4.36. Herman Wald, monument ‘Memorial to the Six Million’ (1959)

Herman Wald (1906-1970) was born as the son of a rabbi, in the city of Kolozsvár in the Austro-Hungarian empire (after 1918, Cluj in Romania). He emigrated to South-Africa in 1937. In 1955, a representative body of South African Jewry decided to build a memorial to the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah in Europe and one year later Herman Wald won the competition with his design.



Fig. 8. Herman Wald, Memorial to the Six Million. Bronze. Height 6 ms. Westpark Cemetery, Johannesburg. http://www.hermanwald.com. Reproduced by permission of Louis Wald.

The Memorial to the Six Million in Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg was inaugurated in 1959. It stands on a platform with the following inscription in Hebrew, Afrikaans and English: “IN / EVERLASTING MEMORY OF / THE SIX MILLION JEWS / VICTIMS OF MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN / WHO PERISHED / IN THE DEATH CAMPS OF EUROPE / 1939–1945. / ‘THOU SHALT NOT FORGET’ / 6,000,000.” The Yiddish inscription has a more detailed wording: “GEDENKT DI ZEKS MILYON YIDN VOS / ZAYNEN UMGEKUMEN AL KIDESH HA-SHEM / UN AL KIDESH HA-AM” (“Remember the six million Jews who perished as martyrs for the Holy Name and the holy people.”). Then follows a sixfold “GEDENK!” (“Remember!”) with the names of five concentration camps and the number of six million.

The bronze Memorial consists of two rows of three fists, which rise from the ground and hold each a shofar; the curved ends of the ram’s horns do not point upward, but face each other in three pairs. Between the middle shofarot of the two rows, there is a column consisting of superimposed Hebrew characters, which from top to bottom forms the sixth commandment Lo tirẓaḥ (“You shall not murder,” Exod. 20:13); at the same time, they make up a stylized flame or a ner tamid (“eternal light,” the ever-burning lamp in the synagogue). Every shofar in a fist rising from the ground represents one million Jews killed in the Shoah; the arches formed by the two rows of three ram’s horns symbolize “the arches of trials and tribulations that the Jewish people have all gone through during all the generations of persecution.” *Wald, “Monument to the Six Million.” http://www.hermanwald.com.

Even more remarkable than the number and position of the shofarot are the huge dimensions of the Memorial to the Six Million. The philosopher of religion Louis Dupré states about religious symbols in art: “[R]eligious art tends to display the inadequacy of the aesthetic form with respect to its transcendent content. . . . One of the simplest and oldest modes of expressing the transcendence of the referent with respect to the image consists in the adoption of outsized proportions.” *Dupré, Symbols of the Sacred 78. The eternal flame of Wald’s monument is 4,5 meters high, while the lowest character of Lo tirẓaḥ is one meter wide. The shofarot are so big, that the foundry had to cast each of them in four parts (which is still visible in Fig. 8); a fist is 1,5 meters high and the total height of the shofarot is 6 meters. *Steele, “Moulding a Massive Monument” 46. Thus, the number 6 occurs in the commandment, the number of Hebrew characters in the commandment (L-o ti-r-ẓa-ḥ), in the number of shofarot representing the number of millions of victims, and in the height in meters of the ram’s horns.

At first sight, Memorial to the Six Million seems a classic example of authoritative discourse. Herman Wald uses a stylistic device that was and is popular among authoritarian regimes: an overproportioned fist holding a sword, torch, flag, or trumpet of a—mostly nude—fighter announcing the certain victory of his people, party, leader or doctrine. *A recent and characteristic example is the Monument to the Founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea (1995) in Pyongyang, consisting of three fists rising from the ground and holding a hammer, a sickle and a writing brush, representing the workers, the peasants, and the intellectuals respectively. The total height of the monument is 50 m. and it is built on a square measuring more than 10 hectare (about 25 acres). Visitors stay at a respectful distance. Cf. Portal, Art under Control in North Korea 62. The shofar-bearing fists of Wald’s Memorial, however, surround the flaming commandment “You shall not murder,” that would be unimaginable as the guiding principle of any authoritarian regime. Therefore, Wald fights the Nazi regime with its own artistic weapons, and in this single respect, his monument could be seen as an example of parodic stylization.

