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Monuments of Ruination in Postwar Berlin and Warsaw: The Architectural Projects of Bohdan Lachert and Daniel Libeskind

  • Michael Meng (a1)
Abstract

This essay provides an interpretation of parallel attempts to represent ruination in the cities of Warsaw and Berlin after the Holocaust—the architectural projects of Bohdan Lachert and Daniel Libeskind. Lachert strove to represent the ruination of Jewish life in Warsaw through a modernist housing project, whereas Libeskind sought to represent Jewish ruination in a museum. While these two projects might seem different, they come together around a shared aspiration: to represent absence and ruination. Both projects endeavored to create a new kind of memorial that moved away from the conventional form. Rather than turning away from ruination and suffering as the conventional monument has done, Libeskind and Lachert sought to develop a new, non-salvific kind of monument that would reflect on death, suffering, and emptiness. This essay emphasizes the novelty of their attempts to create a different relationship to the absence that is the past, while it also explores some of the central challenges—both historical and theoretical—that both architects faced in implementing their artistic visions.

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References
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1 Adorno, Theodor W., Negative Dialectics, Ashton, E. B., trans. (New York: Routledge, 1973), 361 .

2 Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W., Dialetic of Enligtenment: Philosophical Fragments, Noerr, Gunzelin Schmid, ed., Jephcott, Edmund, trans. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). A thoughtful account that links the ruination of Lisbon with the ruination of the Holocaust in the context of philosophical reactions to evil can be found in Neiman, Susan, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). A stimulating set of essays on ruins can be found in Hell, Julia and Schönle, Andreas, eds., Ruins of Modernity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

3 Qualification is in order here. See the excellent studies on the complex interaction between modernism and historic preservation in Koshar, Rudy, Germany's Transient Pasts: Preservation and National Memory in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); and Rosenfeld, Gavriel, Munich and Memory: Architecture, Memory, and the Legacy of the Nazi Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

4 Elon, Amos, Journey through a Haunted Land: The New Germany (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1967), 13 .

5 Klemek, Christopher, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal: Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

6 The main studies of Muranów are: David Ira Snyder, “The Jewish Question and the Modern Metropolis: Urban Renewal in Prague and Warsaw, 1885–1950,” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2006); Meng, Michael, Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Germany and Poland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011); and Chomątowska, Beata, Stacja Muranów (Wołowiec: Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2012). On the history of Libeskind's project, see Jaskot, Paul B., “Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin as a Cold War Project,” in Broadbent, Philip and Hake, Sabine, eds., Berlin: Divided City, 1945–1989 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010); Pieper, Kartin, Die Musealisierung des Holocaust: Das Jüdische Museum Berlin und das U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. (Cologne: Böhlau, 2006); and Wiedmer, Caroline, The Claims of Memory: Representations of the Holocaust in Contemporary Germany and France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); 145–55. For architectural discussions and appreciations of Libeskind's project, see Huyssen, Andreas, “Voids of Berlin,” Critical Inquiry 24, 1 (1997): 5781 ; and Young, James, At Memory's Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 152–83. For an excellent contextualization of Jewish architecture after the Holocaust, see Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Building after Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).

7 The main work that deals with the theoretical question that interests me is Derrida's, JacquesResponse to Daniel Libeskind,” Research in Phenomenology 22, 1 (1992): 8894 . To be sure, there is a body of literature that deals with questions related to mine concerning Holocaust representation (see notes 57 and 68), but it does not view the issue of representation in the terms that I explore here pertaining to the issues of ruination, absence, and death.

8 As I explain in some detail presently, the historical narrative is inherently holistic insofar as it seeks to reconstruct the reality of a lost world and does so typically through the creation of a linear narrative. Even if historians today may no longer purport to recreate the whole of a past event, as their nineteenth-century predecessors once did, they still claim to reconstruct a part of it; otherwise what might the historian be doing if not claiming to reconstruct a part of a past reality? Claiming to reconstruct the part obviously presupposes the presence or knowledge of the whole. The novelty of Libeskind's project lies in his aspiration to reflect on the absence of the whole.

