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LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Newton– The Gestapo arrested my father, Benjamin Frostig in the spring of 1938. Born in Boston and living in Newton for the past thirty years as an artist and activist, daughter of a survivor and granddaughter of Holocaust victims, I am embarking on the design of a new Holocaust memorial project, entitled The Vienna Project.

The Vienna Project began in 2004, when I inherited letters written by my grandparents between 1938-1945, to my father living in exile. Making a journey of return to Vienna in 2006 and reclaiming my Austrian citizenship in 2007 soon gave way to developing a relationship with my father’s homeland. The Vienna Project grew out of this process starting in 2009, as a new social action, public memory project. The memorial marks the 75th anniversary year of the “Anschluss,” when racial persecution “officially” began in Austria under Nazi rule.  The memorial creates a public vehicle of remembrance that enables individuals, families and communities, descendants of victims, dissidents, perpetrators and bystanders to engage in collective acts of remembrance. Introducing a new arts-infused, participatory model of memorialization, the memorial will be installed in Vienna along the Danube Canal on October 24, 2013, followed by a series of street installations. Video projections on the water will pose the question “What happens when we forget to remember?”

Focused on developing the memorial project to acknowledge the horrific events occurring in Vienna 75 years ago, it was a shock to be confronted with terror at home, on April 15th. Citizen outrage and determination to not succumb to fear, so characteristic of the American spirit when groups of innocent people become targets of aggression, reminds us–the people–of our shared humanity and responsibility to intervene.  I was particularly moved by selfless acts of courage and kindness following Monday’s bombings. While the dismissal of the gun reform amendment was a set back, the swelling of generosity that spread throughout this city will inevitably prevail and be reflected in new laws to protect innocent lives.

Countries have unique histories, located within specific historic periods, and one tragedy is not to be conflated with another.  Remembering the Holocaust 75 years after the crimes took place is not immediately relevant to the Marathon bombings, however, acts of remembrance that sustain larger ideas about social justice, communicate important lessons about agency. Memory cannot change history. Memory can and does invite individuals and groups to take a stand, to call for justice and to put new terrorists and tyrants, on notice.

When my father died, he left behind a small cardboard box in the basement that contained all of his belongings from Austria: a few photographs, a packet of letters from his parents written between 1938-1941, some official documents including his Heimatschein (citizenship document), his German passport with the telltale red “J,” his Tefillin and his Bar Mitzvah watch.  The box remained in the basement until my mother died in 1991 at which time I transferred the box from the basement to a closet in my home. I didn’t begin to unpack the box until 2002, when I wrote a short narrative about my father’s escape from Vienna. Among his documents was a scrap of paper, a published letter to the editor of the Evening Star, written on September 19, 1946, before Austria had regained her independence as a sovereign state. I also found the original letter to the editor written by H.J Thalberg: on September 17, 1946:

AUSTRIA FIRST VICTIM

To the Editor of the Star

Dorothy Thompson, highly esteemed author, refers in her column of September 2, to Czechoslovakia as Hitler’s “first non-German victim.”
Does this mean that Austria, occupied one year before Czechoslovakia, although a victim of Hitler, is to be regarded as simply part of the German nation?

The great sympathy and understanding Mrs. Thompson usually has displayed in regard to Austria make me believe that a printer’s omission is to blame and that the first non-German-speaking victim of Hitler is understood by the author to be Czechoslovakia.      –H.J. Thalberg, Secretary of the Austrian Mission

father letter to editor 1946[sm]

 “I would like to reply to H.J. Thalberg, Secretary of the Austrian Mission with regard to the comments which he made in a letter to the Evening Star of September 17th as follows: He apparently depends on the shortness of memory of people here in the United States in pretending that Austria was the first victim of Hitler’s aggression.

The people of Austria accepted Nazism with open arms.  They considered the “Anschluss” not as an act of aggression but as an act of liberation.  They have also demonstrated in numerous cases a hatred of minorities. I feel that Austria has been given a great deal more leniency than she deserves.’” –B.W. Frostig

My father died when I was relatively young.  He never discussed Austria, his arrest and expulsion from his homeland, and the subsequent losses he endured.  Coming across documents such as these, I imagined he suffered a great deal of personal anguish, as he watched Austria evade responsibility for crimes committed. The Vienna Project provides every day Austrian citizens the opportunity to revisit this history and reflect upon issues of accountability, 75 years after the crimes were committed.

I was in Boston on March 12th. It was a day like any other day, full of email, 32 to be exact. One of the emails and subsequent conversation was with a staff member at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Their research, publications, legal interventions, and education program looking at hate and extremism in the US, produce some of the most comprehensive discussions on this topic. I wanted their input about the memorial project and the challenges of creating a memorial representing multiple victim groups. I was pleased that they liked the project and immediately saw the strength of my approach, memorializing the murder of 90,000+ Austrian victims as discreet victim and dissident groups portrayed in relation to each other.

My attention then went to Austria.  At a distance of 4,000 miles, I could only access public events, indirectly online. I wondered what would happen, who would speak, and where they would speak.Two photos caught my eye.

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The first image depicts laying a wreath at Albertinaplatz to remember the victims of Fascism. The second photo captures memorial attendees passing by the adjacent statue of the Jew scrubbing the cobblestones. The question, who is remembered and who is forgotten comes to the fore, particularly in memorials designed to honor individual groups, one at at time. While the text referenced a more complete account of the victims of National Socialism and Austria’s role in committing these crimes as perpetrators and bystanders, it is the mix of discomfort and distraction captured in the second photo that is of interest to me. The look toward and away from the humiliated Jew raises questions about activities of remembering and forgetting, even in the midst of remembering.

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March 12, 2013

Karen Frostig —  March 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Welcome to Memoryplatz! Today is March 12th, the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss, when Hitler marched into Austria, cheered along by throngs of onlookers. This is a good day to begin blogging about The Vienna Project.  

The memorial project represents a new approach to memorialization.  The project has been developed over the past four years and reflects extensive research and countless discussions with scholars, artists, historians, writers, and educators in Austria and in the US. Dialogue is the centerpiece of the memorial project, informing the design as well as a commitment to produce user-generated content and online conversations about the project–stay tuned for a new photo blog that will be up and running later this spring.

A few comments about the project logo as we enter into mainstream media.  Who are we? What do we represent? Why this logo?

As the daughter of a Viennese Holocaust survivor, the project began as a personal response to my impressions, regarding Holocaust memory in Vienna. While change is ongoing, my first impression concerned what I perceived to be the “absence” of memory on the streets of Vienna. I spent the next three years, growing my idea, soliciting support and establishing a fabulously talented international project team to implement the memorial project on the streets of Vienna (see web site www.theviennaproject.org). Creating a vibrant international advisory board, multiple partnerships with Austrian organizations, and receiving initial financial support from Austrian foundations, and municipal and federal funds, plans are in place to begin phase one of the memorial project. We, the team and I, are very eager to get started.

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Why 1938 ? The initial idea was to use 1938 as the date marking the start of racial persecution in Austria. From there, creating 38 memory zones, seemed like a good number to work with. While some folks preferred a logo with just the number “38,” others felt that it was the actual date of 1938, that held the content. “38″ by itself, lacked relevance. Others expressed concern that “1938” might trigger a resurgence of the “victim myth.” And then, there was the “38” trolley, whose logo was uncomfortably close to our own.

In the end, the 1938 logo highlighting “38,” designed by Kabren Levinson, seemed to cover all ground.  We will soon be posting a “marketplace” on the website. There, you will be able to order your very own logo stickers, as well as other artfully designed project items, for personal use!