Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Memorials and Time

As well as attempting to impersonate Patrick Swayze, I also had some time to explore the city of Münster, which has a very important place in Western European History. After almost five years of negotiation, the Peace of Westphalia was signed in the Rathaus on the 24th October 1648, bringing to an end the Thirty Years War, the bloodiest conflict Europe had ever seen. Proportionately the only war that has killed more people were WWI and WWII. I thought it was important to go and see the room in which it was signed, if only to pay my respects.

Like most towns in West Germany, Münster was heavily bombed by the Allies in the last years of WWII and as a result much of the building had to be restored. Still, the room looks as it did over three hundred and fifty years ago when the treaty was signed. The place is surprisingly empty, given how many people suffered some of the most barbarous tortures at the hands of soldiers from all over Europe, some of which formed the first State Armies. Given I work for a memorial site that proudly proclaims "Never Forget" at its memorial, it makes you wonder whether in one hundred years time the site will still be as important to visitors, or even whether it will be relevant to them.

Of course the answer is yes, but I will be interested to see how the nature of the memorial changes as the last survivors go to their eternal reward. My guess is that, like with memorials to WWI, the onus will be on a broader memorial to those who have died in genocide, with Dachau being used as one of the first and most bureaucratic examples. It is a difficult question, yet one that needs to be considered.

For Carmelite readers, you may also be interested to know that Münster was home to St Edith Stein, who was a lecturer at the University until the Nazis implemented anti-Jewish legislation to stop her teaching. It was the last place she lived before entering Carmel in 1933. Today the Ludgerikirche, her parish church, still remembers her in a painting (possibly an Icon) by the south entrance. The other person in the picture is Bl. Niels Stensen, who was present during the time of the Peace of Westphalia.

It was a chance find; I knew of her time in Cologne, but had no idea she had lived in Münster. It is wonderful that the people of the parish still remember Edith Stein even though she was here barely a year and very few people must remember her by now. Perhaps Memorials are supposed to change their meaning. Perhaps the shifting nature of their meaning is one of the most important roles of the memorial once the last witness is gone and the memories lie in the hands of the next generation.

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