OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Jörn Grünewald: The former KGB-Prison Potsdam-Neuer Garten and the exhibition "From Potsdam to Workuta"

In the summer of 1945 the Soviet army seized a mansion built in 1916 in Potsdam´s Leistikow street, belonging to the protestant church. From 1947 the building served the Soviet secret service as a prison for people awaiting trial. Like the entire neighbourhood, also seized by the Soviet army, the building in Leistikow street was returned to civilian use after the departure of Soviets troops from reunited Germany in 1994. Its owner, the Evangelisch-Kirchliche-Hilfsverein, approached the Berlin-based Memorial-group (now Memorial Deutschland e.V.) to find out what Russian dissidents and persons interested in the Stalinist past thought would be a suitable use of the site. Together with the research center of Memorial St. Petersburg, the Berlin Memorial group by 1997 had organized a preliminary exhibition about the history of this building, about what happened within its walls and about the fate of its inmates after their trials. By May 2000 this exhibition ("From Potsdam to Workuta") had been turned into a permanent exhibition at the same site in Leistikow street.
The extraordinary value of this particular building is highlighted by its status as the only remaining Soviet trial-prison, virtually unchanged since the period of late Stalinism in Germany. Because the building was run by the Soviet Army until the 1990s and did not pass into the hands of East German authorities, it has retained to this day the more or less authentic impression of a Stalinist trial-prison. As the prison was run by the Soviet secret service, it is still impossible to gain access to the related archival documentation – the Russian FSB is not interested in opening its files for scrutiny of its predecessor organization. Therefore, almost all historical evidence – apart from the building itself – is based on documents made available by its former inmates or on interviews with former detainees who could be contacted in the course of the past several years. So far, we have gathered basic biographical information about 60 individuals who were detained in the building in the late 40s or the early 50s. With many of them, we were able to conduct lengthy interviews. These interviews were documented and placed in the archive of Memorial Deutschland. A first round of interviews was used for a scientific volume about the prison, the fate of its inmates and the penal system of the Soviet secret service in Eastern Germany, published in 1999.
The prolonged – and voluntary – commitment of the individuals involved has succeeded in establishing the building as a known memorial site of Potsdam. Unlike only a few years ago, it is no longer conceivable to simply tear down the whole complex because of the financial burden it poses for its owner organization or even out of aesthetic considerations. (The building is located in the middle of a rich neighbourhood and open to the view of visitors on their way to Cecilienhof Castle and other tourist sites. The Potsdam representative for the protection of historical monuments allegedly said that the city's task would be "to look nice" – something which certainly cannot be said about the building at No. 1, Leistikow street). Already, the building is being considered for inclusion in the framework of memorial sites on a federal level. As this would involve a considerable amount of funding, there are also plans to shelter the building with an over-arching glass-roof construction. Of course, this would on the one hand be a much needed step to prevent the building from falling apart. On the other hand, such a step would certainly spoil the impression of authenticity the building evokes.
Different ways to preserve the architectural structure of the building, the form and content of the permanent exhibition and how all this relates to current discussions about remembering the East German dictatorship will be discussed at the workshop.

Jörn Grünewald earned his doctoral degree at the Center for Comparative History of Europe, Humboldt-Universität, where he wrote his dissertation "Worker´s Culture at the Periphery of the Multi-Ethnic Empire: Baku and Odessa 1920-30". He is currently a free-lancer at Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Berlin and Almaty, cooperating on projects in the field of political dialogue with the Russian Federation and Central Asia. He is also a lecturer at Central Asian Seminar, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin. He main research and publication interests lie in the social and cultural history and cultural anthropology, with the focus on the Soviet periphery during the first two decades of the Soviet regime. Jörn Grünewald is a co-editor (with Reinhard Krumm) of The dynamics of political development in Central Asia after 15 years of transformation – problems and perspectives (upcoming.)

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Date: June 8, Thursday

Time: 2.30-3 pm



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