9 I want to stress “almost entirely” here because there were some efforts to remember the Jewish past in the built environment such as the ghetto monument and the Jewish Historical Institute, which was located, significantly, where the old Tłómacka Street synagogue had once been. On the latter, see Fuchs, Jana, “Der Nicht-Wiederaufbau der Warschauer Großen Synagoge und die Nutzung ihres Grundstücks nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg,” Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 62, 1 (2013): 4075 .

10 As Hannah Arendt astutely notes, the salvific impulse of the historical narrative to recuperate and immortalize what has passed away can be traced back at least to Homer. The writing of history commences when Odysseus hears Demodocus tell of his past deeds: “History as a category of human existence is of course older than the written word, older than Herodotus, older even than Homer. Not historically but poetically speaking, its beginning lies rather in the moment when Ulysses, at the court of the king of the Phaeacians, listened to the story of his own deeds and sufferings, to the story of his life, now a thing outside himself, an ‘object’ for all to see and to hear”; The Concept of History,” in Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin, 1993), 45.

11 Regarding this point about virtuoso authorship, I thank one of the CSSH readers for bringing my attention to this important aspect of Lachert and Libeskind's projects.

12 Of Warsaw's 25,498 buildings, 11,229 were demolished and approximately 25 percent of its streets were destroyed. See Czarnecka, Krystyna, Kurpiewska, Grażyna, and Szapiro-Nowakowska, Joanna, “Straty w nieruchomościach,” in Straty Warszawy 1939–1945. Raport (Warsaw: Urząd Miasta Stołecznego Warszawy, 2005), 373; Tomasz Stanisław Markiewicz, “Powrót do życia—Warszawa leczy rany zadane wojną,” also in Straty Warszawy, 618.

13 The video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=twDouTqS4c8 (last accessed 20 Nov. 2016).

14 In 1938, 90.5 percent of the inhabitants of Muranów were Jewish (Zalewska, Ludność, 63). Although Muranów was not a ghetto as defined as a compulsory, segregated, and enclosed area of Jewish residence (such as Frankfurt's Judengasse until the early nineteenth century), it was often imagined and discursively marked as a “ghetto.” For discussion on Muranów and the spatial history of Jewish life in Warsaw, see Bergman, Eleonora, “The ‘Northern District’ in Warsaw: A City within a City?” in Murzyn-Kupisz, Monika and Purchla, Jacek, eds., Reclaiming Memory: Urban Regeneration in the Historic Jewish Quarters of Central European Cities (Kraków: International Cultural Centre, 2009), 287–99; Engelking, Barbara and Leociak, Jacek, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, Harris, Emma, trans. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 124 ; Martyn, Peter J., “The Undefined Town within a Town: A History of Jewish Settlement in the Western Districts of Warsaw,” in Bartoszewski, Władysław and Polonsky, Antony, eds., The Jews in Warsaw: A History (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991), 5583 ; Steffen, Katrin, “Connotations of Exclusion—‘Ostjuden,’ ‘Ghettos,’ and other Markings,” Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 4 (2005): 459–79; Cała, Alina, “The Discourse of ‘Ghettoization’—Non-Jews on Jews in 19th- and 20th-Century Poland,” Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 4 (2005): 445–58; Zalewska, Gabriela, Ludnosść żydowska w Warszawie w okresie międzywojennym (Warsaw: PWN, 1996).

15 Goldstein, Bernard, The Stars Bear Witness (New York: Viking, 1949), 286.

16 In other words, leaving an entire area right in the heart of a capital city in ruination would have been less than feasible. Warsaw was not Oradour-sur-Glane. See Farmer, Sarah, Martyred Village: Commemorating the 1944 Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

17 A. M. Rosenthal, “Forgive Them Not, for They Knew What They Did,” New York Times, 24 Oct. 1965.

18 Adam Milobedzki, “Polish Architecture in the Period 1918–1939,” Rassegna (1996): 6–13; Jadwiga Roguska, “The Radical Avant-Garde and Modernism in Polish Interwar Architecture,” Rassegna (1996): 14–37.

