Title: Invisible Memorial Square
Authors: Jochen Gerz and his Academy of Art students
Location: Landeshauptstadt Saarkbrücken
Year complete: 1993
Description: 2,146 stones scatted within an 8,000 stone walkway leading up to the Saarkbrücken Castle, which was home to the Gestapo during the Nazi regime. With the help of 61 Jewish community organizations the names of each desecrated Jewish cemetery during WWII were compiled over two years leading up to 1993. The names of each cemetery was etched on an exhumed stone as well as the date it was etched and re-fixed into its original place with the carving pressing against the ground. The memorial has no distinct physical characteristics aside from a plaque on the entrance of the square that describes the invisible carvings. The project began without funding or the assistance of the Jewish communities that helped to ultimate realize the project. In 1991 Jochen Gerz was a teacher at the local art academy in Stuttgart and corralled the students of his Public Art class to research names of vanished, abandoned, or desecrated and eight students were selected to stealthily visit the parliament square and remove seventy stones at a time and replace them with decoy stones atop nails. The seventy stones were taken back to the class studio and carved with the collected data. The next night a metal detector would be used to locate the decoy stones, which were unfixed and the original (but edited) stones were set in place. The process continued for a year and a half until Gerz contacted Oskar LaFontaine, the Minister President of Saarland, to peek the public’s interest as well as gain funding for the project. After public hearings and community outrage the project was retroactively funded and the 61 local Jewish organizations were contacted for further assistance. However, to this day, there are still theories that the carvings in fact do not exist—but that doesn’t detract and undermine the intention of the memorial. The intention was to allow for a private reflection based on the reimagined space created by the narrative of one stepping upon the names of vandalized or abandoned Jewish cemeteries, as Gerz articulates it “the only standing forms in the square of the visitors and they would become the memories for which they are searching.”
Even though Gerz’s design did not add or renovate anything visual or physical he managed to transform the space simply through advertising his narrative. Gerz believed that, “invisibility was the only way to depict that horror.” He created an experiential relationship between the references to history and tragedy and the power and tradition of the Saarkbrücken Castle.
Due to the community interest and distaste members of the community would visit the site and inspect the stones in order to find which stones were of the seventy decoys. It was impossible to detect any notable differences, but even so it is unclear if there are actually 2,146 stones because regardless of the facts the memorial is successful in that it inspires critical thought and calls upon individual memories.
There is no reported data about how the carved stones may be organized within the square. Which enhances the experience because the narrative consumes the space with the idea of the carvings living all along the 220 foot length and 16 foot width of the walkway.
- Pickford, Henry,The Sense of Semblance: Philosphical Analyses of Holocaust Art, Fordham University Press, 2012.
- Young, James E. , Germany’s Vanishing Holocaust Monument,The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1994.