Stolpersteine: Europe Becomes a Holocaust Memorial


Stolperstein for Erna Wazinski

Today is the 95th anniversary of the World War I armistice, when the war ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  The night of last Saturday and Sunday was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a pogrom that moved German Jews from the loss of civil rights into a nightmare of torture and murder.  Both concepts, honoring the war dead and remembering the Holocaust, are featured in Stolpersteine an art project by Gunter Demnig, who transforms all of Europe into a war memorial.

Stolpersteine is the German word for “stumbling blocks.”  The blocks are small brass cobblestones installed into sidewalks near locations of Holocaust events, primarily homes where victims once lived.  They are small, about 4 inches square, one per person.  While there are variations due to individual circumstances, the stones primarily give name, date of birth, deportation, and the fate of the person being honored.  Demnig also makes “stumbling thresholds,” Stolperschwellen, for areas with too many names, such as a mental institution in Trier from which 542 patients were taken and murdered.  These can be as large as 1 square meter.

The typical cobblestone is sponsored for a fee of €120.  Demnig’s instructions tell sponsors how to interact with municipal authorities and who to inform, including family members and neighbors.  Demnig personally installs each of the stones, a full time job.  He can also give a talk about the project for an additional €200 plus expenses, a remarkably reasonable fee for someone of his stature.

Gunter Deminig with Two Newly Installed Stolpersteine

Gunter Demnig with Two Newly Installed Stolpersteine

By December 2013, the project expects to have installed 43,500 stones in 1000 locations.  This is up 3,500 stones from the April 2013 count, also at 1000 locations.  It looks like once a municipality agrees, the stones continue to be laid throughout the area.  Today, Armistice Day, Demnig is placing stones at several sites in the Berlin area.  Tomorrow, 11/12/13, he will be in Stuttgart.  In 2014, he is tentatively scheduled through May for 136 installations and 8 speaking engagements.  There is a six month waiting list for installations.

When I first heard of this, I immediately had negative thoughts about people walking on these sacred names.  But you have to look beyond that.  Of course, there is a logistical issue.  Plaques on the sides of houses require negotiations with current owners, while a project of brass cobblestones in the sidewalk can be approved once by the municipality or the approval process streamlined by regulations.  But more than that, the cobblestones are placed where these people lived.  They are on the sidewalks in front of their homes.  When we walk in their neighborhoods, even if we tread on named cobblestones, we walk where they walked.  We share a moment in their lives before insanity grabbed them away from us.


Erna Wazinski

This past week we had news about 1400 artworks discovered in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt and his wife Helene Hanke, a dancer who worked with German modern dancer Mary Wigman.  An additional 22 works were then voluntarily disclosed by Hildebrand’s brother-in-law.  So we’ll take as our example the cobblestone of Erna Wazinski, a 19 year-old non-Jewish German who lived in Brunswick.  The town was bombed in 1944.  Erna went to her bombed home trying to find her mother and to collect what was left of their belongings.  A neighbor denounced her as a looter and she was guillotined by the Nazis for having a couple of suitcases filled with stuff she thought she owned.  In 1986, German author Adam Seide wrote a novel about her, Die braunschweigische Johanna: ein deutsches Requiem (The Brunswick Johanna: A German Requiem).

Let’s compare Erna and her two suitcases with the Nazi pillaging of Europe.  Nazis conceived of World War II as not just a military war but a cultural offensive.  Hitler, an artist himself, first went after valuable objects, looting entire countries of their museums and private collections.  Then they started taking everything else.  In Paris, Nazis went door to door.  If a home was not occupied they helped themselves to its contents, with no concern for value.  In The Rape of Europa, Lynn H. Nicholas provides a list of loot from one apartment, “5 ladies’ nightgowns, 2 children’s coats, 1 platter, 2 liqueur glasses, 1 man’s coat. . . .” (p. 139).  The Nazis transported boxcars and trainloads of other people’s stuff across Europe, using massive resources that were therefore not available for the actual shooting war.

