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Concentration camp memorial artist is used to having his work vandalized

BERLIN, August 3 (JTA) — When he got the news that his Holocaust memorial sculpture had been damaged last week in Weimar, British artist Stuart Wolfe wasn’t surprised. Since his installation first appeared in Berlin four years ago, its components — 16 tall human figures of wood and plaster on iron skeletons — have been “thrown over, smashed” and had “their arms knocked off” many times, says the 43-year-old artist. His work has appeared at or near the sites of several concentration camp memorials in Germany, including Sachsenhausen, Ravensbruck and now in Weimar, a few miles from Buchenwald. The heart of each figure is pierced with an iron stake that bears the triangles used by the Nazis to identify each persecuted group — including Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and political prisoners. Sometimes visitors place flowers in the hands of the statues. “The positive feelings are much more abundant,” he says. But “the headlines are always concerning the vandalism.” Most incidents have not been linked definitively to right-wingers, he says. But in one case, when the figures were installed at the concentration camp memorial in Sachsenhausen, “a 19-year-old right-wing Nazi was caught and convicted.” The vandal owes Wolf $20 a month for the next 30 years to cover the costs of repair.
That is what Wolfe does each time his work is damaged. He picks up the pieces and starts again. In the latest incident, which occurred on the evening of July 24, he got a call from the priest at the Jakob’s Church in Weimar where the sculptures are installed. One statue had been knocked down. “I said leave it,” recalls Wolfe, sitting in his airy Berlin studio, surrounded by 7-foot-tall, gray figures. “I thought that was it. Then on the night before I went to collect them, the 28th, six others were thrown over.” A motive for the vandalism has not been established, but there is a reward of about $2,300 for information leading to an arrest. Wolfe now has to repair the figures for the next installation — at the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He sees the destruction as a part of the artistic expression. After all, the figures represent destroyed humans. So the vandals are “reinforcing the point I am trying to make,” he says. Wolfe, who is not Jewish, came to the theme of the Holocaust because he has often felt like a “stranger in another country.” “Some people are still segregated as they were during the Nazi time. I identify with any kind of discrimination.” A self-described atheist, Wolfe wanted his work to represent all victims of Nazi discrimination — something he wishes the planned Holocaust memorial in Berlin would do. He also wants to respond to the fact that there is so much hatred and discrimination today. Meanwhile, Wolfe hopes the young vandal from the Sachsenhausen incident won’t forget why he is shelling out $20 every month. “I’ve never talked to him and he has never talked to me,” Wolfe says. “He owes me for the next 30 years.”