PRESERVING THE TRACES OF THE HOLOCAUST


Februar 2000.
Zusammen mit Gert Hof besuchen wir das Konzentrationslager Auschwitz in Polen. Christoph Heubner, ein guter Freund und ein wunderbarer Lyriker, der das deutsch-polnische Jugendforum Auschwitz leitet, zeigt uns die Gedenkstätte. Seine detaillierten und kenntnisreichen Berichte gehen uns unter die Haut. Gert ist besessen von der Idee, in Auschwitz-Birkenau einen Memorial-Event zu machen. Für ihn eine Art Lebensaufgabe. In einem Brief an das Auschwitz-Komitee schreibt er: „Es ist von eminenter Bedeutung für die Gegenwart und die kommenden Generationen, das Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, Synonym für das größte Verbrechen in der Geschichte der Menschheit, im Bewusstsein der jungen Generation geographisch klar zu lokalisieren und die Zeugnisse jener Zeit visuell identifizierbar zu machen. Diese Todesstätte von Millionen unschuldiger Opfer vieler Nationalitäten verlangt nach einem außergewöhnlichen Signal ...“ Das entscheidende Kriterium bei der ästhetischen Umsetzung einer Installation in Birkenau müsse die Wahrung der Würde der Opfer und ihrer Hinterbliebenen sein. Gert nennt seinen ersten Konzeptentwurf „Nie wieder Auschwitz!“ und spricht von einer Spurensicherung.

April 2000.
In the early 60s Greek poet Iacovos Kambanellis wrote down his memories of his imprisonment in the KZ Mauthausen. In 1965 he composed four poems on this topic and asked Mikis Theodorakis to set them to music. Theodorakis, who during the occupation was also interned in Italian and German camps, had a personal connection to this issue and this is how the Mauthausen songs came into being. The Mauthausen-cycle was then translated and performed in many languages and many countries. Twice (1988 and 1995) it was staged on the former roll call square of the KZ Mauthausen in front of tens of thousands of former inmates and their relatives.

May 2000.
In some ways, Jewish music and Greek music are very similar, one could say close: many songs that appear melancholy, many sad texts set to cheerful melodies. These elements that link the two peoples are also present in some of the songs of the Mauthausen Cycle. In the nature of the sounds created by Mikis Theodorakis to the verses of Iacovos Kambanellis lies the secret that, across the borders of language, quickly created a basis of understanding for the message of the Mauthausen songs. A merry melody does not always necessarily mean laughing in the face of death. But withstanding death. Like the earth, bearing the trunks of burnt-out trees, preparing herself in autumn and winter so that the mountain will be green again in the spring, with bushes full of millions of little stars.
Auschwitz & Mauthausen are the symbols of the attempt to exterminate not just a people, but also at the same time the wisdom of a people. That the attempt failed, and that similar attempts will fail in the future, is beyond question. The work of men and women of all continents, individuals who find the meaning of life in the development of the spirit through research, philosophy, poetry and music, this work guarantees that a culture befitting human beings will ultimately triumph over violence and stupidity. The question is, how dearly we will have to pay for this "ultimately". For dictators of all colours intentionally overlook the fact that the basic ideas of human coexistence are preserved in the knowledge not of one people alone, but of all peoples.
The living reminder of Auschwitz and Mauthausen is a step in the direction of this understanding. That some day, monotheistic and polytheistic faiths will exist side by side with atheism, or even that the most humane values of each will melt into one another: a sublime Utopia.
Music can bring us a step closer to this dream. Music is the medium, ideal as a line of projection into open space. Ideal for breaking down the barriers of our spiritual world and carrying over our desires, over the threshold to something as yet unknown, but which will comprehend our ideas of today. A future home for mankind. An unlimited planet. And us, millions of tiny stars, free in time and space.

Februar 2003.
Wieder in Auschwitz. Rede mit der Museumsleitung und dem Internationalen Auschwitz-Komitee. Beide sind mit unserer Idee grundsätzlich einverstanden. Wir wissen, dass noch niemals in Auschwitz-Birkenau irgendeine Veranstaltung stattfinden durfte und dass es ein politisch brisantes Unterfangen ist. Nun liegt die Entscheidung bei der polnischen Regierung.

Gert schreibt in seinem Konzeptentwurf, dass das Medium Licht im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz eine besondere Rolle spielte. Der Suchscheinwerfer, Todesinstrumentarium der SS, diente zur Eingrenzung des Lagers, zur Bewachung und zur Verfolgung flüchtender Häftlinge. Der Flüchtende, der von einem Suchscheinwerfer dem Schutz der Nacht entrissen wurde, war dem Tod anheim gegeben. Gert will mit 200 Großraumscheinwerfern diese Bedrohung und den Terror visualisieren und nachempfinden lassen, denn die menschliche Sprache sei zu arm, um das Grauen nachvollziehbar zu machen, dem die Opfer ausgesetzt waren. Gert sagt von der Stille, sie sei ein wesentlicher Bestandteil der Dramaturgie. Er möchte außergewöhnliche, emotionale und eindringliche Metaphern zum Gedenken an den Holocaust erschaffen - Bilder, die in der Verbindung mit Musik vor allem Jugendliche ansprechen. Das ist ihm besonders wichtig.

