Researcher and curator Olga Stefan explores the entanglements of memory, remembrance, blood money, guilt, tainted biographies, and anti-semitism. For this particular exploit, she focuses on two separate case studies: the Taring Padi banner at documenta 15 (Kassel, Germany) and the controversial past of the Klocker Museum (Hall, Austria).

In the postmemory age, when survivors of the Holocaust are almost all gone, and their first-hand accounts of the horrors experienced can no longer speak to us directly, we are left with only our own sense of responsibility toward the weight of history. And of course, this sense is very subjective and changes with the passage of time, as we currently see happening in political battles over memory across Europe, from the Baltics and Ukraine, to Western Europe and the United States. For so many the dark past is an uncomfortable truth to live with—“my parent or grandparent, whom I love, was capable of so much evil, what does this say about me?” they might think—so they prefer to ignore, minimise or even erase the past and embrace a comfortable version of history that lessens their burden. One such example is the Julia Stoschek Foundation and Collection that last year came under fire from artists for not being transparent enough with the Nazi past of the founder’s great-grandfather, Max Brose, who had made his fortune from slave labor during the war, and then passed it down generationally to Ms. Stoschek. Sometimes the pain is so profound that some choose to forget in order to be able to move forward, as happened to so many of the actual victims. Others, the culpable, simply lie in order to evade moral justice. 

On the background of two events that took place this year in two different countries that are connected by similar histories but different politics of memory, we take the opportunity to inquire again what our responsibility to our collective past is, how we should engage with it and how we should remember. One of the events I consider is this year’s Documenta in Kassel, Germany, the other the opening of the Klocker Museum in Hall, Austria. 

At Documenta 15, as has been widely covered by the media, a few of the included artworks had contested histories, one including anti-Semitic drawings on a now taken-down banner made 20 years ago by an Indonesian collective, and another being a film made by a member of the terrorist group called the Japanese Red Army. Three members of this group had killed 26 people (8 Israelis, 17 Puerto Rican Christians, and 1 Canadian) at Lod airport in 1972. These inclusions triggered memories of the unacknowledged criminal Nazi past of the hosting institution itself and its decades-long practice of ignoring or altering its history. In documents first revealed last year in an independent exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, 66 years after Documenta was founded, the public was finally shown the extent of the criminality of the co-founder, Werner Haftmann, and how his biography informed the curatorial direction of the first editions. Haftmann had not been a mere soldier or nazi party member, but a member of the elite SA, the paramilitary wing, and personally involved in torturing and executing civilians in Italy, where he had been a wanted war criminal after the war.[1] In keeping with his retained postbellum Nazi values, he didn’t include any Jewish artists in the Documenta editions that he co-curated, and went as far as to claim in the catalogue’s exhibition texts that there had been no Jewish modernist artists in Germany despite Documenta’s pretense in those years, repeated by many art historians since and now, to oppose the legacy of Nazism by rehabilitating modernism from its characterisation as ‘degenerate art.’ Haftmann did include, however, about fifteen artists with Nazi pasts, among them the darling of the art-world, Joseph Beuys, who also rewrote his own inconvenient past, hiding the fact that he had been a former member of the Hitler Youth, volunteer in the Luftwaffe involved in bombing Crimea and other areas, and life-long friends with other former Nazis who had enriched themselves during the war from slave labor. The institution of Documenta has never addressed this history itself but obscured it, nor did any of the invited artists ever propose a project dealing with it as institutional critique although the model existed in other situations, including in the aforementioned Julia Stoschek Foundation and Collection. Instead of finally also looking inward in the aftermath of these shocking revelations, one can’t but think how convenient it must have been for Documenta’s administration, who in 2019 had invited an Indonesian collective ruangrupa to curate the 2022 edition, that the show’s gaze fell almost exclusively on issues affecting ‘others,’ the Global South, but anachronistically disconnected from the storms of Europe, where an ongoing war is wreaking havoc on the entire planet, and overwhelmingly on the Global South in question. However, none of this interconnectedness is thoroughly investigated as if the war and its global implications do not exist. 

People’s Justice by Taring Padi veiled at the documenta 15 in Kassel, Germany (June 20, 2022). (AFP)

