10 years garden of remembrance – 10 years note box

As an artist who tends to speak out with temporary and very directly site-specific projects, the design of the memorial on the site of the former synagogue was a particular challenge. Memorial, that is reminder and memory, usually sculpturally permanently set in stone or bronze, so that the eternal validity of the terrible event may not be forgotten.

Is it possible to create a lasting critical approach with different artistic tools?
My tested tools come from the sculptural, but they perceive space as lived space and take it seriously, in which they listen to the users of this place in a communicative way and give them a voice.
It was not the aim of the artistic team to fill the gap that was torn in the Reichspogromnacht, but to make them visible and to let them speak again and again. We were looking for a way to formulate a constant place of remembrance that, in constant change, would call for renewed communication between urban society and this place every year.

It was not easy to convince those involved to an idea that had not existed before. But in the course of time, the note boxes became more and more accepted and the ritual of the annual re-stocking by different groups of Marburg’s citizenship became an integral part of the commemorations.

With the historical catastrophe in the background, the city society begins to talk to each other. And that seems to me the most important thing in difficult and divided times: that we get talking and stay talking. Not that easy, a lot of work over and over again. Just as the annual stocking of the boxes always demands the effort to bring people into conversation again, to talk about our living together, about the fragility of our democratic values, on the basis of the terrible events of early November 1938.

– Oliver Gather


The Quotes 2022

After contemporary witnesses, theologians, schoolchildren, the volunteer fire department and many other actors of Marburg’s urban society have had their say in the note boxes, Oliver Gather and Krischan Ahlborn draw a conclusion this year.
Has it been possible to create both a place of remembrance and a place where the people of Marburg like to linger?
Were the note boxes able to stimulate a dialogue about the place and its history? In short, has the Garden of Remembrance gone from being a blank space to a vital, natural and important part of Marburg?

To answer this question, we interviewed people who look at this place from different perspectives. Here is a brief insight into the content of the conversations:

The Jewish Community of Marburg

What is your relationship to the Garden of Remembrance, the site of the former synagogue? A place that was destroyed by your fellow citizens and only returned to you in 2002 by the University of Marburg. Is it today a Jewish place, a place of German remembrance or both? In addition, the conversation with the Jewish community focused on what has changed in the 10 years since the opening of the memorial. Do you feel safe in Marburg as German Jews and a natural part of society?

Although the design of the Garden of Remembrance with the note boxes was not without controversy in the community at the time, today they are very satisfied with the memorial site. It has become what she had hoped for: a lively place where the people of Marburg enjoy spending time. With the note boxes, she says, it has been possible over the past 10 years to create a lively debate among various groups in Marburg’s urban society about the history of the square and Jewish life in Germany.

Although the problem of anti-Semitism in Germany has become more
– in Germany – in view of incidents such as the attack in Halle – has clearly intensified in the last decade, this is not noticeable in Marburg. The security measures planned by the Ministry of the Interior, which are intended to turn the synagogue into a “fortress,” are more of a problem. It remains to be seen to what extent this is compatible with the idea of an open place for all citizens of Marburg. In the long run, the age development of the members is problematic for the existence of the community. Even today, it is not a matter of course that the 10 Jewish men necessary to conduct the service are present.

“Well, ten years ago we still had many more active congregation members, who now, because of their age and health, often no longer come to us in the congregation.
And we’re fighting for the ten men, one minyan, at every service. This has really changed dramatically for us. The existence of the congregation is already threatened by this, so in the longer term.”

“Ten years ago, we never really thought about it.
But now and today? You always have to think back to the fact that something like this can happen again against Jews or against others. So from that point of view, we will not run out of topics.”


Dr. Susanne Urban

Historian Dr. Susanne Urban is more than qualified to assess the Garden of Remembrance from the perspective of memorial culture. She has – to mention only a few stations of her career – a doctorate in Jewish studies, worked at the educational institute of Yad Vashem, was head of the research and education department of the Arolsen Archives and, as executive director of the “SchUM Städte Speyer, Worms, Mainz e.V.”, achieved that these places of Jewish culture were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2021. Today, she heads the Research and Information Center on Anti-Semitism at the University of Marburg.

In her estimation, the Garden of Remembrance has succeeded in being sensitive and specific to the site. In contrast to the plain memorial stone erected in 1963, the design honors both the void left by the destruction of the synagogue and the fact that it was not only a place of worship but also a social place. She would like to see the place tell more about the people who were associated with it. For example, to use digital media and link the place with pictures, biographies and stories.
She criticizes that the current commemorative culture is too static and often confines itself to ritualized phrases. Thus, she says, it is unable to respond effectively to tendencies that attempt to relativize the Shoah, which is especially important in light of the fact that we will have to do without the voices of contemporary witnesses in the near future.

“I feel it is right and successful not to physically resurrect this space, but to leave this space empty and to show, here is a void. There is no community in this place here now. So not trying to somehow make this a Jewish place again, but a memorial to a former Jewish place.”

“I then had a conversation with my significant other about the citations. I think it would be important if there were quotes in there that would also end with a question mark sometimes… and if people then think ‘Okay, what’s actually on my mind? What do I actually want to remember? How do I want to commemorate?”

“What should be written here? Actually something that is not from me, but from Hillel the Elder: “If I am not for me, who am I? And am I only for myself? Who am I? And if not now? When then?” This is beautiful!”


Zvi & Eli Gimmon

The sons of a Marburg Jew who was expelled from his hometown in 1934 are among the people with a biographical connection to the destroyed synagogue whom we had already interviewed once in 2002 during a research trip to Israel in the run-up to the redesign.

For them, the value of the memorial lies in illustrating the importance of the Jewish community with its more than 700 years of history for Marburg. They would like to learn more about the people who shaped the face of the city. It is important to them to keep alive the memory of what was destroyed in the Shoah.

“Our father was always very proud of Marburg… to live in such a cultural city, a university city! Going to Palestine was a real culture shock for him, because it was so underdeveloped in comparison at that time.
Marburg was an important part of his life, as was the German language. It took many years before he could speak Hebrew similarly well.
It was his neighbors who drove our father out of Germany!”

“Without the memorial, most people wouldn’t even know the place ever existed… But now that there is a place again, it’s much easier for people to notice it, to touch it, to be a part of it.”

“I think in the next 50 years, remembering the war and the Shoah will become even more important than it already is today… because there will be no one left alive to tell that story… That’s why it’s so important to have places like this… places of remembrance.”


Jürgen Rausch & Monika Bunk

To complete the picture, we also interviewed people who were involved in the realization of the Garden of Remembrance.
Jürgen Rausch, the city planning director at the time, and Monika Bunk, who as the second chairwoman of the Jewish Community at the time was a member of the jury and who today oversees the slip boxes project at the memorial site as part of her work for the Fachdienst Kultur. She emphasized that she considers it a success that the place does not limit itself to a historicizing commemoration, but that the architecture and slip boxes have created a lively place that also enables an exchange with and about today’s Jewish life in Marburg.

© Thorsten Richter

“I find that in remembrance, Jewish life often comes up short and people talk about dead Jews rather than living ones. What did Jewish life in Marburg look like in the past?
This is a place where that comes together well in my view.”

Mr. Rausch noted that the Garden of Remembrance, through its architecture, works well both in its function as a public square and as a memorial site. In addition, he believes that the incorporation of the historic building structure, such as the mikvah, the city wall, and also the legible layout of the synagogue, makes the function and significance of the site physically tangible.

© Thorsten Richter

“It would be nice to tell more about the people. What they did in this building and what happened to them.
Maybe that would go in the note boxes, too.”