Erna’s translated Stolperstein reads “Here lived / Erna Wazinski / Born in 1925 / Arrested in 1944 / Looting / Convicted 21.10.1944 / Executed in / Wolfenbüttel.”  Germany has 60% of the cobblestones.  The rest are scattered all over Europe in Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Ukraine.  In Stolpersteine, all of Europe is a location-based memorial.

Smaller location-based installations include the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which places an empty chair at the site where a body was found, with a litttle chair to indicate a child.  The World Trade Center’s National September 11 Memorial is primarily location-based.  Within the footprints of the two structures, names are included with their associated building.  In addition, family members suggested placement of their loved one’s name, which, for the most part, was among their co-workers.  Since companies were housed in different offices, this essentially creates a location-based arrangement, although actual placement has a lot to do with the puzzle of fitting name groups into the available space.  The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in France also has elements of a location structure.  Because of Britain’s World War I recruiting strategy, a strict adherence to military order of precedence places soldiers from the same town together.

Today, Armistice Day 2013, Gunter Demnig installed stones at Weißensee and Charlottenburg in the Berlin area.   Weißensee is the site of one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, which brings up an argument against his project.  The cobblestones remind some of the broken Jewish gravestones that were used for paving.  In response, Demnig quotes a passage from the Talmud, a passage illuminating this entire “Names on a Memorial” series, “A man is not forgotten until his name is forgotten.”


Buddy Bear in Charlottenburg

In addition to the Stolpersteine, Charlottenburg participates in another international public art project, the United Buddy Bears.  These are life size decorated statues of smiling bears representing peace and happiness.  The project was conceived by a German couple, Eva and Klaus Hurlitz, with sculptor Roman Strobl.  The bears are installed individually or as part of a travelling exhibition, the Circle of United Buddy Bears, with alphabetized bears representing each nation.  Typical bears have upraised arms, allowing them to stand hand-in-hand together.  At the end of each tour, the bears are sold with proceeds donated to UNICEF.


Buddy Bears in Kuala Lumpur, 2012
(click on the photo for a closer view)

Cartoony smiling bears might seem trivial compared to evil of such dimension as the Holocaust.  But Eva Hurlitz has created a compelling ethic around her bears including the golden rule, tolerance, and respect for others.  This message, delivered by a painted bear, can especially resonate with children, who will have to navigate the international snares of an ever-shrinking world.  As Eva said in her joyous writings about peace and tolerance, the Buddy Bears help us “understand one another better, trust each other more, and live together more peacefully.”

(In the spirit of Buddy Bears, and in remembrance of the Holocaust, I would like to suggest donations to a charity helping the Philippine victims of Typhoon Haiyan.  A final death toll has not been released but it looks like 10,000 were killed in Tacloban, the capitol of Leyte Province.  ShelterBox provides a large box of life’s equipment, including a tent that sleeps 10.  I support this charity because it simply provides a basic human need.  For people who suddenly have to live outside, perhaps mourning family members, the privacy of a tent can make a big difference in the ability to cope.)

Photo Credits

Wikimedia:  Stolperstein for Erna Wazinski, Gunter Demnig, Erna Wazinski, Buddy Bear in Charlottenburg, Buddy Bears in Kuala-Lumpur

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Nov 2013

The Mother Road: Arrangement for a Rhyme

Anyone in a group photo knows about spatial information arrangement.  To display who’s who, names are usually arranged by their place in the photo — left to right, in rows, clockwise.  For photos, alphabetical order would require a location statement (third row, second from the left), so it’s a lot easier and more helpful to organize the names by spatial placement.

Geography is a subset of spatial arrangement.  Here information is listed by how it appears on the land.  Written travel guides often organize the sights in the order in which tourists encounter them on the road.  The guide might put a prominent attraction first, veering from geography for the sake of customer convenience.  The authors know where the tourists are really heading, so they make things easier by incorporating order-of-importance into the spatial arrangement.