Many Jewish artists have taken into consideration the prohibition of images from Exod. 20:4, “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.” God’s intervention was sometimes represented by a hand from heaven and the oldest known example of this is a 2nd-century fresco in the synagogue of Dura Europos in Syria. *Levine, The Ancient Synagogue 236-7. Herman Wald turns this image upside down: in his Memorial, the hand from heaven is replaced by hands rising from the earth. A visitor who arrives at the cemetery and takes a picture of the monument with his cell phone, sees the fists reduced in perspective in both the dimensions and the position of his own hands; in this way, the autoritative discourse turns, for a moment, into an internally persuasive discourse. Moreover, visitors put stones on the monument as a sign of respect for the dead, as can be seen in Fig. 8.

Exod. 20:15 describes the reaction to God’s authoritative discourse: when the people witness “the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking,” they fall back and stand at a distance. In his essay Discourse in the Novel, Bakhtin states: “[T]he distance we ourselves observe vis-à-vis this authoritative discourse remains unchanged in all its projections: a playing with distances, with fusion and dissolution, with approach and retreat, is not here possible.” *Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel” 343-4. In contrast, this playing with distance is possible with the Memorial, which is accessible to everyone and serves as a stage for the speakers and the choir in the annual Remembrance to the Six Million ceremony. In this way too, Wald’s monument contrasts sharply with the monuments of authoritarian regimes. “The semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open;” argues Bakhtin in the above-mentioned essay; “in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this discourse is able to reveal ever new ways to mean.” *Ibid. 346. Italics original.

Such a new context was created in the inauguration ceremony on May 10, 1959. *Jewish Communal Monument Committee, Monument to the Jewish Martyrs. Consecration Ceremony. The monument was rededicated in 1995, as can be seen in Fig. 8: “This memorial was / rededicated by the / South African Jewish / community in memory / of the martyrs and / commemorates the / liberation of the / concentration camps / fifty years ago / 27 April 1995 – 27 Nissan 5755[.]” Survivors from concentration camps formed a guard of honor; the ner tamid (“eternal light”) was kindled; a cantor chanted the Hazkarat neshamot (the prayer for the repose of the deceased), Kaddish (the memorial prayer for the dead), and Yigdal (a prayer about God’s greatness); and a choir sang the Partisan Song (“Never say there is only death for you”) and Ha-Tikvah, the Israeli national anthem. Thereafter, Ps. 91 was sung. Though the two rows of three ram’s horns symbolize, according to Wald, “the arches of trials and tribulations that the Jewish people have all gone through during all the generations of persecution,” *Wald, “Monument to the Six Million” they also fit in with the encouraging metaphors in Ps. 91:4: “He will cover you with His pinions; / you will find refuge under His wings; / His fidelity is an encircling shield.” These might allude not only to the wings of the cherubs on both sides of the Ark, but also to the two rows of shofarot with their curved ends, while the six ram’s horns form a space resembling the tent in Ps. 91:10: “no harm will befall you, / no disease touch your tent.”

The philosopher Edward Casey stated in an essay on modern monuments that “The Germans distinguish between a Denkmal, a monument meant to memorialize a person or event, a Mahnmal, a public reminder that acts as a warning, and a Gedenkstätte, a place in which a momentous event can be meditated.” *Casey, “Public Memory in the Making: Ethics and Place in the Wake of 9/11” 84. Wald’s Memorial to the Six Million is a Denkmal erected to memorialize the mass murder of the Jews and this meaning is specified in the inscriptions; it is a Mahnmal with both written warnings: “Thou shalt not forget,” “Gedenkt!” “You shall not murder” and sculptured warnings in the form of six assertive fists with shofarot and an eternal flame, referring to the sixth commandment and to the Covenant between God and the Jewish people; finally, it is a Gedenkstätte with a platform for speakers and musicians. Without using the Bakhtinian term “chronotope,” Casey specifies the intrinsic connection of time and place in the monument, which manifests itself in three ways: “Here time and place conjoin in the very language of public memory: if the Denkmal looks back to what has already occurred, the Gedenkstätte invites reflection in the present, while the Mahnmal asks us to take care in (and for) the future.” *Ibid. 84. The Present of Wald’s Memorial is directed by the Past of the shofar tradition, which at the same time is altered by the Present of the Shoah, because the militant aspects of shofar blowing are being stressed. The Past, the Present and the Future are symbolically united by the central element of the Memorial, the ner tamid or “eternal flame.”

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