From Those You Saved: Memorial to commemorate Poles Who Rescued Jews during WWII
International open competition, 1st Prize, Warsaw (PL), 2015
With Eduard Freudmann
The plan to erect a monument dedicated to Poles who saved Jewish lives is exceptional because it is to be established by “Those You Saved”, by Jews who want to commemorate the Righteous, those who saved their lives or the lives of their family members.
First and foremost, erecting the monument is urgent. Time is passing and 70 years after the end of Nazism both those who saved and those who were saved are dwindling in numbers. Therefore we should open the monument as soon as is feasible. But there is a dilemma: This is not an easy task that can be rushed to completion. Erecting a monument „From Those You Saved” requires time – both for the creation of a *We, that is, those who desire to establish the monument, and for joint decision-making regarding important issues such as to whom the monument is addressed or selecting the best location for the monument.
We believe that this dilemma is not a bitter pill to be swallowed. Rather, it is a unique asset that should be incorporated into the monument. At its grand opening, the monument is not a forest but a forest nursery, a vision of a forest. The forest nursery is located in a large, raised bed next to the Polin Museum, a formal reference to the small hill upon which stands the historic linden tree, the only remnant of the pre-Ghetto period. It consists of dense rows of two-year saplings of common trees in Warsaw (lime, ash-tree, aspen, birch, hornbeam, field maple, norway maple, common oak tree, common alder). The number of trees can only be estimated (a few thousand) and it will change over the course of time since some of the trees planted will not grow roots, a perfectly normal occurrence in a nursery.
After the opening of the monument as a forest nursery, a social discourse will aim to create the *We and decide on the future of the monument as a forest, that is, enable it to become a forest – at an urban location in Warsaw to be decided. The monument is not only the forest nursery or the forest but also the process, which will take place in cooperation with the Polin Museum and is limited in duration. The inherent fragility of the nursery is an intricate part of the monument, without which it could not achieve its full dimension.
The forest shall be planted permanently in a participatory process. The urban location of the forest is key. It stands for the alienating character of the helping action, of the saving, which was only carried out by a minority of Poles who, in many cases, remained isolated after the end of the German occupation due to Polish anti-Semitism. The main motive behind planting a forest in a city to be a monument is the ambiguity represented by the forest.
This ambiguity parallels the ambiguity of saving Jewish lives and the ambiguous history of how those actions have been dealt with in Poland from the end of the German occupation to the present day. The forest was a place of death, where Jews were killed by execution. The forest was a place where many Nazi concentration camps were located. But the forest was also a hide-out, a place of survival and a place of resistance. Who helped Jews, who saved Jews?
It will never be possible to set ultimate criteria; it will never be possible to pinpoint exact numbers. These questions can only be answered with ambiguity. And that very ambiguity should be represented in the monument. If the *We fails, there will be no forest and the monument fails as well. This failure would manifest itself in the diminutive nature of the forest nursery, which would never become a forest and in the ephemeral nature of its trees, which would not have space to grow. The potential inability to express gratitude as a *We is thus an intrinsic feature of the entire project from the outset.
We are looking forward to the ongoing process involving the *We and hope for the participation of many of its protagonists: Jews who were saved or their family members who have a sincere interest in erecting a monument to the righteous Poles. We wish the process to succeed, because we think that the Righteous deserve commemoration.
Gabu Heindl, Eduard Freudmann
April 26, 2015
From Those You Saved, organized by the “Remembrance and Future” Foundation, Warsaw.
1. Prize, 2015
Architecture and urban concept:
Gabu Heindl und Eduard Freudmann
Team: Daniela Mehlich, Jan Ruzicka
Consultant: Maria Elisabeth Rief, Ingenieurbüro für Landschaftsplanung und Landschaftspflege
Model making: Nenad Ikodinovic
Translation: Julie Dawson, Rafal Morusiewicz
Research: Tamara Kramer