"Never Forget": New Memorial by Arik Brauer for Victims of the Nazi Regime Unveiled at Vienna Airport

More+More+ ♦ Published: October 12, 2021; 13:00 ♦ (Vindobona)

High-ranking representatives from politics and business emphasized the importance of honoring the memory of the countless victims of the Nazi regime among the concentration camp prisoners and forced laborers at Concentration Camp Wien-Schwechat-Heidfeld (the site of today's Vienna Airport) who were forced to build aircraft there.

The late Arik Brauer in 2009. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Manfred Werner - Tsui [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

The memorial was designed by Arik Brauer, as his last great work.

Long before the founding of Vienna International Airport, the Schwechat Heidfeld was the site of cruel crimes against humanity: from 1943 to 1945, two subcamps of the Mauthausen concentration camp were located on the site of today's airport.

Thousands of people had to perform forced labor under inhumane conditions, and many died in the process. 

In order to come to terms with this terrible time and as a clearly visible reminder to future generations, the well-known artist Arik Brauer erected a memorial in front of Terminal 3 during his lifetime.

In an act of remembrance, numerous guests from politics, business, culture and history, including National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka, Lower Austria's Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Vienna's Mayor Michael Ludwig, IKG President Oskar Deutsch and Flughafen Wien Management Board members Julian Jäger and Günther Ofner remembered the victims and the artist Arik Brauer, who died in January 2021. Vindobona reported.

Daughter Timna Brauer and granddaughter Jasmin Brauer dedicated a musical contribution to him after personal words. "In a democracy, tolerance, freedom of expression and respect for the fundamental rights of the individual are immovable cornerstones. This is what the artist and humanist Arik Brauer stood up for throughout his life. With this memorial at Vienna Airport, he continues to remind us of this - and not only us, but also all the people who arrive or depart here. And that is important, because the dangers of nationalism and dictatorship are omnipresent all over the world," describes Mag. Wolfgang Sobotka, President of the Austrian National Council.

"Every human life counts and the commemoration of the crimes against humanity committed under National Socialism reminds us for the future. I am glad that we no longer commemorate alone, but that we live together, as a society, in the awareness that what happened can happen again. In this remembering we create the basis for future generations in a diverse Austria. Arik Brauer was an admonisher and a citizen of the world who influenced young people in particular. His work continues to have an effect here: a place where people from everywhere come together - in a diverse and open Austria," says Oskar Deutsch, President of the Jewish Community.

"Arik Brauer was an exceptional artist and important contemporary witness who, despite his experiences during the Nazi era, always believed in humanity. With this memorial, he and Vienna Airport remind us that the time of National Socialism must never be repeated," notes Mag. Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Governor of Lower Austria.

"Arik Brauer's father was murdered in a concentration camp. He himself survived the Nazi tyranny as a "submarine" in an allotment garden hut. After the end of the Nazi reign of terror, Arik Brauer always appeared as a militant-eloquent anti-fascist, who warned until the end against the ever new dangers of racism and anti-Semitism. He never "buried his head in the sand!" With this memorial - "Never forget!" - we are making it clear at Vienna Airport that we will not repress the past and its victims and that we will not forget. And that we will pay very close attention to ensuring that the atrocities of the Nazi dictatorship - such as those that took place here for years in a former concentration camp - are never repeated again," clarifies Dr. Michael Ludwig, Governor of Vienna and Mayor of the City of Vienna.

"Coming to terms with the history of this site and raising awareness for the general public is our clear goal with this memorial. We are pleased that we were able to win Arik Brauer for this task and very much regret that he will no longer be able to experience the public presentation himself. With this memorial we want to honor the victims of the Nazi era, but also him as a contemporary witness. It is intended as a reminder, but above all as a warning to future generations not to take democracy and freedom for granted," stated the Management Board members of Flughafen Wien AG, Julian Jäger and Günther Ofner.

Two subcamps of the Mauthausen concentration camp at today's airport site

The airport historian Rainer Stepan and the Mauthausen Committee have been working on the site's past: After the annexation of Austria to the German Reich in May 1938, the Schwechat-Heidfeld air base was established on what is now the airport site. Two years later, an SS barracks was built on the site, and from 1943, the Heinkel aircraft factory was relocated here from Rostock. Subsequently, two concentration camps were built on the airport site as outposts of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Between 1943 and 1945, 2,656 concentration camp prisoners, 3,170 foreign forced laborers, 900 prisoners of war and 5,500 domestic workers toiled 12.5 hours a day, seven days a week at the site, most of them receiving only one meal. Conditions were inhumane, and survival rates were very low. With the advance of the Soviet army from March 1945, the surviving concentration camp prisoners had to start the "death march" to Mauthausen on foot.

Visible sign of remembrance and reminder for future generations

A memorial stone on the airport apron has commemorated the victims of this terrible time for many years. However, in order to set a more visible sign here and to bring the public closer to this past, Flughafen Wien AG decided in 2019 to erect a new, larger, memorial at a central location on the airport site. The sculpture was designed by Arik Brauer, who as a contemporary witness and victim of the Nazi regime has always acted as an admonishing conscience, drawing attention to the dangers of this ideology, which are still present today, while always focusing on dialogue and humanity in his work.

Contemporary witness, conscience and admonisher: Arik Brauer

Arik Brauer was born in Vienna in 1929 as the child of Jewish emigrants. His childhood, marked by National Socialism, Arik Brauer survived in hiding. His father was murdered by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp. From 1946 to 1951 Brauer received a classical, artistic education at the Academy in Vienna by the renowned painter Paris von Gütersloh. Arik Brauer became internationally known within this group of artists. As a counter-position to the dominant abstract painting, the group in the fifties took up the earlier classical Surrealism. Influenced by the pictorial worlds of Pieter Breughel and Hieronymus Bosch, Brauer created a pictorial cosmos that unfolded between Old Master technique and fantastic realism. The first major retrospective of Brauer's work took place in 1979, followed by highly acclaimed exhibitions around the world. Arik Brauer achieved international fame as an Austrian painter, graphic artist, stage designer, singer and poet, and is considered a co-founder of Fantastic Realism. The universal artist passed away in 2021 at the age of 92 in the presence of his family. He was able to complete the memorial at Vienna Airport himself as his last major work.

Original propeller of the Heinkel aircraft type

The sculpture can be seen in front of the entrance to Terminal 3 on the departure ramp. In its design, the work is reminiscent of the victims forced into forced labor in the aircraft factories: a concentration camp prisoner carries a bent aircraft propeller on his shoulders. The damaged shape of the propeller symbolizes the tragedy of the event and is meant to remind us of the millions of lives that were driven to certain death by the Nazis. The posture of the arms in combination with the propeller is reminiscent of the Christian depiction of Jesus carrying his cross. The memorial stands framed between two brick portals modeled after those at the entrance to the Mauthausen concentration camp. The monument, which weighs around 220 kilograms and has an inner steel frame, was cast using the classic lost-wax bronze casting process. The propeller is a damaged original part of the Heinkel type fighter-bomber that crashed into the Baltic Sea in 1945. The bronze casting is the responsibility of the art founders Peter Wiener and Slavko Mikic.

Flughafen Wien