“Mis/Remembrance of the Place” – art installation
History of the Place
The “Mis/Remembrance of the Place” art installation is located at the Umschlagplatz Memorial Site which is situated in the area of a former slaughterhouse. From the railway platform situated there, between the 17th of March and 14th of April 1942, nearly 28,000 Lublin Jews were deported to the death camp in Bełżec by the German occupying forces, as part of Operation Reinhard.
Operation Reinhard was a codename for “the Final Solution to the Jewish Question” meant as nothing less than the biological extermination of the Polish Jews inhabiting the entire General Government (GG), subsequently to embrace all European Jewish citizens. Operation Reinhard was a programme of genocide which resulted in three million Polish Jews being murdered, a number constituting a half of all those that fell victim to the Holocaust – a crime against humanity committed in the name of the totalitarian ideology of Nazi Germany. The death camp in Bełżec was the first to operate as part of “Aktion Reinhardt” and served an experimental function, allowing for the perpetraitors to create an efficient system of extermination which would later be employed in other extermination camps – Sobibór, Treblinka and KL Lublin.
The Umschlagplatz Memorial Site
The Umschlagplatz Memorial Site covers a plot of land in Zimna Street (44 m x 10 m), owned by the municipality (the City of Lublin). In 2008, the plot was let out on lease to the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre.
In 2009, the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre announced a “Competition for a permanent Memorial Site project – named the Lublin Umschlagplatz – including designs for the area's spatial development”. Although a winner was successfully selected, various technical and legal problems made it impossible for the construction work to be undertaken in the assigned plot of land, which otherwise would have commemorated the Lublin Jews deportation site and made it accessible to visitors desiring to honour the memory of the Holocaust victims.
In 2012, thanks to the endeavours of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre, the area was included in the plans for spatial development as a “cultural services space – Umschlagplatz Memorial Site” and allocated for the “Umschlagplatz Memorial Site” (§ 17 act 1 Resolution No 374/XVIII/2012). The resolution provides the “reorganisation of the area to meet the expectations of a location destined for a memorial site, including a clearly recognizable spatial design harmonious with its surroundings, as well as the preservation of the outside wall or its fragments as an element of historical memorial site conservation”. It also ensures the localisation of the main visitor entrance on the axis along which the water tower is situated in the area of the former city slaughterhouse.
The area of the former slaughterhouse, including the plot located on it, is not registered in the Sites and Monuments Record. Nevertheless all decisions regarding spatial development in the area are being consulted with the Voivodship Conservator of Monuments in Lublin.
In 2016, as an element of the project entitled “Lublin. Memory of the Holocaust. The creation of a permanent commemoration in the area of the Umschlagplatz Memorial Site in Lublin”, a commemoration “Mis/Remembrance of the Place” was realised in the form of an art installation. It serves as a spatial point of reference in the area of the memorial site. The art installation is an element of the Memorial Trail.
The formal permission for the realisation of the commemoration was ordered by the Lublin City Council, on the basis of statutes issued on November 17, 2016 concerning the construction of the Memory Trail and the Nazi Railway Platform and the Jewish Holocaust memorials in the area of the City of Lublin. We received a positive assessment of the project from the Chief Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, The Office for Commemorating the Struggle and Martyrdom, operating at The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in Warsaw, as well as the Municipal Section for Monument construction in the City of Lublin. The project was created with the financial support received from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage as part of the “Cultural Heritage” programme, within the National Memorial Sites Priority.
To commence the realisation of the project, appropriate evaluation of the Umschlagplatz Memorial Site's state of preservation was conducted with special attention paid to the structural condition of the surrounding wall, the remaining sections of which already have the status of a pre-war relic, along with the building situated in the memorial site area.
A metal container in the shape of a freight car is placed in the rectangular memorial site area. It can be entered from Zimna Street through an opening created in the outer wall. Holes in the shapes of Hebrew letters are punctured in the walls of the container, and through these the whole area of the Lublin Umschlagplatz can be seen. The shape of the letters mirrors the typeface used in the The Book of Zohar, printed in Lublin in 1623. On both sides of the container the visitors will be able to observe the process of natural degradation which has affected the site (the crumbling wall, the cracked concrete surface of the plot and the wild, garden-like growth – shrubbery, trees, plants). This is to demonstrate that the very area which should serve most as a memorial site has, in fact, fallen into a state of near oblivion, symbolising the brutal fading of memory. This is exactly the process of decay embracing memory itself that is the main idea behid the “Mis/Remembrance of the Place” art installation. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is cut into the ceiling of the freight car, allowing for a view of the open sky. The entire memorial site area is surrounded with a concrete fence. Along the wall on the side of Zimna Street, the following information is placed on a sheet of metal in three languages:
Between March 17 and April 14, 1942, from the railway platform situated here, approx. 28,000 Jews were deported to the death camp in Bełżec by the German occupying forces. With the destruction of Jewish Lublin Operation Reinhard began, aimed at murdering the entire Jewish population in the territory of the General Government.
The Citizens of Lublin, March 2017
The proposed form of commemoration does not interfere with the natural structures of the memorial site and enables visitors to observe the process of change affecting it: on the one hand, generating natural destruction which is a consequence of the passage of time; and on the other, resulting in the creation of a new quality. The assumption behind the commemoration suggests that its form does not have to be indestructible – like a monument. The idea for the installation is to maintain the authentic nature of the memorial site and preserve its historical value at the same time.
The symbolism of the constituent elements of the installation relates to The Zohar, printed in Lublin in the 17th century. After all, the Jews were the “nation of the book” and the printed word was of great significance in their everyday life. The oldest printing house in Lublin was situated right next to the Maharshal synagogue – the place where people destined for the Umschlagplatz were gathered by the Nazis. It was in that very printing house that The Book of Zohar – the most important book from the “mystical canon of culture” was published in 1623. The perforations on the walls of the container placed in the memorial site area are in the very shape of letters from The Zohar.