Attention is placed elsewhere: in a now-cancelled series of discussions, “We need to Talk!”, one panel would have focused on how criticism in Germany toward Israel is viewed differently than in the Global South due to Germany’s “historical responsibility for the genocide of European Jews,” not mentioning the history of Documenta itself in that or in any other panel, thus avoiding any serious institutional introspection. Another similar panel would have “examined the oft-repeated accusation that postcolonial perspectives don’t recognise the distinctiveness of the Shoah and antisemitism,” the critical language in the description omitting the fact that Judaism is not even legal in Indonesia, the country of origin of both collectives: the curatorial, ruangrupa, and the artistic creator of the banner with the few anti-Semitic drawings, Taring Padi. While the explanation on Documenta’s website of the film made by the Japanese artist claims “anti-imperialist Japanese Palestinian solidarity,” it does not mention the criminal act that his group took part in, the group originating from a country that only 30 years before was at the centre of its own Holocaust in the East,[2] thus making it yet another example of historical distortion. Despite overt political ambitions, none of the discussions were slated to cover the war in Ukraine and its global consequences—the premise of “world-wide solidarity” was in fact limited geographically although the problems are universal. In the context of this article I do not consider the aesthetics and qualities of the actual works and projects exhibited, which under different circumstances would have not been asterisked but entirely embraced for the stated curatorial intention of showcasing marginalised histories and liberation struggles, however the unsupervised process of inclusion and political practices have opened the gates for these gross errors and blind spots to occur, and our collective responsibility is to draw attention to, and rectify, them.[3]

Detail from People’s Justice by Taring Padi at the documenta 15 in Kassel, Germany. Bild: Uwe Zucchi/dpa

The recent March opening of the Klocker Museum in Hall, Austria, a country that has undergone several changes in its politics of memory and is still trying to come to terms with its Nazi past, reflects in certain regards the events at Documenta while maintaining its specificity. Unlike Germany that was unequivocally condemned by the Allies as unquestionably a perpetrator, Austria was, in the immediate aftermath of the war, nicknamed by the winners “the first victim of Hitlerism” although more than 75% of its population had been pro-Nazi, a large part joined the NSDAP party voluntarily before the Anschluss, and had enthusiastically embraced Germany’s annexation. The Nazi party was most popular in Innsbruck and the rest of Tyrol where the museum is located. Under this popular opferthese, Austria managed to reintegrate the majority of the former Austrian Nazis into society very quickly after the war, as early as 1949. The mass majority of these managed to effectively hide their stained, or even criminal, pasts and many carried on undisturbed in the post-war period, enriching themselves without societal scrutiny. Only in the 1990s was the opferthese replaced by an official recognition of guilt, but its shadow lingers on even now in Austria’s collective politics of remembering.

The Klocker Museum emerges from the former Wolfgang and Hans Klocker Stiftung that operated out of the Klocker Villa for many years, where the eponymous family art collection was exhibited and stored. As has recently been revealed in a documentary by Teresa Andreae commissioned by the Klocker Foundation itself in preparation for the grand opening of the museum, Hans Klocker had been a member of the NSDAP starting in 1933 long before the Anschluss. In archival documents seen by Dr. Wolfgang Meixner, historian and rector at University of Innsbruck who was also commissioned by the foundation to research Klocker’s past, it is disclosed that Klocker joined the elite SA like Haftmann, and like Beuys, volunteered for the Luftwaffe[4] even becoming a Sturmfuhrer, and during those Nazi years he was a judge rumoured to have given particularly harsh sentences—a ‘blood judge.’ This previously unaddressed Nazi past of the foundation’s namesake was one of the reasons that the Ferdinandeum rejected the donation offer of the collection from Emma Klocker, Hans’ wife and Wolfgang’s mother, who founded the foundation after their deaths. Hans Klocker, as a result of the short-lived post-war denazification campaign, was arrested for less than one month and was no longer allowed to practice law, but very quickly made a fortune creating VOWA, a car dealership between Innsbruck and Hall. Wolfgang, his son, developed a passion for art and used his father’s capital and the VOWA space to support contemporary artists, collecting and exhibiting. It is how the collection that Emma continued through the foundation began.

I wanted to find out more about the entanglement between the dark past, money, and art, how memory culture has changed over time, but also the role of artists and cultural workers in this mix—how they either contribute to obfuscation, pull back the curtains, or primarily function as instruments in institutional legitimisation. I interviewed several stakeholders in the Klocker Museum launch, but also historians and artists, to better understand their view and positions.

Lena Ganahl, the director of the Klocker Museum, stressed, when I inquired whether any of the artists that have interacted either with Wolfgang or Emma mentioned the Nazi past of the patriarch, that, 

I cannot claim that NEVER has an artist commented on Hans Klocker’s National Socialist past, but I am not aware of anything, nor has anything been mentioned to me in this regard. It was not Hans Klocker, the father, who collected art in this family, but it was Wolfgang, his son, and after his death Emmy Klocker, the mother, who collected systematically. There is much to suggest that Wolfgang Klocker was very eager to set himself clearly apart from his father, also by developing his interests, and that his commitment to art was therefore also an expression of this demarcation and rejection. In the interview with Peter Paul Tschaikner, which you also saw in the film, he emphasises that Wolfgang “wanted to leave the stuffiness behind” and was therefore very open to art and mainly bought from young artist friends. Presumably, Hans Klocker’s past was never an issue because the artists he bought at that time were mainly in contact with his son Wolfgang and later with his mother Emma.