The many guides to Route 66 usually begin in Chicago and head west to LA.  US 66 followed the trail of American westward expansion, so this direction makes historic sense.  As a native Californian, now an Arizonan, and an adventurous driver, I often find myself traveling backwards on
the few remaining stretches of the Mother Road.

“Route 66,” Bobby Troup’s hit song, maintains the east-west travelogue with one exception, “Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona; don’t forget Winona.”  Winona is east of Flagstaff so an accurate listing would be Gallup, Winona, and Flagstaff. 

Troup had an arrangement parameter that took precedence over the map.  He needed a rhyme.  For those lines, he returned eastward.  Even so, Troup maintains geography, signaling a change in direction with “don’t forget Winona.”  Then he heads west again to Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

If you ever plan to motor west,
travel my way; take the highway that’s the best.
Get your kicks on Route Sixty Six!

It winds from Chicago to L.A.,
more than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route Sixty Six!

Now you go through St. Looey, Joplin, Missouri
and Oklahoma City is mighty pretty
You’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona; don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Won’t you get hip to this timely tip:
When you make that California trip,
get your kicks on Route Sixty Six!

Bobby Troup, “Route 66” in The Great American Songbook: The Singers.  Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 2007, pages 274-277.

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May 2010

Names on a Memorial: Meaningful Adjacencies

(This post acknowledges October 12 as a day honoring Christopher Columbus, who promoted European colonization of the New World, thus beginning the desecration of North and South America’s original civilizations.)

Michael Arad, designer of the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial, originally envisioned a random name arrangement.  He felt the imposition of any organized arrangement strategy would cause “grief and anguish.”  However, it soon became clear that it was the randomization of the names that was causing the grief and anguish.    

Families of those who died understood that random trivializes life and death.  They wanted the name arrangement to indicate affiliation, such as business, friends and family, along with details including the names of the businesses, ages of the victims, and floor numbers.  Family groups fought for this vision by refusing to donate to the memorial, demonstrating the emotional power of information arrangement.  The designers  compromised with a name arrangement that is intended to look random but is actually a highly organized list of names with “meaningful adjacencies.”  This is not a simple structure with one set of arrangement rules.  Each name is placed according to individualized criteria.      

Both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme incorporate meaningful adjacencies, as does every arrangement method, except random.  A lack of meaningful adjacencies defines random.  The VVM lists names in chronological order.  Those who died on a given date are adjacent on the memorial.  Military survivors can find friends by finding their own time of service at a designated place on The Wall. 

In France, the Somme memorial from World War I achieves the same goal with a different strategy.  Most of the 72,000 names listed on that memorial went missing on the same day, so chronology has no meaning.  These names are listed by military units, bringing people together because of recruitment by towns.  British military units in World War I often consisted of men from a single area, a method that has since been abandoned.  Whole units died during the surge on July 1, 1916.  Today, people from these towns can find their missing generation of young men in one place on the massive walls.   

These two arrangements are brilliant in their simplicity, but they organize groups whose members have similar defining characteristics.  That is not the case with the World Trade Center memorial.  People who died on September 11, 2001 were working or they were visiting a building, flying in an airplane or trying to rescue others.  They were with their co-workers, perhaps with their families, or they were alone.  They did not have a common reason for being where they died.       

When the arrangement controversy was raging, I submitted a proposal for a geographic structure and that is essentially what is being used.  It should be noted that I have no evidence that anyone read my proposal.  Arrangement by location was always an obvious option for this memorial.  My suggestion was based solidly on location to the point of listing people on airplanes by their seat assignments.  People who know each other sit next to each other, so meaningful adjacency is achieved.I also wanted the names from the towers listed by floor.  Again, people on the same floor know each other.  This method added meaning by demonstrating that most people below a certain floor escaped and most above a certain floor did not.  To my mind, a full geographic arrangement illustrates the tragedy more completely by showing where people were and who they were with when they died. 

The selected memorial design and its name arrangement include panels in two squares that surround two pools, one for each tower and the airplane that crashed into it.  The Pentagon and its airplane, the First Responders, and Flight 93 are with the South Tower.  Those who died in the 1993 attack are with the North Tower. 

