We are made of many stories, which ones do we choose to tell?
On this day every year in Darmstadt, Germany they ring bells at noon to mark September 11, 1944. That was the day that Britain released a firestorm of incendiary bombs upon the city, killing around 12,000 people and leaving another 60,000-70,000 homeless. Like Dresden, for which this was a trial run, Darmstadt was just a city, not a military target. What feels significant to me about Darmstadt is not simply the coincidence of the date being the same as the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but also that Darmstadt is a city of two stories, if not more.
Darmstadt is known as “the city of science.” It was also a center for the Jugundstil or Art Nouveau movement. The business center of town is filled with new buildings, because of the bombing.
Not only was this a city that was the first to force Jewish shops to close after the Nazi party came into power and sent its three thousand Jewish citizens to their deaths, but also, it was home to some of the most prominent figures of resistance to the Nazi regime.
Wilhelm Leuschner was a wood sculptor and furniture maker moved to Darmstadt to take part in the Jugundstil or Art Nouveau Exhibition, the imprint of which is still seen in the parts of the city that were not bombed. Leuschner later became a politician and was sent to concentration camps in the early 1930s. After he was released, he went on to help build the resistance. His small manufacturing workshop became a hub for union members and resistance against the Nazis.
Journalist Theodor Haubach was another member of the resistance from Darmstadt. He also was detained in a concentration camp in the early 1930s and went on to become a member of the group who attempted to kill Hitler in 1944. Both Leuschner and Haubach were executed by the Nazi party.
Is Darmstadt a city that collaborated with Nazis, or a city that resisted?
The descendants of this town hold both streams within themselves: oppressor and resistor. They also hold all those who may simply have been afraid.
It sometimes still feels like hyperbole to say this out loud, but we live in a similar place, and in similar times. There is collaboration with and resistance to oppression happening all around us. And many of us are afraid.
There is art. There is violence. There is fear. There is avoidance, too.
We live in a time of two stories, maybe more.
Which story will you choose to tell today?
And which story will we live?
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