Glühbirnenschachtel mit Nazi-Objekten

Glühbirnenschachtel mit Nazi-Objekten

«Spreading Nazi symbols is unlawful.»

Laura Langeder on the Vienna exhibition «Disposing of Hitler»

On 8 Janu­ary 2023 after an exten­ded run, the Haus der Geschich­te Öster­reich in Vien­na will dis­mount its exhi­bi­ti­on «Dis­po­sing of Hit­ler. From the Cel­lar to the Muse­um» (Ger­man: Hit­ler ent­sor­gen. Vom Kel­ler ins Muse­um). The exhi­bit addres­ses the ques­ti­on of how to deal with pri­va­te-owned Nazi object bequests. The cura­tors offer insight into their decis­i­on-making pro­ces­ses, for ins­tance their cri­te­ria for accep­ting or rejec­ting Nazi tes­ti­mo­nies. Nao­mi Lubrich cor­re­spon­ded with Lau­ra Lan­ge­der, Juni­or Cura­tor at HDGÖ, as this unu­su­al exhi­bi­ti­on comes to a close.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Lau­ra, how often do peo­p­le cont­act the Haus der Geschich­te Öster­reich to give you old Nazi objects?

Lau­ra Lan­ge­der: My esti­ma­te is that we recei­ve five to ten offers of Nazi-rela­ted objects and object groups per month. When we ope­ned our cur­rent exhi­bit, «Dis­po­sing of Hit­ler,» the num­ber increased. Ano­ther fac­tor was the lock­downs of 2020 to 2022, which led many pri­va­te indi­vi­du­als to bring us their estates. Among them were donors of Nazi-rela­ted objects, but other donors came as well with unre­la­ted other objects. When peo­p­le spend time at home, they tidy up.

NL: Why do some of your donors want to give you their Nazi-rela­ted objects?

LL: I don’t want to judge their moti­ves, but my impres­si­on is that most peo­p­le have good inten­ti­ons. Some peo­p­le can’t esti­ma­te whe­ther their objects are his­to­ri­cal­ly signi­fi­cant. They’re con­cer­ned that the objects may be his­to­ri­cal­ly rele­vant sources. Others don’t want the objects to get into the wrong hands. Our title «Dis­po­sing of Hit­ler» sug­gests that some peo­p­le want to rid them­sel­ves of their fami­ly histo­ry, or no lon­ger want to bear the bur­den of their family’s Nazi past. In muse­ums, fami­ly nar­ra­ti­ves are stored pro­fes­sio­nal­ly and belong to the public at lar­ge. We rare­ly recei­ve offers to purcha­se Nazi objects. When we do, we reject them as a mat­ter of principle.

NL: How do you deci­de whe­ther to accept an object? And under what con­di­ti­ons would you advi­se donors to get rid of their Nazi-objects?

LL: We coll­ect the offers coming in and dis­cuss them with the muse­um manage­ment and the cura­ting staff every week. The cri­te­ria for taking objects into our coll­ec­tion are how well they con­vey histo­ry and what they con­tri­bu­te to rese­arch. Our most important ques­ti­on is what sto­ries the objects tell: Who kept them? How were they used? What nar­ra­ti­ve do they con­vey? If we reject them, we’ll recom­mend other insti­tu­ti­ons that might take them. Some­ti­mes we sug­gest that the fami­ly keep the objects, well-con­tex­tua­li­zed, as part of its histo­ry. If the items are not part of a person’s histo­ry, or if they’re mass-pro­du­ced with no sin­gu­lar cha­rac­ter, we might recom­mend that the owners – under cer­tain cir­cum­s­tances – dis­po­se of them.

NL: What are the con­di­ti­ons under which peo­p­le are allo­wed to sell Nazi objects on the open market?

LL: I’m not a lawy­er, but accor­ding to the Aus­tri­an Ver­bots- and Abzei­chen­ge­setz (Pro­hi­bi­ti­on and Badge Act), Nazi sym­bols may not be dis­se­mi­na­ted. Sel­ling is a form of dis­se­mi­na­ti­on and the­r­e­fo­re pro­hi­bi­ted. At home, unfort­u­na­te­ly, you are allo­wed to keep all kinds of things, as long as you don’t show them to anyo­ne. But the law is curr­ent­ly being deba­ted. In mid-Novem­ber 2022, decis­i­ons were made to tigh­ten the laws. In this case, even the pos­ses­si­on of cer­tain objects could be forbidden.

NL: Your exhi­bi­ti­on invi­tes the visi­tors to par­ti­ci­pa­te. Did they?

LL: Yes! The visi­tors dis­cus­sed their ide­as on what to do with Nazi-rela­ted objects open­ly and inten­si­ve­ly. Our cura­tors and media­tors, Eva Meran, Mar­kus Fösl, and Loui­se Beckers­haus, deve­lo­ped a num­ber of key inter­ac­ti­ve ele­ments that were popu­lar. At the moment, we’re eva­lua­ting the ans­wer cards that visi­tors left us in the exhibition.

 NL: Lau­ra, I’m curious to know what mes­sa­ges they left you. Thank you very much for your insight!

verfasst am 08.01.2023