19 Initial plans drew on ideas developed by Szymon Syrkus and Jan Chmielewski in their “Functional Warsaw” (Warszawa Funkcjonalna), presented at the 1933 CIAM meeting: Warszawa funkcjonalna: Przyczynek do urbanizacji regjonu Warszawskiego (Warsaw: SARP, 1935).

20 Dziewulski, Stainsław, Kotorbiński, Adam, and Ostrowski, Wacław, “Zadanie odbudowy Warszawy,” Studia Warszawskie, vol. 11 (Warsaw: PWN, 1972), 294317 .

21 Stanisław Albrecht, Warsaw Lives Again (Committee on Exhibition, “Warsaw Lives Again,” 1946).

22 Bierut, Bolesław, Six-Year Plan for the Reconstruction of Warsaw (Warsaw: Polskie Wydawn. Gospodarcze, 1949).

23 Ibid., 125, 77.

24 “Zarys nowej Warszawy: Referat kierownika BOS inz. Piotrowskiego na VII sesji KRN,” Życie Warszawy, 23 May 1945: 3; APW, Biuletyn Wenętrzny BOS, 31 Jan. 1946: 3.

25 Plan odbudowy Warszawy. Muranów,” Skarpa Warszwaska 26 (1946): 2; Muranów—dzielnica mieszkaniowa,” Architektura 1 (1947): 811 .

26 Muranów was rebuilt from 1949 to 1967, designed by Bohdan Lachert (Muranów South), Wacław Eytner (Muranów North), and Tadeusz Mrówczyński (Muranów West). See Warzawskie osiedla ZOR (Warsaw: Arkady, 1968), 25–35.

27 Lachert, Bohdan, “Muranów—Dzielnica mieszkaniowa,” Architektura 5 (1949): 129, 132.

28 Young, James E., Texture of Memory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 155–84.

29 Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego (AŻIH), CKŻP, Wydział Kulury i Propagandy, Lachert report, 28 Apr. 1948, 308/217.

30 “Piękno Warszawy której już niema, a która wskrzesimy,” Stolica, 3 Nov. 1946: 6.

31 Lachert's design was not salvific in the conventional, metaphysical sense of recuperating the past. It could, however, be interpreted as politically salvific to the extent that he envisioned turning back to the past so as to move into a more hopeful future. In this respect, he shares an affinity with Libeskind (see note 53).

32 Clark, Katerina, Moscow, The Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931–1941 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 100–1. On building the new Moscow, see Schlögel, Karl, Moscow, 1937, Livingstone, Rodney, trans. (Malden: Polity, 2012), 3353 .

33 Wierzbicki, Jerzy, “Dzielnica mieszkaniowa Muranów (Próba krytyki),” Architektura 9 (1952): 222–25.

34 “Tynkowanie Muranowa,” Stolica, 15–31 May 1951: 3.

35 Auerbach, Karen, The House at Ujazdowskie 16: Jewish Families in Warsaw after the Holocaust (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

36 Halbwachs, Maurice, The Collective Memory, Ditter, Francis J. Jr., and Ditter, Vida Yazdi, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), 140.

37 “W ósmą rocznicę powstania w getcie,” Trybuna Ludu, 19 Apr. 1951, 3.

38 Bierut, Six-Year Plan, 201.

39 A careful analysis of the regime's policy toward Jewish life in postwar Warsaw can be found in Engel, David, “The End of a Jewish Metropolis? The Ambivalence of Reconstruction in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” in Dynner, Glenn and Guesnet, François, eds., Warsaw: The Jewish Metropolis. Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 562–69. See also Zaremba, Marcin, Komunizm, legitymizacja, nacjonalizm. Nacjonalistyczna legitymizacja władzy komunistycznej w Polsce (Warsaw: Trio, 2001).