In all, there are nine groups.  The title of each group is inscribed at the beginning of its associated names.  For example, “World Trade Center” appears before the names of those who died in the North or South Tower.  The names are then arranged by affiliation, which is not indicated, except for the First Responder agencies and units, who are reprieved of the need to look random.     

In general the families were not happy with this compromise.  They wanted more information next to each name, specifically age, company and floor.  My proposal would resolve company and floor, and also included ages with each name.  I want to say that the struggle here shows the folly of allowing non-organizersto develop such an important name arrangement.  People who don’t understand the impact of organized information thought up random.  But there are other factors to consider here.  Does every business want the kind of advertising that comes with being part of a tragedy?   

Once random was abandoned, the designers encouraged individual participation.  Next-of-kin could request placement near another name, a friend in the same company perhaps, or a loved one who worked for a different business.  Companies could request that names be arranged by department or work unit.  This resulting structure is therefore a puzzle for the designers to solve.  We can assume there were trade-offs. 

The names of a married couple who worked for different companies are listed together.  The couple has three affiliations – to each other and to their separate companies.  This could be resolved by taking the married couple out of their respective companies and placing them separately or by putting their two companies next to each other.  But this couple may not be the only ones in their companies with cross-corporate affiliations.
The designers were careful to hedge their promises with phrases like “to the best of our abilities.”  They understood subjective decisions would have to be made.  For example, if there has to be a choice, is it more important to put a married couple together than two best friends? 

My fully location based arrangement eliminated subjectivity.  However, the married couple would not be together forever on the memorial.  Their names would be sitting in their separate offices.  The chosen arrangement is a compromise with many mistakes, pretending to be random being especially egregious.  But individual attention to the placement of each name is a new idea in memorial name arrangement.  It came about accidentally when the families refused to let the designers abandon their responsibility to those who died.  The families didn’t get everything they wanted, but what they did get was personalized attention for each name engraved at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

(This post is part of a series about how names are arranged on memorial structures.  I returned to the series when I prepared an online course on Strategic Information Arrangement for Simmons College.  Other posts in the series can be found in the IsisInBlog Directory under “Names on a Memorial Series.)

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Names on a Memorial: Oklahoma City

(This posting was originally intended for publication during the 12th anniversary week of the Oklahoma City bombing. That week also saw Yom HaShoa [Holocaust Martyrs’ Remembrance Day] and the anniversaries of the Columbine High School massacre and the Branch Davidian fire. Next year, this same week will be the first anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech. This year, at the end of the week, I found renewal at a concert for the 38th Earth Day.

My posting therefore acknowledges another memorial, one without names, The Man with Two Hats, which honors the Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands during World War Two. Henk Visch’s statue of a man with arms upraised, holding a hat in each hand, is located in both Ottawa and Apeldoorn and was first dedicated in the Netherlands on May 2, 2000.

At the Ottawa dedication on May 11, 2002, the Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan, a Philippine immigrant, commented that these statues would demonstrate “the true test of friendship — of one country to another.” Every year since liberation, Holland shows its gratitude with a gift to Canada of 10,000 tulip bulbs.)

The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, yielded to pressure from the 9/11 families and announced a new arrangement of names for the World Trade Center Memorial. Random is out and affiliation is in. Almost. All names are to be listed with others in their affiliation. While rescue workers’ unit affiliations will be fully expressed, corporate affiliations will not. Even American Airlines and United Airlines are excluded. Only flight numbers will be on the Memorial. Not surprisingly, the families remain unsatisfied. They want ages, floor numbers and corporate names.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial, designed by Hans and Torrey Butzer with Sven Berg, symbolically achieves all of that. The names of those who died on April 19, 1995 are engraved onto chairs sitting in the footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The arrangement is geographic, with nine rows of chairs symbolizing the nine story building. Names are located on the floor they were on when they died, divided by agency, left to right, replicating the location of offices in the building. Names of employees and visitors are alphabetical within agency.

