This is a hybrid event, held in person and online
In May 1969 the sculptor Fred Kormis realised a life-long ambition when his set of five sculptures was unveiled in Gladstone Park, located in the suburb of Dollis Hill, northwest London. The sculptures collectively comprise a memorial to ‘prisoners of war and victims of concentration camps 1914-1945’. The memorial reflects Kormis’s complex biography. Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany in 1897, his promising career as an artist was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. Wounded on the Eastern Front in 1915 he was captured by the Russians, and spent five years in a Siberian POW camp where he modelled portraits, wood carvings and gravestones. In 1920 he escaped and returned to Frankfurt where he resumed his artistic career presenting several exhibitions. In 1931 he was commissioned to construct a Prisoner of War Memorial in the town of Tannenberg. With the rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933, Kormis left with his wife for the Netherlands where he held solo exhibitions in Amsterdam and The Hague before emigrating to London in 1934.
Unlike many contemporary refugees from Germany, he avoided being interned in 1940 and worked in a Midlands pottery. All work that was left in Germany was destroyed by bombing as was much of that in his London studio. His profile as a leading artist was recognised when he was commissioned to make medallions of prominent Anglo-Jews including Leo Baeck and Cecil Roth as well as members of the war cabinet, including Churchill. The numbing pictures taken by the Allies at the liberation of the Concentration Camps caused a resurgence of Kormis' own memories and stories of life in the POW camps and resulted in Prisoner of War and Concentration Camp victim’s memorial.
Often conceptualised within a national frame of reference and through the metaphor of ‘landscapes of memory’, existing approaches to Holocaust memory can obscure the myriad ways in which memory work is transnational, fluid, and mobile. Drawing on recent thinking on memory, mobilities and topologies, this paper argues that Holocaust memory has a history and a geography, a geography understood as imaginative as well as material. It uses Kormis’s life and work to explore imaginary and material connections across time and space between the Holocaust and personal, local, national, and transnational histories and identities. With a focus on the Dollis Hill memorial is argues that a topological approach foregrounds the memorial as a site of creative and disruptive practice through which to inform new strategies for engaging with the ongoing reverberations of difficult histories in the present.
Steven Cooke is an associate professor of cultural heritage and museum studies at the School of Humanities and Social Science, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University. He is a cultural and historical geographer, with research interests in heritage, memory and identity, particularly the spatialities of difficult histories. He has published widely on the cultural heritage of war and genocide, including three highly commended monographs. He was appointed to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2015, where he sits on the Memorials and Museums Working Group. His latest book, Topologies of Holocaust Heritage: Rethinking the Texture of Holocaust Memorialisation, will be published by Routledge in 2024.
All are welcome to attend this free hybrid event, which will be held online and in G12, starting at 4pm GMT. You will need to register in advance by clicking Book Now at the top of the page.
Co-organised by the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory and the Research Centre for German & Austrian Exile Studies