2020 Gedenkort Waldbaulager KZ, Neubrandenburg

Public artwork by Imke Rust (commissioned)

Three of eight female silhouettes at the Waldbaulager Gedenkort

Last year I have been commissioned by the RAA Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to create a public artwork to commemorate the plight of women who have been incarcerated in the Waldbau KZ satellite camp, close to Neubrandenburg.

This secret, underground camp has been established by the Nazi regime in 1943 to support production for the armaments industry. About 2000 female prisoners were stationed here and used as forced labour. The living conditions have been described as inhumane and horrible, and many women have died.

When I researched the history of this place, one small detail grabbed my attention: several combs or pieces of combs were found hidden here.  Ex-prisoners who described the conditions, shared, that they were not allowed to have combs in these camps. Being found with a comb could be punished with death. The women secretly made their own combs out of leftovers from the production materials and these were shared amongst them. Unfortunately the self-made combs were not helpful against the fleas – the big problem in the unhealthy living conditions. One lady was able to smuggle in a fine comb and one had to pay half a ration of bread for the use of this comb.

This story of the combs made me aware that the women, despite all their suffering, still had the will to try and create ways to make their lives a little better. Through my art I wanted to restore some of their dignity and also commemorate their strength. It was also important that visitors could relate to these women as fellow human beings on a very personal level.

Therefore my eight life-sized female figures, which have been installed in small groups at different places in the forest, seem to dissolve on one side into the shape of a broken comb.

The women stand proud and strong, while at the same time they fade into the background and are only clearly visible from a certain angle. Making us aware that history can be forgotten quickly, if we make no effort to remember.

A short documentary video by Steffen Holzkamp (2:17min, German with English subtitles)

Visitors at the first public event – I love how the “historic women” stand silently amongst the guests:

Some more impressions: