The Vienna Project began in 2004, when Dr. Karen Frostig, artist and activist inherited letters written by her grandparents between 1938-1945, to her father living in exile. Dr. Benjamin Frostig was arrested by the Gestapo in an early wave of arrests targeting Austria’s intelligentsia. He was abruptly expelled from Austria in June of 1938. Translating the letters in 2005, Karen became acquainted with a large extended family she never knew existed, all of whom were exterminated. A journey of return to Vienna in 2006, and reclamation of Austrian citizenship in 2007, gave way to an emerging relationship between the artist and her father’s homeland. The Vienna Project grew out of this process starting in 2009, as a new social action, public memory project.
Developed through dialogue as a citizen-led initiative, The Vienna Project is a “process-based” expression of remembrance. The Memorial Project opened on the night of 23. October 2013, preceding Austrian National Day, the commemoration of the beginnings of the Second Republic of Austria, to convey the message that memory is a part of national identity. The Vienna Project marks the 75th anniversary year of the Anschluss in 1938, when racial persecution officially began in Austria; it will conclude one year later on 18.October 2014. The memorial project unfolds over the course of one year, as a dynamic series of performative events, dedicated to stimulating fresh conversations in novel formats regarding the Holocaust and National Socialism.
Fusing public memory with participatory methodologies, the memorial project will engage the Austrian public in a communal experience of remembrance. Developed as a hyper-techno production occurring at different sites around the city, the Project will feature video projections, performance art, installation art, photography and videography, plus the introduction of a digitized memorial, prepared as a dynamic, interactive web site.
Bridging three disciplines: history (archival research), art (digital technology and street art), and Holocaust education, the memorial project is dedicated to mixing invention with accuracy, the historic record with contemporary filters, and individual engagement with social consciousness. Each discipline makes a critical contribution to the design of the project and none of the disciplines are subservient to the others.
Scientific research of victims’ names lies at the heart of this memorial project. Research will produce an anthology of names on record, regarding seven different victim groups of National Socialism, collected from five existing databases. Research will be extensive, accurate and fully documented. Conducted at the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance (DÖW), Yad Vashem, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Hartheim Castle Documentation Centre, and in cooperation with the Austrian Romani Cultural Society, the Slovenian Scientific Institute, HOSI Wien, and the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (IKG), all research will be cross-referenced and include primary source citations.
Research is confined to identifying persecuted Austrian victims representing multiple victim groups, murdered between 1938-1945 under National Socialism. Targeted groups include Jewish, Roma and Sinti victims of genocide; the mentally ill and physically disabled victims or declared so) and homosexual victims of racial persecution; and communists, dissidents, socialists, Slovenian partisans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, identified as victims of political persecution.
A research seminar, held at the University of Vienna’s Institute for Contemporary History, began a conversation about the 38 sites, where public instances of exclusion, aggression, humiliation, and theft, as well as instances of rescue and resistance began in 1938, taking place between Austrians subscribing to a Nazi ideology and the targeted victim groups. Working with a large pool of sites retrieved from different archives, project researcher Dr. Jérôme Segal identified the 38 sites taking into account the historical significance of each site. Representation of sites for each victim group roughly corresponds to percentages for group representation within the larger history. Archival documents, such as photos, letters, police records, court proceedings, recorded testimonies and unpublished academic works are used to support the selection of each site.
“Not to forget as we remember” reminds us to not forget the different victim groups and to not forget differences between the victim groups. Bound by the historic record, the memorial delivers memory in engaging formats without distorting the historic record.
The project is about “performing the archives,” joining historic rigor with radical artistic intervention to make memory visible on the streets of Vienna. The Vienna Project represents an imaginative configuration of memory that is fluid, dynamic, and temporary. The memorial is not focused on a specific site, but rather a de-centralized representation of murder and genocide that consumed a whole country for a period of seven years.
Riddled with poetic surprise, the memorial merges image with text, the names of murdered victims and dissidents with the pulse of a city coming to life at night under the spell of remembrance. The project has multiple components beginning with research and map development. Opening ceremony began 23. October 2013, three days before Austria’s National Day, starting with a series of water and bridge projections, and closes on 18.October 2014 with a “Naming Memorial” at Josefsplatz at the Hofburg Palace. During the interim months, the 38 Memory Zones located across the city of Vienna, will be activated with performance artists, guided tours, and a dynamic education program.
Distinct from other memorials of comparable size and scope, The Vienna Project education program is developed as an integral component of the overall memorial design. Dedicated to deepening public understanding of National Socialism and the Holocaust, educational programming creates new opportunities for personal connections to this period of history.
By using 21st century social media-Facebook, Twitter, blogging-we are reaching youth where they live, where they establish individual identities in relationship to the larger social structure. At the same time, we are creating learning environments that teach the emotional lessons of the Holocaust, in an effort to raise critical consciousness. By addressing the history directly and concretely, we reinforce the message “this happened here.” By asking the questions, “why” and “how,” we set the stage for conversations about what it means to live in a civil society, to understand difference, and to value tolerance and mutual respect. By creating conversations that include multiple victim groups, we send a message that it is not acceptable to pit one group against another, that legacies of power must be transformed into models of empowerment.
The educational program features a teaching seminar, thematic tours, audio interviews, intercultural dialogue developed as Skype interviews, and a concluding international academic symposium (see program tab for more details).