ABOUT THE MONUMENT 50 YEARS AFTER ITS UNVEILING
The role of monuments in shaping memory, and the ways of how commemoration has changed over the years, as well as what is the artist's task – these and other problems were discussed by the participants of the debate "Sculpture that changed the landscape of Lublin – 50 years of the Majdanek monument". The debate took place on September 19 at the Academic Culture Center "Chatka Żaka" in Lublin.
50 years after the unveiling of the Monument to Struggle and Martyrdom, the State Museum at Majdanek organized a discussion panel with the architects dealing with designing various forms of commemoration. Among the debaters was also the architect Piotr Tołkin, grandson of Wiktor Tołkin, the author of the monument at Majdanek. The audience could listen to his memories of his grandfather and learn many interesting and important stories from his life. Piotr Tołkin also presented the full symbolism of the monument according to the author and presented the original visualizations sent to the architectural competition organized in 1967 to commemorate the victims of the German concentration camp at Majdanek. He also mentioned how impressed he was with the monument. He saw it for the first time on the day of the debate. Then, spoke Andrzej Sołyga, co-author of the monument at the Museum and Memorial Site in Bełżec, celebrating its 15th anniversary. The author presented the concept that guided him while designing the monument and depicted some of the historical materials he used at work in detail. The design of the newly emerging Museum and Memorial Site in Sobibór was presented by co-author of his architectural concept, Piotr Michalewicz. In the presentation he mentioned the problems he had to deal with during conceptual work. He also discussed the idea that the place should be dedicated to the victims, and all forms of commemoration should only subtly emphasize the tragedy of the murdered.
After that, the panellists began a discussion led by prof. Dobrosław Bagiński, academic lecturer and an artist dealing with sculpture, painting and sacred art. From the very beginning of the meeting the audience actively joined the discussion, asking many questions to the panellists. The subject of the artist's right of expression while designing memorial sites was raised. In this context, Piotr Michalewicz recalled the work on the project of the museum in Sobibór, "Our doubts and the way how we shaped our project come from the fact that from the very beginning we asked ourselves whether we are really able to imagine the feelings of the victims and how ethical it is." Piotr Tołkin noticed: "Similarly to my grandfather, the survivors of the wartime reality saw it all. We, who did not see it, did not experience it, present those memorial places in a totally different way." Andrzej Sołyga shared the reflection that the artist should reduce his interference to a minimum: "In my opinion, beyond objective truth, beyond the general ordering of this knowledge, which was important, in principle the artist probably has no right to impose their own image of the tragedy, use their own sensitivity or their own emotionality. He or she should respect individual recipients."
Later, the issue of the possibility and sense of building monuments in places completely unrelated to the subject of commemoration, such as the centres of large cities, was also raised. An important matter was a reflection on contemporary monumental works in memorial sites, many of which do not fulfill the symbolic and aesthetic role. The issue of monuments at Majdanek, Bełżec and Sobibór also returned. It was noted that the design of the Museum and Memorial Site in Sobibór is in fact a concept of the overall development of the memorial space, while the commemorations in Bełżec and Majdanek have a monumental form, so it is difficult to compare those places. The summary of the discussion was a quotation from a poem "Requiem" by Franciszek Fenikowski, read by Piotr Tołkin. By reading it, he recalled his grandfather often using the poem in monumental projects. A fragment of it is also carved on the mausoleum frieze at the State Museum at Majdanek: "May our fate be a warning to you – not a legend. Should people grow silent, the very stones will scream."