In Venetian history

In Venice you will find plaques and monuments regarding Second World War, enhancing the role of the partisans and the movements of Resistance against Nazi-fascism, remembering the tragedy of the Shoah and deportation.

In her project for the Biennale of Venice 2022 entitled “Relocating a Structure”, Maria Eichhorn has included some of these spaces which you can explore with dedicated, free of charge tours by booking here (till November 2022):

Maria Eichhorn’s “Relocating a Structure” for the German Pavilion (curator Yilmaz Dziewior) – Visual Arts Exhibition “The Milk of Dreams”, Biennale 2022

Eichhorn’s project starts at the Biennale location of the Giardini, where the German Pavilion was erected in 1909 and was called “Bavarian Pavilion”. During the Nazi time, it was deeply transformed, but the old structure was not torn down. In fact, the old building is still there with its brick walls, concealed underneath the nazi reconstruction. While in 1909 the architecture of the Bavarian Pavilion mirrored human dimension, later, when nazism took over, its architecture boomed and was expanded in height, length and width with the effect of downsizing and dominating the visitors.

Interior of the German Pavilion in the Giardini Biennale, Venice as in Maria Eichhorn’s Relocating a Structure, Biennale 2022

Relocating the Pavilion

Eichhorn would have loved doing something more radical. Her intention was to remove the whole structure and leave that space empty during the Biennale exhibition for the visitors to enjoy the park and the regained liberated space. And bring the pavilion back at the end of the exhibit. Instead of a temporal and physical relocation, she has chosen to turn the architecture “naked”.

Interior of the German Pavilion in the Giardini Biennale, Venice as in Maria Eichhorn’s Relocating a Structure, Biennale 2022

In other words, when you visit the Biennale German Pavilion, you will realize the pavilion is no longer the container of art works, but it is itself the work of art and the result of a relentless action of the artist.

As if Maria Eichhorn’s small fingers and nails had scratched the surface of the walls and the floors, visitors can now see the intimate otherwise concealed nature. Plaster and floor have been removed in some strategic points to show the different phases of the construction and its different political concepts.

Interior of the German Pavilion in the Giardini Biennale, Venice as in Maria Eichhorn’s Relocating a Structure, Biennale 2022

The Bavarian Pavilion versus the Nazi Pavilion

Eichhorn’s intervention is geometrical and rigorous, nothing is left random. When she accompanied me there, she did something that struck me. A dry tree leaf had fallen over the fence placed to prevent people from falling in the uncovered hole showing the foundations. She removed it. Nothing should distract us from this work that also reflects the artists’s resistance against pervasive nazi architecture.

Highlighting the different phases of the construction, Eichhorn shows them all at the same time, as when you uncover layers of history in an archeological cross section. Plaster layers, bricks of different size and color, concrete walls open up spaces as wounds only do.

Foundations of the interior of the German Pavilion in the Giardini Biennale, Venice as in Maria Eichhorn’s Relocating a Structure, Biennale 2022

Places of Remembrance and Resistance

Juxtaposed to this, what other monuments in the city tell the other side of the story? And what do they mirror and which challenges do they pose? As we are talking about a history of violence, what can we see in Venice that tells about the blood behind the uncontaminated white pillars of the German Pavilion?

The Riva dei sette martiri: blood

In the middle of summer 1944, at the beginning of August, a German sentry disappeared by the Empire embankment as it was called at that time, “Riva dell’Impero” in Italian. Nazi officers thought he had been kidnapped or killed. A reprisal was soon arranged and the morning after, right where the German soldier was on sentry duty, seven men taken from prison were shot in front of the Venetian residents of Castello, all forced to watch. Blood had to be washed away after the execution by shooting. I met a lady that told me, one of the Venetians who was forced to clean wanted to refuse. “Do not, as otherwise you will end up being shot, too”, he was told. The day after the sentry was discovered to have drown in the lagoon, simply drown.

The Partisan Woman by Leoncillo and by Murer: ceramic, bronze, concrete (and TNT)

A few meters away from the Biennale Giardini, you can find the spectral, anti-monumental remains of a concrete pedestal. There the Statue of the Partisan Woman by Leonardo Leoncillo was originally placed in 1957 to remember the role of women in the Resistance. The sculpture was in fragile ceramic, in neo-cubist style and represented a partisan woman with her machine gun, heavy boots, gasping for air while running across the woods, ready to fight. Extremely dynamic. The statue was blown away in 1961 by a bomb placed by fascist terrorists, afraid of a statue of a woman in colorful clay. One and a half kilo of TNT.

