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Nazi debris becomes art

November 29, 2014

An exhibition by German artist Gregor Schneider, showing debris from the birthplace of Joseph Goebbels, has opened in Poland. As Hitler's propaganda minister, he strongly supported the "Final Solution" to eradicate Jews.

"Unsubscribe" exhibition in Warsaw, Poland.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/Radek Pietruszka

The latest exhibition from controversial German artist Gregor Schneider opened at the Zacheta Gallery in Poland's capital on Saturday. Displaying roof beams, clay bricks, glove puppets and literature from the birth place of Hitler's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, the "Unsubscribe" installation is set to raise a few eyebrows in Warsaw, which was brutally torn apart by the Nazis during the Second World War.

As Hitler's right-hand-man for waging anti-Semitism across Germany during the 1930s and 40s, Goebbels also strongly supported the Nazi's "Final Solution," which aimed to systematically eradicate the entire world's Jewish population through genocide. As a result, two thirds of Europe's Jews were murdered.

'Symbol of closure'

"The work is to remind and warn," said Schneider, who is known for his disturbing sculptures. He bought the birthplace of Goebbels in Rheydt, now a district of Mönchengladbach, in 2013 and had considered completely demolishing the property, Schuster told the Rheinische Post Online. However, for structural reasons, this wasn't possible. Instead, the building was completely gutted and the debris was transported to Warsaw.

German artist Gregor Schneider
Gregor Schneider's work is known to cause controversyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"This is indeed a place of birth, but it is also the history of perpetrator," said the artist about the Goebbels' house. With his art project, Schneider wants to remember the millions of victims of the Nazi dictatorship. However, at the same time, the exhibit also aims to be a symbol of closure. Amid concerns that the house could have become a "shrine" for neo-Nazis, 45-year-old Schneider said the house was now "in good hands."

"It would have been inconceivable if it had become a meeting point for right-wing extremists," he added.

Provocative art

In a country that was hit hardest by Nazi terror, it's a somewhat daring art project. In the Polish capital there are numerous plaques remembering the mass execution. In 1944, following a bloody and defeated uprising, Warsaw was also systematically destroyed. Zacheta Gallery's spokeswoman, Marta Mis-Michalska, said they trust that an artist of Schneider's stature is not simply out to create a sensation, but actually wants to express something. "As a gallery we focus on supporting the freedom of art."

Birth place of Joseph Goebbels in Mönchengladbach
Birth place of Joseph Goebbels in MönchengladbachImage: picture-alliance/Federico Gambarini

The winner of the Golden Lion at the 2001 Venice Biennale has repeatedly created a stir with his provocative installations. It remains to be seen how the public will react to his rubble exhibit in Warsaw. In 2012, the presentation of a Hitler statue in the former Warsaw Ghetto caused public uproar. Zacheta Gallery's curator Anda Rottenberg, however, is not afraid of provocative art. "[Goebbels'] house is a silent witness to history," she said. "The ordinariness of the rubble is simultaneously a confrontation with the banality of evil that lives behind the unassuming facade."

The exhibition runs from November 29, 2014, to February 1, 2015.

ksb/cb (dpa)