Whose memories and histories should European heritage sites such as Bergen-Belsen, Falstad or Westerbork represent?
Focusing on the prisoners and victims of war, European memorial centres have shared a widespread reluctance to integrate perpetrator histories in their narratives. Through different creative activities, using visual and audio media, the project “Houses of Darkness – Images of a Contested European Memory (HICE) explores how to deal with contested traces of history.
“Houses of darkness” is a small-scale cooperation project in which three WW2 memorial centres, together with a non-profit media organisation, invite a young audience to participate in exploring perpetrator spaces and the question of how to incorporate a legacy of brutality and ignorance in the larger narrative of European cultural heritage. The project is the result of a joint initiative by the former Nazi camps and now memorial centres Falstadsenteret (Norway), Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork (Netherlands) and Gedenkstätte Bergen-Belsen (Germany). The project runs from December 2020 to December 2023, and is co-funded by Creative Europe.
Over the past few years, Falstadsenteret, Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork and Gedenkstätte Bergen-Belsen have all met with challenges in trying to incorporate ‘perpetrator spaces’ – former camp headquarters and commander houses – in their teaching and curatorial practices. The project is motivated by these challenges. It is also motivated by an accompanying conviction that today, 75 years after WW2 and in a time where growing nationalism and violent extremism threatens European integration, it is crucial not to keep perpetrator history and memory in the dark, risking populist voices claiming their ownership to it.
HICE will develop three interrelated site-specific art works connected to digital context providers, which will function as the hub of audience activities: art workshops, summer schools and digital participation initiatives. All activities aim at engaging a young and diverse audience in dialogues on perpetrator history, as a means to raise awareness of common challenges and reinforce a sense of belonging to a shared European space.