Keynote Lectures

Anne Berg

(University of Pennsylvania)

Reflections on Garbage and Genocide

Every heritage site, every museum, every Gedenkstätte, will provide not only a place for historical education, commemoration, or reflection, but most certainly one or multiple containers to receive the discards each visitor leaves behind. Waste is as ubiquitous as it is invisible. Taking the inconspicuously designed trashcans at the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen as a starting point, I will offer some reflections on the disturbing connections between garbage and genocide in Nazi Germany.

The contours of the Nazi waste regime are hardly part of the heritage preserved at memorial sites such as Sachsenhausen. Yet, garbage and genocide were part and parcel of the imperial logic of the Nazi regime. I illustrate the The destructive dynamics that render waste reclamation an integral aspect and in fact motor of the Nazi system. I focus my discussion on the concentration camp system. Already in 1936, prisons, asylums and camps played a key role in the vision for comprehensive recycling programs in the Reich. As the camp system proliferated and war stretched material resources, camps functioned as massive waste relay and refurbishing stations. It is here that the interconnectedness of waste management and genocidal practice comes into full view: The seemingly apologetical practices of everyday salvage inside the Reich and the industrial scale extraction of labor an material in the ever growing camp complex illustrate that waste management and recycling stood at the very center of the regime’s attempts to rationalize the systematic exploitation and industrial killing of millions of people.

Redirecting our gaze to what semantics and complex infrastructures have hidden from view is one of my main goals here. Waste, I suggest, affords a new, if disturbing, perspective onto the imperial logic of a regime that hoisted human lives onto the trash heap of history and used garbage to grease its war machine.

Birgit Meyer

(Utrecht University)

"Disturbing heritage"

The past is present through its lasting material forms. Whether cherished, taken for granted or dismissed, things from the past are subject to contested and conflicting political-aesthetic significations and frames. While heritage connotes an appreciative stance towards such things and recognizes their value in being kept in museums or as monuments, waste is in many respects the Other of heritage. At the same time, both heritage and waste are categories that may be mobilized with regard to the same things. My main concern in this presentation is to contribute to widening the conceptual scope with regard to the study of the power of, and conflicts about, lasting material forms that cannot be fully captured by remaining within ‘the place-oriented, static and secularized notions that abound in debates on heritage’ (workshop outline). I will do so by focusing on two instances of the dissolution of religious traditions, in which hitherto sacred things are transposed into new secular settings. One concerns African objects and sculptures that were dismissed as ‘idols’ and ‘fetishes’ in the context of colonization and missionization and made to signify ‘primitive’ religion in colonial museums. The other concerns images of Mary, Jesus and Saints that have lost their function in the course of de-churching and can be found as ludic attributes in pubs, are for sale in markets, and signify ‘Christian heritage’ in museums. My basic idea is that such things offer a viable starting point for rethinking heritage from the angle of disturbance.