March 2003.
It is vitally important for present and future generations to keep the Auschwitz concentration camp as a synonym for the greatest crime in the history of mankind and to visually pinpoint the silent witnesses of those times. The Auschwitz concentration camp - grave to at least one and a half million innocent victims of many nationalities (90% of which were of Jewish descent) - requires an extraordinary sign to go around and touch the world. A sign from a location which in itself signifies an inferno of global proportions.
To serve as a reminder and memorial to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust for mankind and future generations across the globe, we developed the idea to perform the Mauthausen songs, parts of Theodorakis' "Requiem" (dedicated to the victims of the SS massacre at Kalavrita) and a song programme by famous rock and pop artists at Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps, accompanied by an arts installation. The installation AUSCHWITZ - NEVER AGAIN! is meant to pursue and preserve the traces of the Holocaust.

© Asteris Koutoulas


I have survived.
And as a survivor I am a witness. If this survival, of the horrors that are summoned up today in the term HOLOCAUST, is to have had any purpose, then it is above all that of keeping awake the memory of the unimaginable, to prevent forgetting and repression and to build all this into the vision of a better future, where such things or anything like them can never happen again anywhere in this world.
We survivors are grateful to the fate that allowed today's act of remembrance to take place and that the crimes of National Socialism committed half a century ago did not fall into oblivion. I commemorate the victims of the unconceivable mass murder that struck down my mother, my wife's mother, our relatives, my friends, my colleagues, my fellow inmates of various camps where we were imprisoned together, and last but not least the fellow inmates of the so-called Russian camp of Mauthausen, who were with me in the death block of Hut 6. I remember as if it were yesterday, the moment we heard the call: "They are coming!". It was the Americans. Those of us who had still the strength dragged themselves out of the hut in order to watch the American tank coming. We were too weak to get any closer. Many of my comrades died at that very moment or some hours later - whether they were conscious of their liberation and the collapse of National Socialism, no one can say.
Let us now mourn for those who spent their last hours here fifty years ago.
National Socialism, which wanted to rule and enslave the world, consisted de facto of a combination of hatred and technology. Hatred is a terrible thing. It was hatred that led the way for the million fold National Socialist crimes. We must despise those crimes, not only because they slaughtered our families, but also because they trampled human dignity underfoot and therefore also the dignity of God - who made man in his own image.
The world underestimated Hitler and the National Socialist regime for far too long - this misjudgement had tragic consequences.
There are always temptations to do wrong, even in such an open, such a free society as we have in Austria. The more we keep remembering all history with no restrictions, the easier it will be for us to withstand such temptation and to build an ethically viable future.
If we were to forget, repress or falsify what happened, our past would return to us over and over again, unvanquished, and would prevent us and our descendants from building our future, in a way that is right and worthy of man.
I say this to you as someone who survived the death block of Mauthausen as by a miracle.

Simon Wiesenthal
Speech at KZ Mauthausen on May 7th, 1995
Published (also as audio track) on the CD MIKIS THEODORAKIS - MAUTHAUSEN TRILOGY, Pläne 2000 (Produced by Asteris Kutulas & Alexandros Karozas)


I am always surprised at things that happen "afterwards".
1965: The Mauthausen Chronicle is being prepared for publication by Themelio. The Editor Mimis Despotides, for ever present in our memory, had an idea that both Mikis Theodorakis and I immediately agreed with: to write a cycle of songs which would be recorded so that the record and the book could be released at the same time. And that's exactly what happened.

In December of the same year, in a theatre, I recited extracts from the Chronicle and then the songs were sung for the first time.
An unforgettable evening! Not only for me but for Theodorakis and Farantouri as well.

1980: I decide to go back to Mauthausen for the first time. It is May and the camp's former inmates, women and men from all over Europe, have organized a reunion.
We met on the very day of the 35th anniversary of our liberation. In other words, on the 5th of May, we met in Mauthausen village to walk together to the concentration camp. We, the 30.000 survivors, kept silent during the walk up to the camp. And our silence expressed our remembrance, love and respect for the 240.000 who had walked to their Golgotha there.
As we got closer to the camp, I heard music coming from inside, from the square where the prisoners mustered. It was carried by the morning breeze all the way up the newly wooded hills.
It seemed vaguely familiar, as if I had heard it somewhere before ... I was right. As we drew closer, I realized that I was listening to the voice of Maria Farantouri singing "Girls of Auschwitz, Girls of Mauthausen, have you not seen my love?"
Quite a bit later, without mentioning who I was, I went to the camp's secretariat and asked what the song we had heard in the morning was ... They told me that it had been the camp's leitmotif for years.
I knew how much trouble Theodorakis had taken to produce he Mauthausen cycle and present it in concert. It was meanwhile well known in many countries. However, my "encounter" with that song in that very place, at that very time was, well...
Ever since then, I dreamt of staging a concert in these conditions and managed to convince Theodorakis to share this dream with me. The concert took place in 1988 in Mauthausen, flooded by tens of thousands of pilgrims, pacifists, wonderful people who had come from all over, all over...

Back in 1965, how beautifully and creatively innocent we were.

© Iacovos Kambanellis Published on the CD booklet MIKIS THEODORAKIS - MAUTHAUSEN TRILOGY, Pläne 2000 (Produced by Asteris Kutulas & Alexandros Karozas)

English translations supervised by Ariel Parker