Looking to Germany: Confederate Statue Management Options

Race, Gender, Media — Blog 6

“These statues were meant to create legitimate garb for white supremacy. Why [else] would you put a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson in 1948 in Baltimore?”
James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association

Shameful pasts persist as non-exclusive to the United States. Genocides, racist political activity, and government-sponsored atrocities spatter throughout history worldwide, all subject to the judgment of hindsight. The conflicts between historical preservation, progression, educational value, and civil responsibility to victims have been addressed in many countries, serving as examples of options and potential outcomes for this current American conundrum. Germany is perhaps an all too obvious place to look first.

The most touristy of tourists find even this sign worthy of a photo. Bunker pilgrimage site not needed. (Image courtesy of Trip Advisor)

Adolf Hitler infamously committed suicide with Eva Braun in his underground shelter at the end of World War II. The German government elected to destroy the Führerbunker, citing fear that the location would later serve as a place of Nazi pilgrimage. Officials cited the potential for the location to be used as a place of celebratory pilgrimage for modern white supremacists. Today, the location is recognized with a sign and used as a parking lot. The space is often filled with tourists’ rental cars as they visit the nearby Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Thus, the approach to the bunker included annihilation of the actual location, along with a counter-action.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Image courtesy of spiritualvigor.com)

In Charlottesville, for example, Confederate statues fulfilled the fears of these German leaders. The statues became a place of congregation for white-supremacists, leading to chaos and violence. Memorial replacement options include victims of slavery, the Confederate movement, the Jim Crow movement, or to commemorate recent riots and protests. The statues could be moved to a museum that puts such symbols into the proper context, if it is preserved at all.

Holocaust memorial Stolperstein, or stumbling stones. (Image courtesy of NPR)

This synecdochally exemplifies strategic decisions of destruction versus preservation. Concentration camps have been preserved while public displays of Nazi symbolism are now illegal in Germany, outside of their many publicly funded museums that steer conscious focus to the victims and dangers of the country’s fascist past. Small plaques sprinkle the sidewalks outside homes of Holocaust victims. Thus, the answers involving these Confederate statues lie in the distinction between remembrance and memorialization.

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