Five people died outside the Murrah Building. In alphabetical order, they are listed singly in a vertical line of chairs at the end of every other floor. The name on the first floor is Rebecca Anderson, a rescuer. Then one name from the Water Resources Building, two names from the Athenian Building and another from Water Resources.

Abandoning the geographic arrangement, alphabetical order for the non-Murrah names separates the two Water Resources employees. But if those names were arranged by building, where would that leave Rebecca Anderson? She didn’t have a building. She walked into the ruin and died when part of the Murrah Building fell on her. In this case, selecting alphabetical order puts the rescuer in the first position.

A solution for the non-Murrah names would be to organize them by building, with the person not associated with a building at first or last. Rebecca died entering the ruin where the first floor had been. So placing her name first makes sense. This fulfils the geographic theme of the arrangement, keeps the names in each of the exterior buildings together, and still places the rescuer in the honored position on the first floor.

The designers made another organizational decision that is somewhat bizarre. Four married couples died at the Social Services Administration (SSA) on the first floor. Each couple followed the tradition of sharing the same last name. For them, alphabetical order was ignored to place the husband’s name first. Research indicates the purpose was to keep the tradition implied by “husband and wife” or “Mr. and Mrs.” The alphabet has a tradition too, so it seems an odd choice to make in the first year of the 21st Century, when the Memorial was dedicated.

If I were to change alphabetical order, I would place three children with their grandparents. Peachlyn Bradley, three years old, and her brother Gabreon Bruce, three months old, died at the SSA with their grandmother Cheryl Hammon. The accident of alphabetical order places Peachlyn and Gabreon together, but seven chairs separate them from Cheryl. LaRue and Luther Treaner died with their four year old granddaughter Ashley Eckles. They are now separated by 21 chairs.

Since the designers were open to changing the alphabet, each trio could have remained together, Cheryl surrounded by her grandchildren and Ashley by her grandparents. Theirs were the two families that lost three people. Keeping these loved ones together on the Memorial would have been a small, but perhaps meaningful gift.

For the World Trade Center (WTC), adding floor numbers to the names would help demonstrate that the highest numbers of deaths occurred above the point of impact in both buildings. The Oklahoma City Memorial geographically shows the location of the greatest number of deaths by arranging the names into a concentration of chairs, with more chairs in the middle and fewer chairs toward the right and left edges.

The bomb exploded directly under the cribs in America’s Kids Child Development Center on the second floor. The most remembered image of that day is a fireman carrying the limp body of a baby. This bombing killed a lot of babies. The Memorial acknowledges their deaths by giving children smaller chairs.

It’s an elegant arrangement, with just a couple of misses. Using only names and chairs, the designers showed affiliation, age, level of destruction, and location of death by floor, office and exterior to the Murrah Building.

They did one more thing. The Memorial’s Survival Wall lists the names of more than 800 who experienced and survived the blast. They did not die, but they certainly had a life-changing experience. Offering them a part of the Memorial honors their suffering, gives them a place for contemplation, and helps visitors understand the enormity of the crime.

Survivors’ names are alphabetized within the buildings, which are also in alphabetical order. The original plan was to arrange the building names geographically, but it was felt that the primary target needed to be first.  Alphabetical order places the Alfred P. Murrah Building at the front of the list. (Linenthal, 2001)

I wish the World Trade Center Memorial would consider honoring the survivors of 9/11. I am not suggesting the names of everyone in the WTC on September 11, 2001 be listed. That is probably impossible to know. However, the names of companies with offices in the WTC could be engraved onto the Memorial, giving thousands of people with horrific experiences a place of solace and a place for their own memories. For reasons that have not been explained, corporate names are disallowed and the World Trade Center Memorial continues to miss the opportunity to fully serve its community of 9/11 survivors and families.

(I am grateful to Brad Robison, Director of the Terrorism Information Center at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City. I contacted Brad during the anniversary week and appreciate his taking the time to answer my questions.)

