Remembrance and Admonition

Tiefensondierungen zur Lokalisierung des Mosaiks in der Aula.
Probe holes to locate the mosaic in the Aula. (Image: P. Tartarotti/Bauforschung Tirol)

Probe holes draw our attention to the face of the Aula. It is this that appears to have always provided a projection space for the ideas, images and aspirations of members of the university. On the occasion of the 350-year jubilee of the Leopold-Franzens-University we have created vestiges and traces of various pasts, which emerged in the autumn of 2018 as something heard of, spoken about or documented, but in particular as image, but shaped as warning memorial.

In summer 1938, shortly after Austria had welcomed the annexation (Anschluss) and had become part of the Nazi German Reich, the then Rector, Harold Steinacker, commissioned the Tyrolean Glasmalerei and Mosaikanstalt with the creation of a mosaic depicting Hitler, to be displayed in the Aula. Hitler's private chancellery had already given its consent. The Innsbruck artist, Hubert Lanzinger provided the design, inspired by the painting "The Standard Bearer" (1934) - widely distributed as a post card - showing Hitler as a knight in shining armour on horseback and bearing a Swastika-emblazoned flag. This motif is reminiscent of a variety of traditions and thus gains symbolic significance. The “presence” of the likeness dominated the main hall, which was last but not least due to the artistic quality of the mosaic.

After the end of the war in 1945 the mosaic was largely removed and initially covered by neutral rendering and an ochre-coloured coat of paint. In 1947 a stucco-framed plaque with the letters spelling "in veritate libertas"  (in truth lies liberty) - the motto of the Catholic students union “Austria“ - was put in the very place.

Apart from documents in the university archives and traces of evidence there was apparently for some length of time no photographic record of the mosaic to be found. Also, its demolition at the time had not been verifiably documented. In 2017 a depth probe commissioned by the university uncovered remains of the mosaic and traces of its removal.

In view of the many facets and the ambivalence and of the measures taken - the overzealous compliance of the individuals in office in 1938 and the eager dissociation in 1945 and in particular the suppression of personal responsibility and guilt - the university has decided to leave these probes into the past exposed.

However, the questions raised with the findings have not been answered. As difficult as it might in retrospect be to comprehend ideological blindness and willing complicity, or mere professorial cowardice, as important is the disquieting effect of the memorial. The “banality of the visible” - a white wall, a cartouche, an inscription and drill holes - must not be used as an excuse for exonerative or exculpatory discourse. (English translation by Philip Herdina).

Sybille Moser-Ernst/Dirk Rupnow
Commissioned by the Rector's office Tilmann Märk

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