On the afternoon of the second day of the Mortuary Archaeology Today conference, delegates were taken on a tour to the town’s southern cemetery. The tour was efficiently led by Karla de Roest and supported by a detailed hand-out she had prepared.
En route, we stopped to see art installations used to subtly commemorate the hidden history of Groningen’s Jewish past, decimated by the Nazis during the Second World War
In the late 1990s, a series of art works were created along Folkingestraat by five artists. Together, they materialise the former Jewish presence and here are photographs of some. I’ve already discussed my first encounter there with the Stolpersteine project in this vicinity. Here are some further examples of the art.
They operate together with the synagogue – the only building unambiguously citing the Jewish community – to record Groningen’s lost Jewish past.
I also have to mention the statue commemorating the artist Jozef Israels to the SE of the town at Hereplein. It was created by Abraham Hesseling in 1922 to commemorate Israels by sculpting his 1856 painting depicting a fishermen with his children facing an uncertain future on the death of their mother: ‘Langs moeders graf’, was vandalized by Nazi sympathisers in 1943 given the Jewish subject of commemoration and following restoration in 1946 served as a memorial to the war’s effect on the Jewish community. The mourning subject became all too apposite as its Jewish associations were transformed during and after the Second World War. It came to commemorate more than Israel’s work and art, it now came also to commemorate the Jewish past of the town.
Returning to the art in Folkingestraat, I want to comment in particular in the monument known as ‘Portaal’ (doorway) by Gert Sennema, 1997. Situated opposite the synagogue, this door appears wooden until touched, when it is demonstrably bronze. Without handle or lock, it is a threshold to another world that cannot be reopened. Is it the world of a lost past, before the Holocaust and the war? Simultaneously, it might provoke imaginings of not only the past, but alternative presents, where the Holocaust never happened. The door thus challenges us to imagine a lost past, but also to think of alternative presents and futures too.