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Names on a Memorial: A Path Among the Missing

(These essays in the “Names on a Memorial” series are sometimes published on significant days of mourning.  The previous post, Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme, was on Martin Luther King’s birthday.  February 4 is the birthday of my grandmother Margaret Hardeman Applegate.  Her husband and my grandfather, Julian Eugene Applegate, served with the U.S. Marines in WWI at Belleau Wood in France.  Severely injured on the first day of battle, he spent the rest of the war in a Parisian hospital.  My grandmother met him after he came home.)

The names on the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval are arranged on 16 piers in British Army Order of Precedence.  The path among the piers emphasizes Edwin Lutyens’ magnificent architecture and the inspirational view, along a trail of adjacent panels that generally keeps regiment names in proximity.  If the names in a regiment encompass two panels, most visitors need only turn a corner or cross an aisle. Thiepval memorializes 163 units; five require three panels to list their missing.

A map of the Memorial shows 16 piers in four rows of four, with two rows to the south, two to the north, and a wide middle aisle with east and west steps leading to the central Stone of Remembrance.  The Stone, also designed by Lutyens, is placed in all larger military cemeteries of the British Commonwealth.  It looks like an altar and Lutyens wanted to call it that, but his friend James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan and Wendy, convinced him that Presbyterians would prefer the word “Stone” (Stamp, 2006, p. 78).

The entrance to the Memorial is on the east.  The west side features a terrace and a sunset view of the cemetery.  The base is approximately 8 feet high, with the panels above at about twice that.  The exterior panels on the east and west are viewed from the ground or the terrace, so the highest names are about 24 feet above where the visitor stands.  There are no names on the exterior north and south panels.  In the interior, you can stand next to the panels and touch the lower names, but many names are too high to reach.

Order of precedence creates a path of names within the Memorial.  The piers and faces in path order are listed after this post.  Using the map, you can easily follow the trail.  It begins at the south side of the front exterior (1A, 8A).  Visitors enter the Memorial and walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Cross the main aisle, walk up to the Stone of Remembrance again and down to the east.  Exit the Memorial to view the names at the north side of the exterior front (9A, 16A).  To get to the next panel (8C), visitors must return to the entrance, crossing one pier and the central aisle and again climbing the first flight of stairs.  The interior panels are fully contiguous, leading ultimately to a panel near the front (9C).  For the final panels, visitors again walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Exit the Memorial onto the terrace, cross one pier to the north and then walk south along the terrace with the four final panels (13C, 12C, 5C, 4C) to the east and the cemetery view to the west.

This path of names demonstrates decisions of arrangement design.  Assuming that Lutyens’s architecture was non-negotiable, the Thiepval arrangement serves three goals:  (1) the path should follow order of precedence, (2) the path should keep regiment names together on contiguous panels, and (3) the path should enhance the architecture.  The design of 16 piers only allows two of these goals to be fully met.  Order of precedence was the priority, so a decision was made between keeping regiment names together or enhancing the architecture.

The designers of the path chose to enhance the architecture.  The path begins at the front of the Memorial, includes three walks alongside the Stone of Remembrance, twice exits the Memorial, and ends at the west terrace with a sunset view of the cemetery.  In making that decision, the path designers disrupted the names of two regiments.

The Royal Fusiliers of the City of London Regiment are one of the five units with names on three faces of the Memorial piers (9A, 16A, 8C).  Their names begin with the second walk along the front exterior of the Memorial.  Then visitors must cross one pier, re-enter the Memorial, cross the central aisle and climb the first flight of stairs to get to the third panel.  Near the end, the names of the London Scottish 14th Battalion London Regiment (9C, 13C) are disrupted by a third walk along the Stone of Remembrance, completely traversing the Memorial from front to back and arriving at the terrace cemetery view.

As an expert in information arrangement, I, of course, believe that keeping the names contiguous is far more important than admiring magnificent architecture, but a primary skill of arrangement is working within parameters to meet the collection’s goals.  The goal of the Thiepval Memorial is to mourn the dead and inspire the living.

