions I and II were projected onto a wall of the art space in “Backstage II.” An image of Intervention III from May 24, 2017 at the Am Springintgut plaque is now additionally projected in “Backstage III.” In the spirit of preserving critical or activist aspects of the politics of memory for cultural memory, they will be documented in the publications from the university context that follow the “Hinterbühne” exhibition.

Opening event June 16th 2017

“Hinterbühne III” will open in Lecture Hall 5 at Leuphana with short or impulse lectures before a panel discussion, which will be opened to the public in its further course.

Dr. Alexandr Dolgowski, who works at the Leonid Lewin History Workshop in Minsk, Belarus, has been invited to give a short lecture highlighting the culture of remembrance in Belarus. The History Workshop Leonard Lewin Minsk is a Belarusian-German project. It was established in 2002 by the International Center for Education and Encounter in Dortmund, the International Center for Education and Encounter “Johannes Rau” Minsk and the Association of Belarusian Jewish Organizations and Communities. The history workshop was situated in a building on the site of the former Minsk ghetto. Alexander Dolgowski, a historian specializing, among other things, in Malyi Trostenez, will also address the culture and politics of remembrance in Belarus relating specifically to Ozarichi 1944.

Hiltrud Lotze, M. A., a 1995 graduate of Applied Cultural Studies at the University of Lüneburg, has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2013. As a member of the SPD, she represents the large constituency of Lüchow-Dannenberg and Lüneburg. Her membership and activities, among others, in the Board of Trustees of the Foundation “Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation” in Berlin, in the Board of Trustees of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” as well as in the “Committee for Culture and Media” in the Bundestag show her to be a politician who is intensively involved in questions of remembrance culture and politics. The topic area of “commemoration and remembrance,” for example, is the focus of her work in the Bundestag’s Culture Committee, where she also serves as rapporteur. Since 2016, she has also been a member of the “Culture and Partnership Committee” of the Hanseatic City of Lüneburg.

Ulf Wuggenig, who together with Prof. Dr. Susanne Leeb is director of the Leuphana Art Space, has chosen a sociological and media studies approach for his contribution. On the basis of content and discourse analysis, using the digital archive of the Landeszeitung für die Lüneburger Heide, he examines foundations for the “production of consent” (Gramsci) for the successful efforts of the Traditional Association of the 110th Infantry Division to anchor the commemoration of this Wehrmacht unit in Lüneburg in a way that excluded or concealed its decisive participation in the war crime in Ozarichi in March 1944.

Dr. Christoph Rass, Professor of Modern History and Migration Studies at the University of Osnabrück, member of the Historical Commission of Lower Saxony, author of the standard work in the field of research on the war crime of Ozarichi - “Menschenmaterial”: Deutsche Soldaten an der Ostfront. Innenansichten einer Infanteriedivision 1939-1945 (Paderborn 2003) - and author of an expert opinion on the nature and extent of the 110th Infantry Division’s participation in it (March 2017), will not give a lecture of his own this time, but will comment on the contributions by Alexander Dolgowski and Ulf Wuggenig.

Overall, the panel discussion will address questions of how to deal appropriately with the past against the background of current discourses and statements in the political, military and intellectual field. On the one hand, demands of a revisionist nature for a 180-degree turnaround in remembrance policy have arisen on the right-wing fringe of the political field, which is also gaining strength in Germany. On the other hand, the increasing number of scandalous events associated with the Bundeswehr as a professional army in May 2017 triggered calls for the “Tradition Decree” for the Bundeswehr from 1982, which cut the line of tradition to the Wehrmacht, not only to be taken seriously, but also to be renewed in the sense of a specification or tightening during the current legislative period. Initial interventions in May 2017 in Bundeswehr facilities met with an astonishingly strong degree of resistance, as can be seen from reactions in both old and social media.

»Hinterbühne III« is organized by Ulf Wuggenig, Cornelia Kastelan (UdK Berlin) and Hannes Loichinger with support by Susanna Eremjan, Sophie Peterson, Annika Weinert as well as students in the Masters program Cultural Sciences – Culture, Arts and Media, in external cooperation with Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass and the Arbeitskreis Gedenkkultur Lüneburg

Scientific graphics and information design: Steffen Rudolph and Ulf Wuggenig
Graphic design: Sherpa, Hamburg