Teresa Andrae, referencing interviews from her documentary, also highlighted that Wolfgang Klocker wanted to distance himself from his father’s past, and says that the Nazi history of influential individuals in society, “has not been talked about in Tyrol for a long time.” 

As for the rumours that Hans Klocker had been a ‘blood judge,’ Dr. Meixner, in the documentary and in an email interview, states:

Rumours are always with us, but as I said, if the files don’t show that, then at some point you actually have to reject a rumour, or you shouldn’t spread it any further. As I said, there are colleagues of Mr. Klocker who also use this dictum ‘blood judge,’ but it has not yet appeared in connection with Mr. Klocker.

It seems very important to both Andrae and Meixner that the term ‘blood judge’ not be used in reference to Klocker without actual document proof, which has yet to be found. It is known however that there was a practice among Austria’s former Nazis of fabricating stories that they joined the party under duress or even disappearing compromising records if the individuals had enough influence. As historian of Nazism in Austria, Sabine Pitscheider, wrote me, “in the meantime many Nazis tried to be pardoned, telling stories, that they were not really nazis, they were forced and so on. The Belasteten (guilty) tried to deny their positions in the party. The referring documents are a big big package of lies.” Like in the case of the Julia Stoschek Foundation and Collection, the Wolfgang and Hans Klocker Foundation’s historical research was commissioned, and as critics of the former example have pointed out, it can’t be considered independent and must be verified by researchers not on the foundation’s payroll. 

But whatever the true nature of Klocker’s actions as a Nazi party member were, the fact that he was free to become wealthy and restore his status is undebatable. And with this wealth the collection was built, and his legacy remains inscribed in the foundation’s name, while a large portrait by Max Weiler of him and Wolfgang side-by-side is prominently displayed in the museum exhibition space, legitimising both men equally as respectable members of society. The three Klockers’ biographies are written on the wall in large letters with no mention of Hans’ Nazi past, while at the opening of the museum, the documentary made by Ms. Andrae played on a monitor beside the text in a significantly shortened version of 9min, skipping over the more compromising revelations. 

Brigitte Kowanz, Vergessen, 2001 Neon, mirror, 60 x 200 x 19 cm, photo: Rudi Steckholzer © studio Brigitte Kowanz

Unlike in the case of the Julia Stoschek Foundation and Collection where artists took a clear position demanding historical transparency leading the foundation to a process, albeit criticised, of internal analysis, responses to this shared past from Tyrolean artists financed by, or part of, the Klocker collection seem to be tepid with no clear stance. Although Ms. Ganahl writes that the museum is proud to have works by female artists, like Brigitte Kowanz’s neon work spelling out the word Vergessen (forgetting) in Hebrew, a powerful confrontation with the practices of erasure, it is interpreted in general terms “as a dialectical reference to the central importance of the culture of memory in Judaism” without correlating it to the until-now unspoken history of the funder himself.[5] Or the email response of Maria Anwander, 2019 recipient of a grant from the foundation, who sold a work to the museum featuring portraits of anti-Nazi resistance figures from Germany, but leaving the Austrian and Klocker legacy untouched: when asked about her awareness of the history of Klocker’s patriarch, she answered, “The subject is so super-delicate and I do not want to be misunderstood,” requesting the right to edit her answers after my article was finished according to my expressed position. Due to basic journalistic standards, I couldn’t accept. Katharina Cibulka, who frames her artistic practice as political, didn’t have time to answer my four questions regarding an artist’s responsibility, whereas Janine Wenger, chosen for this year’s Klocker Stiftung scholarship, told me the following:

…I didn’t know that Hans Klocker had a Nazi past until I had already started the fellowship, but that didn’t make me change my mind in the end to still work on my project. I felt instead that it’s important to say something about it in a subtle way in form of an artwork.

She continues, 

The role of artists is a socio-political one. So that yes, we have a political responsibility. The most important thing is to point things out and speak openly about them. I think it is important to weigh whether one should say something or not, or say something because it is immensely important to address things and not to ‘not say’ them. …The role of institutions in this case is to communicate and openly address those issues. …The role of the artists is to point them out in their work. The Klocker Museum shows socio-political works by different artists, who thus find a platform for an audience that in turn reflects on these issues. One can ask if this is more important rather than not having this platform and not being able to say something at all.

And yet her work in the museum doesn’t touch at all on the past, neither subtly nor otherwise. 

There seems to be a disconnect in most artistic practices between confronting the specific, particularly when it concerns the funder or destabilising realities to their worldview, and referring to general truths, a tamer and less contentious approach. Which takes us back to the question of how we should remember, the institutional responsibility of coming to terms with its own past, and the role of the artist within this context. 

