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The Holocaust on Stage: Theatrical Metaphors in Contemporary German Memorials and the Role of the Public

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Abstract

European public space serves currently as a stage for many kinds of Holocaust memorials. Museums, monuments and commemorative plaques are (almost) literally everywhere. They come in all shapes, sizes and techniques, aiming to confront the present communities with their past. Dispersed in various urban spaces, they “force” the visitors or the occasional passers-by to take part: their image is reflected in the numerous see-through memorials; they hesitate, wondering whether they are allowed to step on the Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine), sit on the public benches (Berlin, Dresden), or cross the borders of the pseudo-domestic scene of the Abandoned Room/Space (Der Velassene Raum). These memorials use metaphors derived from the world of the theatre, creating reverse play. The public’s role is transformed from passive audience to protagonist. The spectators are compelled to participate in the process of reconstruction of the past, while the memorials serve as the set and the props. Thus a constantly changing and intriguing plot is presented. This “activism” does not reflect only the final product; it is embedded in the very conception of the memorials and reflects the fervent public discussions that accompanied them before, during and after being commissioned and mounted. The purpose of this paper is to present several contemporary German monuments, to analyze their metaphorical language and to discuss the political debates that have accompanied them since their conception.