Po prawdże to piękny sztatek beł, War aijentlich ain scheenes Schiff

Participating artists: Hubert Czerepok, Jonas Dahm, Jörg Herold, Magnus Petersson, Anna Steller, Evgeny Umansky och Olo Walicki

Curators: Iwona Bigos and Martin Schibli

Co-Curators for exhibition in Lübeck: Tatjana Dübbel and Jörg-Philipp Thomsa

Günter Grass Haus, Glockengießerstraße 21, Lübeck

29th January - 27th September 2015.

Official Opening: St. Jakobi Kirche, Lübeck, 29th of January, 7 PM.

The opening will include a reading of Nobel Price Winner Günter Grass and a performance by Anna Steller with music performed by Olo Walicki.

Entrance: 9 Euro.

War eigentlich ein schönes Schiff

In the exhibition "Po prawdże to piękny sztatek beł | War aijentlich ain scheenes Schiff" contemporary artists from Germany, Poland, Russia and Sweden present their reflections on probably the deadliest event in the history of the Baltic Sea, which took place during the months preceding the end of the World War II, when German refugees from East Prussian ports like Memel (Klaipeda), Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and Gotenhafen (Gdynia) were evacuated and transported west. This action was named “operation Hannibal”. Several of those refugee boats never made it. It is estimated that 40 000 people - mostly civilians, children and women, died during the months when the ships were air-raided or torpedoed and sunken.

One point of departure for this exhibition is the novel by Günter Grass, Im Krebsgang, which is based on the sinking of the ship called Wilhelm Gustloff, which was torpedoed by a Soviet Submarine at the end of the World War II (on 30th January, 1945), a couple of hours after leaving Gotenhafen (Gdynia). Approximately 9000 people died, most of them civilians, women and children, after the captain of the submarine S-13, Alexander Marinesko, had given the order to fire the torpedoes. The catastrophe of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the deadliest sea tragedy known in history. In his novel, Grass gives a German context to the sinking, and marks its place in German collective memory. Several other ships were torpedoed during the same period, among them: the Steuben (torpedoed on 10th Feb, 1945, 3-4000 dead), the Goya (torpedoed on 16th April 1945, approximately 7000 dead), and the Cap Arcona (air-raided on 3rd May, 1945, approximately 5000 dead).

The actual events around the Wilhelm Gustloff were in many ways made known and documented, not only in Günter Grass’s novel, but also in other books and documentaries. The story has also been made into a film. Nevertheless, some historical facts and circumstances are still unclear. Today, despite the high number of casualties, the Wilhelm Gustloff and other similar shipwrecks lie quietly at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, to some degree forgotten, but at the same time being both physical and symbolic reminders of the most fatal period in the history of the Baltic Sea.

Too a large extent, these ship catastrophes are still not very well-known to the world, or even to the countries around the Baltic Sea. This is probably connected with the complex historical background that builds the symbolic meaning of the shipwrecks. Despite the fact that it will soon be sixty years since the ships were sunk, the subject is still quite complicated to discuss. One of the reasons why it is not too much elaborated on, might be connected with the period when the ships were sunken - meaning the end of the World War II, when millions of people had already lost their lives, while the causalities on board the ship were mostly of German nationality, and, obviously, in the clear cut war propaganda Germans could not be defined as victims.

In Sweden for example, especially among younger generations, very few have heard of those ships. One of the reasons why the problem is neglected, could be that the ships remind the Swedes too much about their position during the World War II, a position that is still today subject to a collective amnesia. Whereas, in Poland, one way is interpret the Wilhelm Gustloff catastrophe as an outside event, with which Poland had nothing to do. However, on the other hand, it is no secret that a lot of Polish people supported the ethnic cleansing of Germans in East Prussia at that time. In Kaliningrad / Russia, there is a huge memorial to honor Captain Alexander Marinesko (died in 1963), who, in addition, was officially proclaimed a Hero of the Soviet Union as late as in 1990. To state that he was responsible for the decision that led to the death of thousands of civilians, including children, is still very controversial.

The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff and the other ships has different meanings and implications in countries like Germany, Poland, Russia and Sweden, which to a large extend are not possible to combine. Perhaps it would be better to leave the wrecks under the sea surface, instead of bringing them out, and thus reminding the world about the war events. On the other hand, the wrecks will linger there, just like myths in the collective memory of the past, as a hidden huge historical memento mori. The question is, if we do not create the possibility to discuss with our neighbors the historical events in which 40 000 people lost their lives, how can we proceed to form a peaceful future? In fact, these wrecks, demand to be discussed, in order to be set free from the historical burden.

For the exhibition "Po prawdże to piękny sztatek beł | War aijentlich ain scheenes Schiff" we invited artists from Poland, Germany, Russia and Sweden, who have been working with the topic of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Their works give some reflections from an artistic point of view on the events and the symbolic meanings of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This theme, being the starting point of the exhibition, could be viewed as very narrow and specified. However, in a broader context, the exhibition elaborates on one of the most significant periods in the history of the Baltic Sea, and therefore opens the new perspectives for the common future.

A Catalogue is under preparation and will be published in April/May.

The Exhibition is previously shown at Gdanska Galeria Mietska Gdansk, Poland www.ggm.gda.pl, and next year the exhibition will be presented at Kulturparken Småland, www.kulturparkensmaland.se, Sweden.

For more information, please contact: http://grass-haus.de/, or the curators:

Martin Schibli, schiblimartin@gmail.com, + 46 735 062250. International Curator based in Sweden.

Iwona Bigos, Director of the City Galleries of Gdansk, Poland, + 48 66577756, ibigos@ggm.gda.pl