Teresa Andrae considers that “the purchase of works by artists who deal seriously with the subject—such as the complex and high-quality work High Resistance by Maria Anwander—is to be welcomed,” although the work points to Germany, not Austria, which is another example of the gaze directed elsewhere. Yet when asked if the collection possesses any works by Jewish artists, Ms. Ganahl told me that because they mostly collect Tyrolean artists, “I cannot give you any information about the religious confessions of the artists, as we generally do not record this information in our biographies.” Is it still not understood, even now, that being Jewish is not strictly a matter of religious confession but of identity? 

Maria Anwander, High Resistance, 2018, 30 × 20 cm, Anw/C 1

Therefore, while it is indisputable that we do indeed “need to talk,” it is ethically imperative that we start with a critical analysis of those entities “we” ourselves are entangled with and benefit from, like Documenta, Klocker Museum, and so many other institutions the world over funded by “blood money,” founded by culprits or individuals with tainted biographies.[6] It is encouraging that in Germany a new initiative of confronting one’s own past emerged on social media—#meinnazihintergrund. Other similar undertakings are the Oetker Art Collection in Bielefeld, Germany that voluntarily hired researchers to identify looted art in its collection and return it, Silvia Foti’s book about her Lithuanian war criminal grandfather, Jonas Noreika, and German-Nigerian writer Jennifer Teege’s publication of her family history, having unknowingly been the granddaughter of the “Butcher of Plaszow.” These examples are models for how to address topics that have been suppressed for too long. As artists and cultural workers, we need to acknowledge our role in legitimising otherwise contested institutions if we choose silence. It is incumbent upon us to address the histories of our forefathers especially if we benefited from them while others were made to suffer, not only to look conveniently elsewhere, thus contributing to the continuation of collective forgetting locally, and the rewriting of history.[7]


[1]  “He is very committed there, is awarded several times, and we can also prove that he was involved in torturing partisans and shooting civilians,” says Voss. Haftmann was a member of the SA. He joined the SA as early as 1933, says Voss. In 1937, he then became a member of the NSDAP. https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/werner-haftmann-der-sa-mann-der-die-documenta-miterfand-100.html

[2]  “For documenta fifteen, Subversive Film has curated a cinematic program around the screening of a recently restored film, shedding light on the overlooked and still undocumented anti-imperialist solidarity between Japan and Palestine. After meeting in Tokyo with Masao Adachi, acclaimed director of different experimental agit-prop films and former member of the Japanese Red Army, Subversive Film was entrusted with a collection of 16mm films and U-matic tapes, dozens of posters, and a full library safe-guarded by a Japanese solidarity group in Tokyo. The material, considered either lost or unknown to the public, was sent to Japan in several waves from 1967 to 1982… In Kassel, the solidarity relations between Tokyo, Palestine, and the world unfold in a nomadic film program around different disassembled fragments of the restored film, interlaced with a live symposium. With this open invitation to facilitate assembly through forms of assemblage, re-assemblage and montage of a restored film, Subversive Film proposes to collectively reflect on possible processes of unearthing, restoring, and momentary disclosure of the imperfect archives of transnational militant cinema. By bringing back into circulation these moving images, they carefully reactivate present-day solidarity constellations, reflecting the lively utopia of a worldwide liberation movement.” https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/subversive-film/

[3]  While there are calls for the Documenta curatorial team, ruangrupa, to step down and for the institution’s budget to be cut as a form of punishment, I do not endorse these. I do, however, think it is time for Documenta to finally engage in “housecleaning”. 

[4]  “Dr. Klocker was registered under the Prohibition Act of 1945 (Verbotsgesetz) and listed as an incriminated person belastet in the meaning of §17 (2) Verbotsgesetz 1947, because of his membership in the NSDAP since 1933 and the NSFK as a Sturmführer. The criminal proceedings were discontinued in 1949/50 by the Federal President (Bundespräsident).” From an email exchange with Dr. Wolfgang Meixner.

[5] The artist herself passed away in January 2022 and her work is interpreted by Lena Ganahl.

[6]  This is in the context of radical rethinking of monuments and museums particularly in the United States, where this trend has been most influential. 

[7]  In the meantime, a last-minute discussion resulting from the scandal was organised at Documenta on June 24 addressing “antisemitism in art.” 

Olga Stefan was a fellow at Kunstlerhaus Buchsenhausen for the year 2021-2022. She is a researcher and curator, founder of The Future of Memory, transnational platform for Holocaust remembrance through art and media, and currently a PhD student in Sociology at the University A.I Cuza, Iasi. Olga Stefan is the editor and author of the books The Future of Memory and Salva-Viseu 1948: Then and Now. www.thefutureofmemory.ro

Cover Image: People’s Justice by Taring Padi in the process of being covered during the documenta 15 in Kassel, Germany (June 20, 2022). (AFP)