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Ravensbrück Concentration Camp

Ravensbrück concentration camp (situated 100km North of Berlin) is now a memorial site[1] with two permanent and several temporary exhibitions, at various points around the site there being plaques, sculptures and memorials to those who were prisoners there.  The Ravensbrück memorial site’s edict is to combine its ‘commemorative function with historical-political education and research. The memorial is therefore simultaneously a site of remembrance and mourning as well as a site of collection, preservation and research - an active site for learning as well as a location in which to reflect on the past.’[2]
 
According to Henry Moore (who organised the competition for a memorial at Auschwitz) the best memorial is the camp itself,[3] but contrary to Moore’s belief that there should be no artistic representation, Ravensbrück is home to sculptures and plaques.  These commemorate former inmates, as well as interpreting what is left of the buildings to ensure that the sites past is not forgotten.   

 

Die Muttergruppe

 

Near the entrance of the Memorial site there is a striking sculpture of three bowed and skeletal women; one with a small child in the folds of her skirt, another bearing the weight of a stretcher upon which is the body of a child and the other with her arm raised, shielding her face in grief.  This sculpture is known as the ‘Müttergruppe’ and is said to represent the stages of mourning.[4]

The Burdened Woman

 

On the edge of a lake which separates Fürstenberg and Ravensbrück, stands the sculpture known as ‘The Burdened woman.’ The sculpture stands on a tall plinth overlooking the water thus combining old and new types of memorial.  The piece, which depicts an upright defiant woman holding the body of her fallen female comrade in her arms, has religious connotations and resembles the type of sculpture that may be found in a church i.e. that of an apostle removing the body of Jesus from the cross – an image of death and despair on the one hand, and redemption and hope on the other.   Conversely the figure is also an accusatory figure showing the horror of what has happened in the camp to the world and more specifically to the residents of Fürstenburg directly across the lake who will see the figure everyday while going about their normal business (as they would have during the concentration camps existence). The figure is strong, tall, accusatory and defiant with a resolute look upon her face. Her fallen comrade is thin, her breasts sagging and head lolling, her arm hangs to one side and her legs are lifeless as the woman carrying her takes her weight; and consequently the metaphoric weight of the thousands of dead buried in the rose covered mass grave behind her and the ashes of victims in the lake in front of her.

 

[1] The first commemorative ceremonies were held there in the aftermath of the war and in 1959 the National Memorial Ravensbrück was founded.

[2] http://www.ravensbrueck.de/mgr/Archiv/english/memorial/mgr-aufg.htm.

[3] Calvocoressi, Politics of memory conference

[4] Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance based on the Kübler-Ross model.

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