40 Michlic, Joanna Beata, Poland's Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006); Porter, Brian, When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Ury, Scott, Barricades and Banners: The Revolution of 1905 and the Transformation of Warsaw Jewry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); Zubrzycki, Geneviève, The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); Huener, Jonathan, Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration, 1945–1979 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003).

41 Evidence for the memories of Jews is particularly widespread in travelogues, many of which were written in Yiddish shortly after the war. See Jack Kugelmass, Sifting the Ruins: Émigré Jewish Journalists’ Return Visits to the Old Country, 1946–1948, David W. Belin Lecture in American Jewish Affairs (Ann Arbor: The Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, 2013).

42 See Gebert, Konstanty, “Reading the Palimpsest,” in Lehrer, Erica and Meng, Michael, eds., Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), 223–37. On the broad context of memory in postwar Poland, see Huener, Auschwitz; Zubrzycki, Crosses of Auschwitz; Steinlauf, Michael C., Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997); Maischein, Hannah, Augenzeugenschaft, Visualität, Politik. Polnische Erinnerungen an die deutsche Judenvernichtung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016); Wóycicka, Zofia, Przerwana żałoba: Polskie spory wokół pamięci nazistowskich obozów koncentracyjnych i zagłady, 1944–1950 (Warsaw: Trio, 2009). For a recent study of contemporary memories, see Wylegała, Anna, Przesiedlenia a pamięć: Studium (nie)pamięci społecznej na przykładzie ukraińskiej Galicji i polskich “ziem odzyskanych” (Toruń: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, 2014).

43 See Bartov, Omer, Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); Gruber, Ruth Ellen, Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Hirsch, Marianne and Spitzer, Leo, Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Laguerre, Michel, Global Neighborhoods: Jewish Quarters in Paris, London, and Berlin (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008); Meng, Shattered Spaces.

44 The literature on Holocaust memory in the United States and Europe is enormous. See, as a start, Novick, Peter, The Holocaust in American Life (New York: Mariner, 2000); Young, James E., The Textures of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); Marcuse, Harold, The Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933–2001 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Steinlauf, Bondage to the Dead; Moses, A. Dirk, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Wolf, Joan B., Harnessing the Holocaust: The Politics of Memory in France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

45 For a general overview of this intellectual development in continental thought, see Mazower, Mark, “Foucault, Agamben: Theory and the Nazis,” boundary 2 35, 1 (2008): 2334 . A more extensive intellectual history can be found in Geroulanos, Stefanos, An Atheism that Is not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).

46 Adorno drew a direct link between consumerist capitalism and forgetting in his famous essay on West Germany during its “economic miracle.” See Adorno, Theodor W., “The Meaning of Working through the Past,” in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, Henry W. Pickford, trans. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 89104 ; Meng, Michael, “The Amnesia of the Wirtschaftswunder: Essen's ‘House of Industrial Design,’Jewish Culture and History 18, 1 (2017): 516 .

47 Benjamin, Walter, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, Hannah Arendt, ed., Harry Zohn, trans. (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), 257–58.

48 Libeskind, Daniel, “Between the Lines: Jewish Museum, Berlin 1988–99,” in The Space of Encounter (New York: Universe Publishing, 2000), 23.

49 Ibid., 28.

50 Libeskind, Daniel, Traces of the Unborn (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning, 1995), 35.

51 Löwith, Karl, Meaning in History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949); Taubes, Jacob, Occidental Eschatology, Ratmoko, David, trans. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).

52 Young, Memory's Edge, 179.

53 There is, however, ambiguity in Libeskind's thinking on this matter. While he emphasizes perpetual mourning and remembrance, he also nourishes hopeful possibilities of transformation in a much more affirmative way than Adorno would. His project aims “to express how, through the acknowledgment of a particular form of absence, life can have meaning and an optimistic, hopeful direction.” Libeskind, Traces of the Unborn, 33.

