Memory

What remains of the survivors of Flossenbürg after the liberation? How are they thought about? The liberators of the concentration camps, the subcamps and the death marches were confronted with unimaginable visions of the crimes. Graves, corpses and completely emaciated people shaped their vision.  The first forms of remembrance of the victims were therefore acts of honoring the dead. The Americans made sure the found bodies were buried in a dignified setting by the local population. The survivors also honored their dead comrades with memorial services and monuments, not only in Flossenbürg, but also on the routes of the death marches, in the area of Neunburg vorm Wald.

The remains of the camp played only a minor role in these early commemorative acts. Only the crematorium was considered a monument. It was the site of massive amounts of corpse remains, and received the status of a vicarious tomb. In the first memorial in the “Valley of Death” built the memorial committee a chapel out of the stones of the watchtowers. The memory of the victims, as expressed there, was exclusively Christian. This is also true for many concentration camp graves in Bavaria, in the former subcamps and the paths of the death marches.

The responsible Bavarian Palace Departement transferred the bodies of the victims of the death marches in the late 1950s to a specifically erected memorial cemetery in Flossenbürg. The aesthetics of the site was meant to “soften” the memory of the past. In the Cemetery of Honor the dead are indeed honored, but a literally deadly silence reigns on the background of the violent death.

The memory of the victims of the Flossenbürg concentration camp is supported and organized by a few groups. Since the 1950s more and more groups visit Flossenbürg, in order to commemorate famous members of the German resistance. These protagonists are also remembered in other ways, for example in films, such as the film about Canaris. But the remembrance rituals mainly revolve around the commemoration of the dead.

Bonhoeffer memorial in front of the St. Petri church in Hamburg <br>(Photo: Wilfried Schulz)
Bonhoeffer memorial in front of the St. Petri church in Hamburg

Architectural remains of the former camp have been considered worthy of protection only since the mid 1960s. From that period on, the Protestant pastor and resistance fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer slowly became an important figure in the history of Flossenbürg.

In the mid 1970s began a broad social debate about the forgotten Flossenbürg. Various social and political groups criticized the trivializing park character of the memorial. They connected remembrance and commemoration with the demand for learning and informing about the historical site – not only in Flossenbürg itself but also in the largely unknown locations of the subcamps.

Only from the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Flossenbürg the memorial became a historical museum, in whose work former prisoners and their families are actively involved.  The transfer of some private artifacts shows how many of them perceive the Flossenbürg concentration camp as a defining part of their biography. In the meanwhile, the name “Flossenbürg“ has detached itself from the historic site and can be found internationally in different memorial sites.

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