Shaping Perceptions, Meaning and Use of Holocaust Memorial Spaces: Two Case Studies from Vienna

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Monika PALMBERGER, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, Austria
Eva SCHWAB, Department of Landscape, Spatial and Infrastructure Sciences, Institute of Landscape Architecture, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
Along two case studies of memorial places in Vienna, Turnertempel and Judenplatz, this paper reveals two diverging conceptions and understandings of Holocaust commemoration and the particular individual commemorative practices they generate. Differences are most prominent in the way civil society and residents were actively incorporated in the decision-making process and were invited/excluded to make use of these memorial spaces in everyday life. Whereas the Turnertempel project, located in a multi-cultural less privileged residential area, stems from a small scale, local civil society initiative endorsed by the district government, Judenplatz  - located in a central tourist area - was initiated by a high profile public figure and negotiated in a politically charged and press-mediated process.

In both memorial places a contemporary and abstract design language has been employed, albeit connected to different regulations and expectations of use which reveal diametrically opposed understandings of commemoration: the Judenplatz memorial does not allow people to engage with it in any physical manner (e.g. step or touch it), whereas the Turnertempel memorial encourages its visitors exactly to do that.

Drawing on data gained through ethnographic and socio-spatial analysis, this paper argues that the initial process, the design and the official regulations around a memorial have little explanatory power concerning the actual perception and use of public commemorative spaces. The quality of the wider spatial configuration and its specific location in the city, demographic and socioeconomic parameters and not least the memorial’s active “promotion” by civil society activists are more important in shaping perceptions, mnemonic practices and various forms of engagement with a particular memorial space.