A railway encircles thirty-five blocks of shops, offices, and hotels in Chicago, June 1967.Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic
Honestly, I was at first put off by the raw severity of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Memorial to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the Spartakusbund and martyrs of the failed November 1918 Revolution in Germany. The monumental structure — first erected in 1926, before being torn down by the Nazis less than a decade later — is almost proto-brutalist in its cantilevered slabs and brazen use of unrefined materials, made up of jagged bricks held together by unsanded grout organized around a steel-and-concrete frame. It seemed to me too willfully barbaric to commemorate anything of value, so stark was its ugliness.
But as it turns out, this was precisely Mies’ intention. In a conversation with the prominent communist and cultural commentator Eduard Fuchs, Mies was reported to have said the following:
As most of these people [Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, other fallen heroes of the revolution] were shot in front of a brick wall, a brick wall would be what I would build as a monument.
Though he’d later downplay its radical Bolshevik origins by recasting it in terms of a sorrowful republicanism, Mies would always emphasize that the building was meant to convey a certain brutal honesty. Even in his deeply apolitical American exile, this remained the case. …
Mies demonstrated a surprising level of awareness when it came to revolutionary precedent, as he included in his sketch for the monument a banner with the inscription “Ich war, Ich bin, Ich werde sein” [“I was, I am, I will be”], Rosa Luxemburg’s final written words before her execution by the proto-fascist Freikorps in January 1919. This, too, had recourse to revolutionary precedent, as Luxemburg was actually quoting a line from Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810-1876) written during the 1848 German revolution.
Yakov Rumkin, Paratroopers over Moscow, 1940’s
The 1722 Petit Albert describes in detail how to make a Hand of Glory, as cited from him by Grillot De Givry:Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway; wrap it in part of a funeral pall and so wrapped squeeze it well. Then put it into an earthenware vessel with zimat, nitre, salt and long peppers, the whole well powdered. Leave it in this vessel for a fortnight, then take it out and expose it to full sunlight during the dog-days until it becomes quite dry. If the sun is not strong enough put it in an oven with fern and vervain. Next make a kind of candle from the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin wax, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick to hold this candle when lighted, and then those in every place into which you go with this baneful instrument shall remain motionless
Don’t Deliver Us from Evil (dir. Joel Seria, 1971)
While the Nazis were doing their horrific work in Germany, the Japanese outdid them in mainland Asia, undertaking a regime of ruthless experimentation the likes of which are too disturbing to imagine. Everyone knows about Nazi experimentation, but the story of Unit 731 is far less known, and all the more horrific for it. Unit 731 was a research base in Northeast China, and the home of more than 10,000 deaths by experiment. The patients were vivisected without anaesthesia after infection with diseases; pregnant women were vivisected and the fetus removed; limbs amputated to study blood loss; said limbs re-attached to the opposite side of the body; extremities were frozen by repeated immersion in water while left in icy conditions, then amputated or thawed to study gangrene; prisoners had their stomachs removed, and their oesophagus attached to their intestine directly; live humans were used to test grenades at various ranges and positions; flamethrowers; chemical and biological agents including plague, cholera, smallpox, botulism, syphilis and gonorrhoea; being hung upside down until they choked to death; air injected into their arteries to cause embolism; horse urine injected in their kidneys; deprived of food and water till death; placed in high pressure chambers till death; being exposed to extreme cold; burned to see how well they could survive different degrees of burns; spun until death on a centrifuge; animal blood injections; lethal radiation doses; injected with sea water to see if it could be substituted for saline; and buried alive. A laundry list of human atrocities. While many of the Nazi doctors were at least brought to justice for their crimes, Unit 731 merely disbanded and General MacArthur gave immunity to its doctors in exchange for information on biological warfare, and the majority got off scott free. However, Russia brought war crimes proceedings against a number of the perpetrators, and sentenced them to hard labor in Siberia. I can’t help but think they got off light.
A Lithuanian Guard of Honor stands triumphantly beside the Three Crosses monument (Lithuanian: Trys kryžiai) in Vilnius after the city is returned to Lithuania. Following WWI, both Poland and Lithuania contested ownership of the city. On 9 October 1920, the Polish Army surreptitiously seized Vilnius during an operation known as Żeligowski’s Mutiny. However, the secret protocols of the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 had partitioned Lithuania and Poland into German and Soviet spheres of interest prior to the outbreak of war. On 19 September 1939, Vilnius was seized by the Soviet Union (which had invaded Poland on 17 September 1939). The Soviet Union and Lithuania concluded a mutual assistance treaty and on 28 October 1939, and Vilnius was given back to Lithuania. This was part of a larger plan by the Soviets, as unwitting Lithuania would be invaded, occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union on 21 July 1940. The original Three Crosses memorial would be blown up by the Soviet authorities in May 1950 to prevent the structure from being viewed by citizens with any nationalist reverence. Vilnius, Lithuania. October 1939.
inside of the abandoned plattenbau , eastberlin 2013