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A "cousin" of Michelle Pfeiffer’s "flew over the Nazi's nest"

10 February 2011 / 16:02:22  GRReporter
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QUESTION: Your art installation at the Benaki Museum titled The Death Book Talks appeared along with the exhibit of the Prinzhorn Collection “Reason of Death: Euthanasia” on the day of the symposium on Art and Madness co-organised by the museum, the Greek Psychiatrists’ Society, Aion Cultural Association and Goethe Institut. It refers to the medical experiments and murders carried out at the concentration camps during WWII. A copy of a Death Book from Mauthausen, pictures from the trial of Nazi doctors at Nurnberg, under a magnifier one could
see a title from an English newspaper of the time reading: “German psychiatry  - mass murders of Jews, Gypsies, and Homosexuals”, what else can one witness turning the pages of this frightful book? What was the artistic concept lying behind the artwork of the installation?

PFEIFFER: The book with the magnifying glass is actually “THE HISTORY OF GERMANY” and the quotation is from “The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich”, a 1960 non-fiction book by William L. Shirer chronicling the general history of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. On the two pages the visitor can see are quotations in Greek, German and English about the Action T4 and human medical experiments. Through the Reich Chancellery and the Ministry of the Interior, Hitler officially extends killing to adult mental patients, choosing prominent psychiatrists to run the program called T4. "T4" is the code name for the project located at 4 Tiergartenstrasse in Berlin. If one would turn the pages one may read more about the perpetrators and their victims. The pages one can see are included by me.

The idea of my installation at the Benaki Museum, Pireos 138 in Athens, was based on the fact that never when the “Prinzhorn collection” was exhibited anything was shown about the perpetrators i.e. German psychiatrists. Neither at the University of Heidelberg in 2002, nor in the following exhibitions when the “Prinzhorn collection” toured. I was personally invited to participate by Prof. Nikos Tzavaras, president of the Hellenic Psychiatric Association. The fact that all extermination camps and psychiatric institutions of the Third Reich kept a “Totenbuch i.e. Deathbook” gave me the idea about “The Deathbook Talks”. The crimes of German Psychiatry are unique and unprecedented in the history of mankind. The mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals was prepared and preceded by the medicalized mass murder of mental patients. In 1939 ‘Action T 4’ the "Ethanasieerlaß" (Euthanasia Decree) was disclosed to the directors of psychiatric institutions inside Germany's prewar boundaries. The directors were ordered to send a registration form for each patient to a specifically created administration in Berlin, in order to ascertain if the patient fulfilled the necessary criteria for death. A group of well-known psychiatrists was appointed as "T 4 Gutachter" (T 4 Experts).

Besides I’m personally involved because my father, a resistance fighter was in the concentration camps Buchenwald and Bürgermoor and later in the punishment battalion 999. However one has to know that in the “Euthanasia program T4” between 1940 and 1945 more than 200.000 patients in psychiatric institutions were killed. Artworks of 19 victims of the organized and “wild” euthanasia are exhibited at the Benaki Museum – I show the perpetrators, because
“If you forget – you kill the victims a second time!” 

QUESTION: Having settled on Naxos in 1965 you belong to the early wave of the post WWII foreigners who discovered and fell in love with a Greece not yet branded as a tourist product. Why did you choose Naxos particularly?

Tags: Klaus PfeifferPrinzhornthe island of NaxosNazisMental patientsVisual arts
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