Jewish Museum Vienna investigates the question of guilt

Did Eve, seduced by the snake, bring misery into the world? Why do Holocaust survivors suffer from pangs of conscience in the same way as descendants of Nazi perpetrators? What part in the destruction of the planet do you have as a mobile phone owner? With the show “Guilt”, the Jewish Museum Vienna (JMW) deals with a wide range of questions relating to this complex of topics. At the same time, it is intended to mark the beginning of a new conception of the content of the Judenplatz location.

Because in the future, the programming of the small dependance should take into account the historical dimension of the place – on the one hand with a view of the medieval synagogue destroyed in 1421, above which the museum is located, on the other hand with reference to the memorial designed by Rachel Whiteread for the Austrian Jewish victims of the Shoah at Judenplatz. “Small exhibitions on big themes,” was how director Barbara Staudinger outlined the motto for the JMW offshoot during a press tour on Monday.

So the prelude is “guilt”. This is one of the biggest issues in the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – explained chief curator Hannes Sulzenbacher. His team has attempted to examine the issue from a religious, political, moral and legal point of view in a very limited space. In a way, it goes back to the beginning of human history. The marble sculpture created by Teresa Feodorovna Ries in 1909 shows a writhing Eve lying on the ground as a critical comment on the image, at least in Christianity, of the supposedly seductive woman, weak compared to Adam/man, who is responsible for the expulsion of mankind from paradise. Whereby Judaism and Islam interpret the matter somewhat more differentiated, as one learns here.

Right next to it, the photographer Adi Nes reflects on the two sons of Adam and Eva. He stages the story of Abel’s murder by Cain, who is punished by God not with death but with a heavy burden of guilt, against the background of Israel’s current political and social reality. A wooden box belonging to the Dominican monk Johann Tetzel, who was so successful as a keen seller of indulgences that Martin Luther felt compelled to write his theses critical of the church in 1517, documents that the bad conscience of others can also be a lucrative source of money.

Contemporary history dominates in the second of the two rooms. “National Socialism radically changed the way people think about guilt. This not only affects the perpetrators, but also the victims,” ​​Sulzenbacher emphasized. The most expensive object in the exhibition also hangs here: the 1965 painting “Uncle Rudi” by Gerhard Richter, which resembles a blurred photograph. Owned by the Czech memorial site Lidice since 1968 through a gift from the artist – the village was wiped out by the Nazis in 1942 – it can be seen in Austria for the first time. The eponymous “Uncle Rudi”, actually a relative of Richter, smiles at you here as a young man in Wehrmacht uniform. The family burden of the perpetrators is also reflected in Niklas Frank, who was portrayed by photographer Daniel Pilar in 2017. It shows Frank in the water lily pond at his home – he’s up to his neck in water – with a scarecrow wearing an SS leather coat in the background. Frank’s father, Hans Frank, became known as the “Butcher of Poland” and, as head of the General Government, was responsible for the robbing and extermination of the Jewish population.

The fact that the victims of the Shoah were and are tormented by questions of guilt is the subject of an oppressive black-and-white photo of Auschwitz survivor Piotr Ravitz. Photographed by Adolfo Kaminisky, who went down in history as a forger of documents for the Resistance, he committed suicide a few months after the photograph was taken.

How complicated the question of guilt is per se is illustrated by the show using a sample panel for fuses from the Dynamit Nobel Vienna factory from 1911. The controllable explosives changed the course of war and thus world events considerably. But to whom should the accusation be directed – the inventor Alfred Nobel, the producers or the users? Finally, a bottle of cobalt stands for the question of individual guilt against the background of global developments. The mining of this raw material leads to social upheaval and armed conflicts, but has become indispensable through its use in smartphones and electric cars.

After “guilt”, the upcoming exhibitions at Judenplatz will deal with the themes of peace, robbery/expropriation and forgetting, as Staudinger elicited them on Monday. However, the boss was somewhat reserved in relation to the discussion about a possible Shoah center in Vienna, which the President of the Jewish Cultural Community (IKG), Oskar Deutsch, recently wanted instead of the Lueger memorial on Lueger-Platz. National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP), on the other hand, brought Morzinplatz – the site of the former Gestapo headquarters – into play. Staudinger confirmed today to the APA that she herself had pointed out that such a facility was missing. “The Holocaust is not told in Vienna.” She has “detected this deficiency”, but as a museum director she does not participate in debates about the location.

(SERVICE – “Schuld” in the Jewish Museum Vienna, location Judenplatz, from Friday until October 29, )

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