54 See Martin Heidegger's discussion of time as the number of motion (arithmos kineseos), in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Albert Hofstadter, trans. (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1988), 239–40.

55 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 361.

56 See Ricoeur, Paul, Time and Narrative, vol. 1, McLaughlin, Kathleen and Pellauer, David, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

57 In the field of Holocaust studies, this challenge has also been taken up by historians who have reflected on the limits of historical narration and representation. See Friedländer, Saul, Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazis and the “Final Solution” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); LaCapra, Dominick, Writing History, Writing Trauma (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Stone, Dan, “Surviving in the Corridors of History or, History as Double or Nothing,” in Di Leo, Jeffrey R., ed., Federman's Fictions: Innovation, Theory, and the Holocaust (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011), 203–14.

58 Libeskind, Traces of the Unborn, 34.

59 Ibid.

60 Libeskind, “Between the Lines,” 28.

61 Derrida, “Response to Daniel Libeskind,” 93.

62 Ibid.

63 This failure affirms the differential interplay of presence and absence. At stake for Derrida is demonstrating that no one meaning or narrative may become authoritative: a final meaning never comes, so we have many attempts at meaning and representation, none of which can succeed.

64 Indeed, Derrida develops the same fundamental concern at much greater length in his engagement with Foucault's effort to write a history of madness. Can a history of madness be told through the language of reason? Can one speak of madness without turning it into its other? Derrida ultimately insists that one cannot; Foucault's ambitious project to describe madness—that which is irrational—through reason is bound to fail by virtue of the imperialistic acquisition of reason itself: “The misfortune of the mad, the interminable misfortune of their silence, is that their best spokesmen are those who betray them best; which is to say that when one attempts to convey their silence itself, one has already passed over to the side of the enemy, the other side of order, even if one fights against order from within it, putting its origin into question. There is no Trojan horse unconquerable by Reason (in general). The unsurpassable, unique, and imperial grandeur of the order of reason, that which makes it not just another actual order or structure (a determined historical structure, one structure among other possible ones), is that one cannot speak out against it except by being for it, that one can protest it only from within it; and within its domain, Reason leaves us only the recourse to stratagems and strategies.” Derrida, Jacques, “Cogito and the History of Madness,” in Writing and Difference, Bass, Alan, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 36.

65 Derrida, for one, denies that one can get out of the metaphysical tradition in his critique of Martin Heidegger, who tries to do so in his writings of the 1930s, especially in Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event). See Derrida, Jacques, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, Bennington, Geoffrey and Bowlby, Rachel, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 3136 .

66 Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce, Wydział Kultury i Propagandy, 308/217, Bohdan Lachert report, 28 Apr. 1948. For additional evidence on Lachert's intentions, see Lachert, “Muranów––Dzielnica mieszkaniowa” and “Historia powstania osiedli Muranowa Południowego,” excerpts from an unpublished manuscript of which are published in Matywiecki, Piotr, Kamień graniczny (Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza Latona, 1994), 491–94.

67 The ancient Greek word for monument (μνημεῖον/mnēmeion), for example, is used in both cases in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War (1:138, 2:41, and 5:11).

68 Though stone “gives a false sense of continuity,” in Lewis Mumford's words, it has nevertheless held considerable power as an antipode to the evanescence of time. The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1938), 434.

69 I am thinking of projects such as Micha Ullman's memorial to the Nazi book burning on Bebelplatz in Berlin, or Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial. See Young, JamesThe Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today,” Critical Inquiry 18 (Winter 1992): 267–96. See also the collection of essays on absence, ruins, and memory in the Polish case: Obecność/Brak/Ślady. Współcześni artyści o żydowskiej Warszawie. Presence/Absence/Trace. Contemporary Artists on Jewish Warsaw (Warsaw: POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, 2016).

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