The monument for the victims of fascism by Walter Krause is centrally located with a lot of people passing by. It’s located close to the train station in Mühlhausen. However, only a few people probably notice the monument. It’s not centrally placed on the square; instead, it’s closer to the edge, along a path lined with trees. Despite its unassuming location, the monument carries a message that remains relevant today: “Never again war.” During the time when the monument was created, remembering the victims of fascism and National Socialism was an emotional need for many people, and in East Germany this remembrance became a mandatory event.
In 1949, Walter Krause (1891-1967) received a commission from the VVN (Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime) to create the monument. In April 1951, the monument was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by about 5000 people from Mühlhausen and its surroundings.
However, this information is likely unknown to most passersby in Mühlhausen, as is often the case with public artworks, where the local context is not visible.
Students from the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Gymnasium in Großengottern explored the monument in Mühlhausen during a projet week. They started their research by meeting with Steffi Maass. She is the museum educator at the Mühlhausen Museum and an expert on Walter Krause. Together with Steffi Maass, the project group examined the four sides of the monument in detail.
The pedestal bears the names of several concentration camps, symbols used in the camps to identify and categorize prisoners, and the admonitions: “To the dead for honor and to the living for a warning” and “Immortal victims, you sanctified.” In the middle of the pedestal is a column with four figures attached, each typified. With their physical features and body postures, the figures represent various emotions and experiences. One of the two female figures, depicted with a curved abdomen as pregnant, hides her face behind her dress. The group speculated, in collaboration with Steffi Maass, that this figure embodies sorrow and grief, while the hinted child in the abdomen signifies a new beginning and a hopeful future. The other three figures appear defiant: The male figures are depicted with handcuffs. While one figure has freed itself from the shackles, the still bound figure assumes a fighting pose, depicted with a bent arm. The second female figure lifts her skirt, about to take a step forward.
The message of a defiant new beginning reinforces the optimism of the new socialist state formation. Krause’s monument in Mühlhausen fits into the artistic program of early East Germany but also distinguishes itself. In comparison with Fritz Cremer’s monument for Buchenwald, it is noticeable that Krause, with his figures, sensitively portrays different characters and various facets of mourning, suffering, and renewal, explains Steffi Maass. Cremer’s monument, stylized by the SED as the National Monument of Communist Resistance, depicts the prisoners as less broken and, above all, self-confident, thus serving as a reminder of the victors rather than the victims.
The exploration of the artist and the monument continued in the depot of the Mühlhausen Museums, where the students could examine the plaster models created by Walter Krause for the monument. Comparing these with the final work made of shell limestone, the students noticed some small changes. For example, the plaster model lacks the flat cap worn by one of the figures. Additionally, the details are much clearer in the model. The 70-year-old monument shows signs of wear, such as abrasions that make such details disappear.
In the Mühlhausen Museums depot, the students delved deeper into Walter Krause’s art. They realized how his work was shaped by political and social conditions. Krause experienced the upheavals of four political systems. In the depot, there is also a sculpture representing an idealized, sword-bearing male body, adhering to the National Socialist Aryan body image and conforming to NS aesthetics. This comparison highlighted the temporal contradictions in which Krause worked as an artist.
In East Germany, Walter Krause was a member of the Association of Visual Artists (Verband Bildender Künstler, VBK), allowing him to participate in publicly announced competitions for artworks and monuments. The students explored what it meant to be an artist in East Germany during their second project day at the Andreasstraße Memorial and Educational Site. In the permanent exhibition, they examined examples of adapted state art in East Germany and underground art. In the special exhibition on the project series “Before Disappearing,” they gained insights into other projects related to public artworks. The students realized that art in East Germany was diverse. “Freedom,” a term the students mentioned as a characteristic of their current understanding of art, was, according to their conclusion, possible in a “restricted” manner in East Germany. They described this as an “attempted freedom.”
In the last two days, the students had the opportunity to artistically engage with the insights from their exploration in a creative space. In the studio of the artist Ralf Klement in Dachrieden, every corner had something to discover, and the students absorbed the atmosphere of the large hall. Under Ralf Klement’s guidance, five students worked on sculpting and created plaster models. The students oriented their work based on the impressions they gathered at the Andreasstraße Memorial, highlighting the difference between art in East Germany and their own understanding of art. A black figure in a red “prison” symbolizes people who were imprisoned for political reasons by the State Security in the former Andreasstraße investigative prison. A black cube represents censored art and freedom of expression. The complement or counterpart is an open cube, featuring various forms of artistic expression on its sides, with its center being colorful, diverse, and outwardly open. Both works, in their abstract design, serve as conscious counter-designs to a realistic representation in the style of Socialist Realism.
The podcast workshop produced the 11th episode of the series “Vor dem Verschwinden.” In this episode, the students processed their experiences from the studio in Dachrieden, making information about Walter Krause and the monument in Mühlhausen available to all interested (German speaking) listeners on Spotify.
On the last day, the question of the monument’s relevance today arose. What can an over 70 years old monument tell us today? How does its message concern us?
There are still commemorative events taking place in front of the memorial in Mühlhausen. On fixed memorial days in January and September, people not only remember the victims of fascism and National Socialism but also emphasize the significance of this remembrance for the present: “Places like Halle and Hanau, terms like NSU, names like Walter Lübcke, and right-wing networks in the police and the Bundeswehr show that it is important to stand against fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism,” stated a message from the Left party for a memorial day in Mühlhausen in September 2020.
The project week also demonstrated how meaningful active remembrance still is today. The artist Ralf Klement showed us wooden portraits he made of the ten victims of the NSU. The portraits depict individuals, placing their respective identities at the forefront. In both monuments, from 1951 and today, it is evident that societal challenges such as group-related enmity, closed worldviews, and right-wing ideologies remain urgent and current issues that concern us all.