Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten Mahn‑ und Gedenkstätte Ravensbrück


Pietà im ersten polnischen Gedenkraum 1959, MGR, Foto Nr. 5804



Pietà, 1959
Granite, cement, iron filings, 118 x 90 x 70 cm;

Photo: Pietà in the first Polish memorial room in the camp museum from 1959, Ravensbrück Memorial, photo no. 5804




This sculpture was commissioned for the first Polish memorial room in the former cell building, which opened in 1959. The work was displayed against a cell wall bearing the handwritten names of Polish prisoners who had been shot in the concentration camp. The Pietà sculpture was moved when the memorial room was redesigned in the 1980s, and since 2015 it has been displayed in the former textile factory.

Based on the sculpture’s original location, the hole above the heart of the upright seated figure can be interpreted as a gunshot wound, and both figures can be identified as women. However, the stylistic idiom itself gives no clues as to the gender of the figures. Does the hollowed-out shape of the figures represent the hunger that robbed the women of their female physiognomy? Or does the sculpture explicitly also include male prisoners, who were interned in a separate part of the Ravensbrück concentration camp from April 1941? Can the lack of obvious gender be taken as a symbol of the lack of identity which many prisoners experienced in the camp? 

The distorted proportions of the overstretched necks and elongated arms, the dark, fissured material, the barely defined faces and the self-contained composition are a visualization of pain and sadness. By deliberately echoing the iconography of the lamentation of Christ, the sculpture also references a potential form of devotion. Pociłowska draws an explicit parallel here between the experience of the camp and the passion of Christ, and she picks up on the religious practices of the prisoners who were Christian, which many of the Polish women were. Christian women could identify with both the sorrowful Mary and with Christ who died at the end of his suffering.

There is an inscription on the base of the sculpture: ‘Jeśli echo ich głosów zamilknie zginiemy’ (‘If the echo of their voices falls silent, we will pass away’). The artist addresses the relevance of remembrance and calls upon viewers to participate in it. How does this appeal relate to the artistic rendering of the figures, which Pociłowska has sculpted without mouths? Are the figures voiceless, or have they become so? The function of this sculpture as a monument in the Polish memorial room is obvious here.

This stands in clear contrast to the sculpture Burdened Woman by Will Lammert, which was created for the Memorial at the same time. That sculptural group, which is also referred to as the Pietà of Ravensbrück, is situated on a high pedestal in the memorial area on the lake. Despite the heavy burden that the figure holds in her hands, her forward stride and gaze into the distance convey a sense of heroism and looking to the future. These two works reflect two different approaches to remembrance and commemoration at the end of the 1950s.

Karolin Wiegers, Art History and Visual History student