When Hrdlicka’s sculpture was erected in 1988, many people took offence to the bronze figure of a bearded man lying down, washing the streets, because they felt it portrayed Jewish victims in a humiliating and undignified way.
Tourists even used to sit on it, until a barbed wire element was added to the sculpture, to make it less comfortable.
Viennese filmmaker Ruth Beckermann felt that historical context was missing from the monument - but when she recently saw a rare film clip from 1938 in Austria’s Film Museum, which shows bystanders laughing at the Jews who were made to clean anti-Nazi slogans from the city’s streets and buildings, she felt she had found “the missing image”.
“These laughing faces are the people who made the Jews clean the pavements, this was the brainchild of Viennese anti-Semites, it didn’t happen anywhere else,” Beckermann told The Local.
“Seeing the film clip reminds you of how recently this happened - it’s as if you are suddenly taken back to that moment in time, and is much more powerful than a photograph,” she added.
She has looped the film clip and projected it onto two LED-screens, which will be displayed alongside the monument for the next nine months.
For years Austria painted itself as a victim of Hitler, rather than a perpetrator of Nazi crimes.
Beckermann hopes that her installation will provoke a discussion about the monument. “It’s important to talk about these so-called ‘minor incidents’, as well as the atrocities that followed.
It’s easier to relate to the ‘minor’ things - because we all know what it means to be humiliated, at school or at work - or to bully others. At what point do we start to exclude other people, and treat them as the outsiders?”
The Monument Against War and Fascism. Photo: Priwo/Wikipedia