Basement by Carlo Scarpa for the Partisan Woman by Leonardo Leoncillo (1957), Venice

Detail of Carlo Scarpa’s basement for the Partisan Woman by Leonardo Leoncillo (1957), Venice

Not too far away, along the shore next to where the vaporetto stops, you will find then the statue designed by Augusto Murer in 1969. He was asked to think of another work after the bomb destroyed Leoncillo’s work. Murer’s partisan woman lies on the water, dead, to remind us of the many partisans who after being killed were thrown in the rivers so more people could see what happened to anyone joining the Resistance and daring to fight against the nazi-fascist occupation. Murer’s statue in bronze lies on concrete blocks, which, as the pedestal of Leoncillo’s, were designed by Carlo Scarpa.

Augusto Murer and Carlo Scarpa, The partisan woman, 1969, Venice

Detail of Augusto Murer and Carlo Scarpa, The partisan woman, 1969, Venice

You can read more about this in my post for the Best Venice Guides’s Blog here:

Memorial to the Italian Military Internees and Prisoners of War: limestone and wild plants

In the Garden near the Biennale you will see an obelisk where the figure of Prometheus Bound is carved, dating back to 1951. Imprisoned, Prometheus made the choice of refusing tyranny, even if this meant suffering and death:

Pati e mori / maluimus / quam servire 

Like the over 600,000 Italian soldiers who were taken to concentration camps after the armistice in 1943 rather than supporting Mussolini and his new political project, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI) in Salò. 

Memorial to the Italian Military Internees and Prisoners of War, Venice, 1951

The monument laid covered in bushes, wild grass, completely invisible for years. Finally, IVESER asked the City Council to take care of it and free it in 2015. As historian Giulio Bobbo underlines, the monument has suffered the same difficulties the Italian military internees and prisoners of war suffered when the ones that survived came back to their homes. Often accused of not been active in the Resistance. Someone to forget. 

Detail of the memorial to the Italian Military Internees and Prisoners of War, Venice, 1951

My sister in law’s father was one of these prisoners of war. In his memories, he wrote how he was employed as a forced worker in a German factory, often falling sick, fed on potato peels and beet soup and often sleeping on the ground. During his life, he felt a duty to tell about his experience, relentlessly.

The memorials of the Shoah victims in the ancient Jewish Ghetto: bronze, wood and stone

246 Jews were deported to the concentration camps and only eight came back alive. In the recent years, the artist Gunther Demnig has placed right in the pavement of the Venetian streets nearly 150 Stolpersteine in shining brass to remember where the victims of the Shoah were arrested. In a few words you will read their birth date, the date of the arrest and, when known, the date and place of death. Powerful, evocative and speaking to the young generations as there is no student I have met who does not take a picture of one of them.

Stolpersteine in Campo Ghetto Nuovo, Venice

On the wall next to entrance of the Jewish elderly home, you can find the crumbling plaque reminding us of Giuseppe Jona. Jona was the president of the Jewish community who chose to kill himself on September 17th in 1943 not to give the records of the Jewish community to the Nazi officers. The words carved are almost disappearing.

Plaque about Giuseppe Jona, Campo Ghetto Nuovo, Venice, 1947

Next to this, you cannot miss The Last Train by Arbit Blatas (1989-93) where the plaque in bronze showing the arrival in a concentration camps emotionally lies over an iron grate and wooden planks. Those planks look like that last train. Over them the names of the 246 Jews together with their age when they died.

Arbit Blatas, The last train, Venice, 1989-93

You can read more about this in my post for the Best Venice Guides’ Blog:

In a time when monuments of the past are torn down, decapitated and violated, this project helps us find a way to tell the complexity and different versions of history, without erasing history, beyond ornamental rhetoric. 

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy

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Showing 2 comments
  • Suzan Shutan

    Thank you for your insightful tour and critical analysis of past history remembering those that resisted. As the saying goes We are doomed for history repeat itself if we do not keep it alive!

    • Dear Suzan, thank you for your words! It is indeed important to remember and to constantly document history!