About the Cover of the Print Edition
AHA Staff, October 2013
A visitor to the Neue Wache in Berlin examines Mother with Her Dead Son, an enlarged reproduction of Pietà (1937–38/39) by Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945).
Kollwitz's Pietà was an intensely personal sculpture, born of meditation on her son Peter's death in the First World War, and her lifelong commitment to pacifism. In her diary, she wrote, "The mother sits and has the dead son lying between her knees. It is no longer pain, but reflection."
Following German reunification, and a push by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a copy of the sculpture, by Harald Haacke, was placed in Berlin's Neue Wache as part of a memorial to "Victims of War and Tyranny." The sculpture sits alone in a room with an oculus above, exposing it to the elements.
The transformation of such a personal statement into a national memorial was difficult. The selection was criticized for a number of reasons and raises a number of questions: Can a pietà represent the Jewish Holocaust victims? Is the sculpture too much about the German dead of the First World War and not enough about the many nationalities who died in the second? Could its individualistic origins, the fact that it was born of one lost life, ever encompass the scale of the Second World War's suffering? Or is such an emotionally charged and personal piece in fact the best way to inspire reflection and empathy?
Photo credit: Confronting the Past…Cautiously by Charles E. Stevens. Used by permission, all rights reserved. Stevens' Flickr Photostream is at bit.ly/17QuFE1.