Gedenkstätte für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus am Militärschießübungsplatz Graz, "Feliferhof"

© Bildrecht Vienna © Generali Foundation Collection—Permanent Loan to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Hans Haacke

Gedenkstätte für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus am Militärschießübungsplatz Graz, "Feliferhof", 1996

Proposal for an art competition initiated by the Military High Command of Styria and the Styrian Art in Public Buildings Commission, administered by the Department of the Styrian Provincial Government in the autumn of 1995. 17 sheets, 4 drawings, 1 photo montage, 1 collage, 6 photocopies of those 6 sheets with the desired graphic contrast, 5 pages of text by Hans Haacke 21.6 x 27.9 cm / 27.9 x 21.6 cm each, framed 25.7 x 31 cm / 32 x 25.7 x 1 cm each


Artwork text

Memorial to the victims of National Socialism at the military target practice range "Feliferhof" in Graz. Proposal, for an art competition initiated by the Military High Command of Styria and the Styrian Art in Public Buildings Commission, administered by the Styrian Provincial Government in autumn of 1995. Other participants in the competition:Fedo Ertl, Esther and Jochen Gerz, Fred Höfler/Reinhard Tatzgern, Josef Pillhofer. The winning project, The Geese of Feliferhof, by Esther and Jochen Gerz, selected in 1996, has not yet been realized. Proposal I assume the majority of people who will visit the planned memorial are too young to have been confronted with National Socialism directly. Many of this generation have only a limited interest in concerning themselves with a political past to which they have no personal relationship. They are often bored or even irritated by the efforts of generally older people outside their normal circle of acquaintances who insist on keeping the terror of the National Socialists in the public conscience, remembering the victims and warning against a revival of the past in another guise. I therefore believe that one of the fundamental problems in designing the memorial at Feliferhof is to overcome this disinterest, which can even border on rejection. This attitude is also not uncommon among older people. Lectures and exhortations run the risk of provoking allergic reactions and bringing about the opposite of what is intended. I believe people are more likely to face the questions raised by this memorial if they have a sensory experience. Sensitized in this way, verbal appeals may take on a personal meaning and have an effect that they would not have had otherwise. Description of the proposal Down the hill from the target practice hall and midway (50 m) to the first grass-covered mound of the shooting range, a 25 m long and 3 m deep trench, surrounded by freshly dug earth, cuts perpendicularly across the range. A flagpole positioned at the short, right end of the trench serves as a vertical marker. On certain occasions the Austrian flag can be flown there at half-mast. A forest road leaves the area of the target practice hall eastward. Nearby, a path begins which leads down into a low, mixed-growth forest in the valley. Describing a curve, the path gradually drops below ground level and enters an underground passage. This covered passage (1.2 m wide, 2.1 m high) ends after about 10 m in front of a concrete wall extending from floor to ceiling (2.5 m wide, ca 0.5 m thick) in the middle of a shallow space (distance from the end of the passage to the wall, 1.5 m; length, parallel to the wall, 4.5 m; height 2.1 m). Subdued light enters from the other side of the concrete slab and falls to the right and left on the curved walls of the space. Stepping around the slab, a view opens into a 25 m long horizontal shaft with vertical walls of fresh earth rising up to a height of 3 m. From the 2.5 m wide trench one can see the sky and the above mentioned flagpole (because of the low angle one sees only the top). At the opposite end, a grainy black-and-white photograph, etched into an aluminum plate, covers the entire back wall and gives visual closure to the shaft. It shows the exhumation of bodies from a mass grave at Feliferhof (published on 27 May 1945 in the Neue Steirische Zeitung). Triggered by this photo one can associate the shaft with the mass grave, which the historian Walter Brunner described as a 25 m long, 2.5 m wide and 3 m deep hole (Walter Brunner, “Hinrichtungen und Tötungen durch Staatsorgane in der Steiermark 1938 bis 1945,” Zeitschrift des Historischen Vereines für Steiermark, Vol. 80, 1989, pp. 277-292). This association is emphasized by a short text etched into a second aluminum plate of the same size, which is mounted onto the side of the concrete slab facing the trench at its entrance. It offers the following brief information: In May 1945 a mass grave was opened at Feliferhof. It held 142 bodies, people who were murdered by the National Socialists: 116 in civilian clothes 10 in Hungarian uniforms 4 in German uniforms 3 in French uniforms 3 in Russian uniforms 2 women without clothes 2 men without clothes 1 in American uniform 1 in SS-uniform This information, set in Garamond type, also derives from the article by Walter Brunner. The trench is silent, like a grave. But this silence is interrupted periodically by shots fired nearby during target practice. Because of the depth of the shaft (more than 4 m; 3 m depth of shaft plus 1.5 m mound of excavated earth around its perimeter), a visitor to the “grave” is not in danger. However, I expect one would feel trapped, isolated from the outside world, as if standing pinned against a wall oneself, threatened by an invisible firing squad. Indeed, one is aware of being in the target area of an actual range. During practice, one is exposed to the silence being ruptured by ear-splitting noises. One smells fresh earth. All these elements together in a confined space, coupled with the provocative plaques on the back walls of the “grave,” could heighten one’s psychological sensitivity to such an extent that, for a moment at least, a personal, and initially unthinking, identification may be possible with the people whom the National Socialists murdered at Feliferhof. Such an experience could serve as a catalyst for a critical examination of the National Socialist past. The shots fired over the symbolic mass grave, in the course of normal target practice, can be understood as a salute to those murdered by the National Socialists. But they can also be taken as an appeal to the marksman always to question whether his actions are legitimated by international law, and as a call to be prepared to defend human rights with a gun should that become necessary. The confined nature of the space permits only a few people to enter the memorial at any one time. Remembering is an essentially private affair, something one engages in best when one is alone. Larger numbers of people can take part in commemorative events at a respectful distance in the area in front of the target practice hall. From there, the symbolic mass grave and the flagpole with the Austrian flag flying at half-mast can be seen. I believe that news of the memorial’s unusual nature will get around, and that, without any instructions from superiors, the users of the shooting range will feel compelled to reflect on contemporary history—on their own. Technical Implementation Specialists will be in charge of earth-moving and other aspects of the proposal’s realization. What follows is a general overview of the problems to consider and thoughts on how to solve them. Prior to commencing with work, drilling tests are necessary and earth samples should be collected where the shaft and underground passage will be located. These tests should determine if either bedrock or spring water will pose any problems. The pressure of the slope on the shaft is to be absorbed by sheet-pile walls. In order to maintain the appearance of a newly dug grave, a herbicide is needed to prevent the sprouting of seeds in the mounds of excavated earth (1-1.5 m high and 2.5 m wide). Due to their permanent “infertility,” the bare mounds will contrast with the immediate environment as well as the grass-covered mounds that support targets further down the slope. For reinforcement, the walls of the shaft are to be injected with Ceresit or another medium of equal quality that is used in archeological excavations to firm up walls. If the nature of the ground requires it, the walls will have to be slightly beveled. The floor of the shaft can be sealed with slaked lime so that it can be walked on in wet weather. It is necessary to provide for drainage. Like the excavated earth, the walls and the floor are to keep their rough, earthy appearance. The underground passage could be lined with round spruce as is common in trenches. Due to the large size of the etchings of the photo and the text, the aluminum plates have to be produced in separate parts. These 3 mm thick plates should be mounted onto 0.2-0.5 cm thick concrete walls at each end of the shaft. Six drawings and a newspaper clipping, enclosed herewith, provide views and dimensions of the design. (Hans Haacke)