Lutyens’ WWI architecture eloquently serves this goal.  His Cenotaph at Whitehall in London is inscribed with the years 1914 and 1919 and a simple phrase selected by Rudyard Kipling, “The Glorious Dead.”  At Thiepval, the massive size, the Stone of Remembrance, and the stirring view all honor sacrifice in war.  By promoting an emotional architectural experience, the path of names contributes to this theme, perhaps inspiring future generations to fight again.  And they did fight again.  The Cenotaph was later inscribed with the dates 1939 and 1945.

Path of Names at the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval (See map:

1A, 8A     South front exterior of the Memorial

8D, 7D, 6D, 5D     Enter the Memorial, then up the stairs on the south side of the Stone of Remembrance and down the stairs to the west.

12B     Cross the central aisle on the west side

11B, 10B, 9B     Up stairs on the north side of the Stone and down to the east

9A, 16A     Exit to the north front exterior

8C     Cross one pier to the south, re-enter the Memorial, continue south across the central aisle, climbing the first flight of stairs

8B, 1D, 1C, 2A, 2D, 2C, 3A, 3D, 3C, 4A, 4D, 5B, 5A, 6C, 6B, 6A, 7C, 7B, 7A     Interior of south piers

10A     Cross the center aisle to the north

10D, 10C, 11A, 11D, 11C, 12A, 12D, 13B, 13A, 14C, 14B, 14A, 15C, 15B, 15A, 16C, 16B, 9D, 9C     Interior of north piers

13C     Up the stairs on the north side of the Stone, then down to the west, exit onto the terrace, and cross one pier to the north.

12C, 5C, 4C     Walk south along the terrace overlooking the cemetery to the west

(I am grateful to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for providing the map and the list of regimental locations on the Memorial.)

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme

While writing her proposal essay for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) competition, Maya Lin was influenced by the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France.  Designed by architect Edwin Lutyens, this WWI memorial honors 72,000 Britons, Indians and South Africans who went missing from the Somme battlefield, primarily during five months in 1916.  The VVM honors 58,000 dead and missing during 20 years from 1956 to 1975. Lin’s essay emphasizes placement of the VVM within the context of the National Mall.  I believe she was inspired by Thiepval’s site on a hill overlooking a cemetery.  Lutyen’s memorial magnificently overwhelms the French countryside.  While the VVM is overwhelming only when you get close to it, Lin’s work tends to be site specific, so it is natural that she would emphasize placement in her essay.

Lutyens’ Thiepval design interweaves six arches on a square of sixteen piers, spanning the length and width of the building.  The arches increase in size as they decrease in number.  Two north-south arches are intersected by two taller east-west arches, intersected by one even larger north-south arch, and finally intersected by the tallest east-west arch rising almost to the height of the edifice.

The names of the missing are engraved on the 16 piers.  They are organized by British Army Order of Precedence, which determines how regiments appear on the parade ground.  Within each regiment, names are listed by rank and within each rank, in alphabetical order.  Like the VVM, the Thiepval memorial requires an index to locate individual names.

Also like the VVM, the arrangement places comrades close to each other.  Prior to Vietnam, military personnel were often mustered into local regiments and sent off to war. In WWI, British towns sacrificed a generation of young men into fighting squads with names like Kensington Battalion and Cheshire Regiment.  Organizing the missing of the Somme by unit not only combines those who fought together, but also those who lived together in their civilian towns.  Military survivors remember comrades.  Townspeople remember neighbors.

In traditional wars, like WWI, military personnel mustered together and fought together throughout the entire conflict.  Survivors returned home at the same time and, if they won, they had a parade.  Vietnam changed that.  Individuals were sent at different times, stayed for a few years and returned alone.  No parade and no comradeship within the entire regiment.  Vietnam veterans remember those who served at the same time, not those who served in their unit several years before they arrived.  For Vietnam veterans, chronology, not unit, gathers comrades together.

(My thanks to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for his invaluable help in my research on the Thiepval memorial.)

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