Voices Suppressed by the "Peace Memorial City"

The 10th International Conference of Museums for Peace

Title: Remembering: Censorship of Remnants to Forced Sexual Slavery at Sachsenhausen

Author: Kathleen Cogan, MA, LPC-Intern (TX)

Abstract: My paper explores the concept of remembrance via the construction of memorials and memorializing. Specifically, this work is viewed through the lens of bearing witness to suffering. With emphasis on the lived experiences of women in concentration camps, I use the research and reflections from my peace pilgrimage to Holocaust concentration camps and memorials in Germany and Poland to highlight the problems of memorial construction and their effects on witness bearing and historical dialogue.

The process of memorializing the lives of those lost at concentration camps began shortly after the end of World War II. In prioritizing what remnants were to be removed, torn down or to remain for the memorial at Sachsenhausen, it is significant that the brothel was removed. By demolishing the buildings and spaces where women were forced into sex slavery, the designers and curators of the memorial were censoring and minimizing the brutal, inhuman practice. Forced sex slavery is hence deemed less tragic, or less important when compared to forced slave labor. In short, the women's suffering was viewed as less than.

In the very construction of this memorial, oppression has been recreated through the unexplained elimination of the remnants of sexual slavery. Memorializing is distorted and insufficient in the absence of narratives and remnants that reveal the atrocities committed. The task of remembering, educating and fostering dialogue to break the cycles of genocide is incomplete without bearing witness to not only the violence and suffering in the historical event, but also to the discriminating and dehumanizing attitudes in building the memorials.