Monument Culture

Macaluso, Laura A. Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World (American Association for State and Local History) (p. 137-140). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It seems that on a grassroots level, people are reviewing Britain’s memory of the transports, thanks to the work, for instance, of charities such as Hands On London. In 2017, the Kindertransport memorials in London and Berlin were sites where memorial activism took place. In London, the memorial was dressed in winter coats by Hands On London with the support of the Association of Jewish Refugees and World Jewish Relief. The charity’s Wrap Up London campaign takes place every November and aims to collect as many coats as possible. These coats are then distributed to the homeless, elderly, and refugee charities across London. The modification of the memorial demonstrated how a transnational consciousness for the need to help refugees today is making us reassess Britain’s memory of rescue. The process of rethinking the British national narrative starts with bringing Sir Nicholas Winton’s story into the frame as he traveled to the Sudetenland in the late 1930s and saw the refugee camps—scenes not unfamiliar when we think of today’s refugee crisis.14 He saw how the children and the elderly needed support. In Britain, we remember Sir Winton greeting the Kinder on their arrival, but his work in the Sudetenland and the parents’ anxieties regarding sending their children to Britain with enough clothing to keep them warm are stories that have previously been neglected by the British national narrative of the transports. The campaign also showed how Kinder are helping today’s refugees because this group understands what it is like to journey to a new country. Other groups are also emphasizing the need to help refugees today, and they too have used memory of the Kindertransports to make people more aware of past and present refugee journeys. For example, in Germany, the Center for Political Beauty has used memory of the Kindertransports in its campaigns to draw awareness to the current refugee crisis. The Center is suggestively named Federal Emergency Programme campaign, and its critical reanimation of the Berlin memorial to the Kindertransports highlights how the Kindertransport can be “used as a blueprint” for helping refugees today because there are similarities between this historical event and the refugee crisis today.15 The center argues that “the Kindertransport has retrospectively turned into a choice of life and death.”16 In this instance the center’s plea for modern-day Kindertransports to help today’s refugees from Syria calls attention to the life or death situation that arises if governments deny entry to refugees. We have not necessarily learned from the Kindertransports because although some refugee families are being reunited and traveling together, there are still many unaccompanied children in Europe. The center’s web-site describes how in a kind of memorial activism the organization designed a memorial to the refugee crisis, which was placed within eyesight of the Kindertransport memorial in Friedrichstrasse. The Kindertransport memorial in Berlin stresses how the Nazis and their supporters did not want to give Jewish children a future and how they had to flee their homelands to find shelter. Germany’s national narrative of the Kindertransports is about exclusion, but this new campaign highlights how Germany’s relationship to refugees today is about inclusion because this campaign calls for a kind of Kindertransport in reverse: instead of refugee children fleeing Germany, they are instead rescued and helped by the nation.
Britain is still not facing the full history of the Kindertransports when discussing stories about Kinder who were interned or abused. Memorial activism in Germany is more radical compared to the activism in Britain because it has not only criticized Germany’s national narrative of the Kindertransports; it has also demonstrated how Germany has also been slow to commemorate the Kindertransports. Britain’s national narrative of the transports focuses on rescue, but solely highlighting this point has prevented the public from understanding and remembering the whole story. Monument culture in Britain is changing, yet it is a slow change and could be more inclusive. Meisler’s memorials and the memorial activism that has surrounded them have challenged us not only to think about the more negative stories of the Kindertransports but also the conditions refugees are facing today. In doing so, stories that are less positive and that grapple with persecution and destruction have started to now be included in national narratives. The winter coats campaign reminds us that people are still being persecuted today and that they need support because they have left everything behind. There has, then, been progress because Britain and Germany are questioning their memory of the Kindertransports through the practice of memorial activism. Also, memorial activism in Britain and abroad has resulted in a rethinking of national narratives because several campaigns have highlighted government inaction regarding supporting refugees today. Likewise, the transnational narrative of the Kindertransports has also challenged us to reconsider how different nations are remembering this historical event and their lack of interest in more negative stories.

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