By: Sarah P.
I never intended to move to Vienna, Austria. But, in the spring of 2014 I found myself at a crossroads so to speak. Should I stay and continue with the life I had established in Baltimore or revisit what had once been my number one professional goal and pursue teaching internationally again? Not so surprisingly, I now find myself starting year five of living and working in Vienna. So, these next few posts will be dedicated to the places, objects, aspects (I really wanted to avoid using the word ‘things’ – mission accomplished) about Vienna I find fascinating.
Vienna is organized into districts and in the 1st district (Innere Stadt) there are, as you can imagine, several monuments. But one that I consider to be the most thought-provoking is the Holocaust Memorial in Judenplatz. Maybe it’s the context of what the memorial represents, but the imagery and symbolism of the structure are especially powerful or maybe it’s because the style of the monument sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the aesthetic of the rest of the architecture of the platz. The monument is not an obvious tourist destination; most people probably stumble upon it by accident as they wander around Old Town. Or, they find it by default when visiting the Jewish Museum located directly behind it.
The monument, designed by a British artist, was unveiled in 2000 amidst controversy. It’s built on top of the foundation of a Jewish synagogue, but also another complaint was that the monument is not “beautiful”. Quite the opposite, really. It just looks like a big, solid square of cement. To me, this makes sense though; after all, the monument is commemorating one of the ugliest times in history…
But, upon coming closer, the viewer will see what looks to be bookshelves on all sides of the structure and each shelf is full of books – only the books are positioned on the shelf with their spines facing inward. The viewer only sees unmarked pages of closed books. Books and pages that represent the thousands of Jewish people whose stories will forever be “unwritten” or “unread.” Hence the title: Nameless Library. The front also has double doors carved into the cement – doors with no handles. Around the base of the structure are engravings of the names of 45 concentration camps. There’s also an inscription in English, German and Hebrew, “In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945.”
Today in the square, it shares the space with an Austrian restaurant called Beer Paradise (classy) and a Greek restaurant. There’s also a statue of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 18th Century German poet/writer and advocate for the rights of Jews. His statue was first erected in 1935 but removed four years later to be melted down to make weapons. A second statue of Lessing was created by the same artist in the 1960s and stands there today. I read that he is remembered for describing Vienna as a place where people are allowed to write and speak in freedom. He stands now facing the Nameless Library with a look of sadness and disappointment. No matter how many times I walk by Judenplatz and the memorial (I always show it to guests who visit), it always makes me pause.
By: Erica Trowbridge
By: Sarah P.