The Homomonument: such an endless desire for remembrance

I visited Amsterdam last week for the International Federation for Public History (IFPH) conference on public and digital histories. The conference was fantastic, and raised lots of issues and questions as to the place of public history in a digital world. Some of the University of Amsterdam MA Public History students blogged on each panel, and picked out the major themes of the conference, which you can read here. Rather than add my thoughts on the conference though, I wanted to write about a particular part of Amsterdam’s public history, the Homomonument.

One of my thesis chapters is on monuments, and the Homomonument had been the only case study I hadn’t seen in person yet. It’s one of many monuments that remember all those who have been persecuted because of their sexuality; there are several in Germany, most notably the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism in Berlin’s Tiergarten, one in Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella, and some further afield in Uruguay, San Francisco and Sydney. These are all monuments to mark a collective remembrance for the persecution that people have faced because of their sexuality in the past and the prejudice the LGBT community still encounters today. There is no such monument in the UK.

Barcelona

Memorial in Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella

IMG_1083

Pink Triangle Park, San Francisco

Planning for the Homomonument began in 1979 with the establishment of the Homomonument Foundation, and the monument was finally unveiled in 1987 (which was the year before Section 28 came into place in the UK). It was designed by Karin Daan, and consists of three triangles that are connected to create one larger triangle.

Triangles are the main focus of the design in several of the ‘homomonuments’ across the world, including the Pink Triangle Park in San Francisco and the Parc de la Ciutadella monument, and are a powerful symbol of historic oppression and persecution. During the Holocaust, men identified as homosexual were forced to wear a pink triangle so they could be easily recognised as such. Later in the century during the gay rights and equality movement, the pink triangle began to be used as a symbol of pride and of power against prejudice. As such, it has been adopted by monuments as well as in activism as a reminder of past injustices, and as a sign that such persecution will not be tolerated today. From Amsterdam to San Francisco, Sydney to Barcelona, the pink triangle is used in such a way regardless of any direct historical link to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Homomonument design from above (WikiCommons)

Homomonument design from above (WikiCommons)

The Homomonument is located in Westermarkt, 5 minutes walk from the Anne Frank House. The three triangles point to three different and deliberate locations. One points to the Anne Frank House, one to the National War Memorial and one to the home of the COC, the oldest remaining LGBT organisation in the world. In turn, each of these triangles symbolise the past, present and future. The triangle that points to the Anne Frank House, representing the past, includes lines from ‘To a Young Fisherman’ by Dutch poet Jacob Israel de Haan. The stone reads ‘Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen’, or ‘Such an endless desire for friendship’. There are no inscriptions on the other triangles, but there is an accompanying plaque with explanation of the monument, written in Dutch, English and French. It explains that the Homomonument:

Commemorates all women and men ever oppressed and persecuted because of their homosexuality.

Supports the international lesbian and gay movement in their struggle against contempt, discrimination and oppression.

Demonstrates that we are not alone.

Calls for permanent vigilance.

homomonThe Homomonument, much like other memorials and monuments across the world, is used as a place of personal reflection. When I visited, there were bunches of flowers placed at the end of the triangle overlooking the canal, all dedicated to ‘Bob’. The leaflet you can pick up from the info point next to the Homomonument highlights that the monument draws gay men and women from around the world to place flowers, reflect, and embrace one another and that it serves as a place to remember those who have died of AIDs: “the monument’s solidarity gives them a sense that they are not alone.”[1] The Homomonument is also used for collective and official remembrance and celebration, during National Remembrance Day (4th May) and Queen’s Day (30th April).

While some monuments are placed on the site of a memory where an event actually took place, the Homomonument creates historic memories and the shared collective narrative of the LGBT community in a new place. These are also places of memory, or as Pierre Nora referred to them, les lieux de memoire, places “where memory crystallizes and secretes itself”. [2] The Homomonument has created a collective memory for the LGBT community, and a place in which to share, reflect on and celebrate both the memories and the future of the LGBT community.

I visited the Homomonument twice, and on the second time saw what looked like a young girl and her mother stop at the monument. The young girl asked what the monument was, and the woman she was with took her to the plaque and stood explaining for quite some time what it was. It also looked like she pointed in the three different directions of the triangles. It was quite moving to see – it looked like they were just passing by, and that moment explained exactly why such monuments are important. They are a place of remembrance and reflection, a space for celebration and a place of education, where the Homomonument can fulfil its aim to ensure that people today and in the future are aware of past atrocities, and actively work towards preventing prejudice in the present and in the future.

[1] Pink Point & Homomonument Foundation, Homomonument in the Centre of Amsterdam (En)

[2] Pierre Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’ in Representations 26, 1989, p. 7

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