[Nuremberg and Bydgoszcz]
I traveled from Nuremberg to Bydgoszcz, to track down a Nazi-confiscated bell that survived the war.
Shortly after the Second World War broke out, the Nazis calculated the amount of resources that would be required to realize their objectives and figured that metal would soon come in short supply. To that end a comprehensive plan was drawn up to acquire additional metal by confiscating church bells from all over Germany and the annexed territories. Bells were forcefully removed, transported, and temporarily stored in a ship-yard (later nicknamed "the bell cemetery") near the city of Hamburg to await their fate. Well-meaning local authorities, in an attempt to preserve the more significant bells, submitted every single one of them to a systematic process of examination and categorization. They produced for each bell an index card - a sort of preemptive "death certificate" - that noted each bell's origin, date of production, weight, pitch, and ornamental features such as inscriptions. Pencil presses and plaster molds of bell inscriptions were made. Based on these features each bell was then given a rating of A, B, C or D, with D being the least significant and were to be immediately melted down for metal. The index cards eventually ended up in the archives of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum.
A great number of C or above bells survived the war. The German bells were, in most cases, returned to their places of origin. Bells from the annexed territories were not so lucky: a court ruling dictated that the abduction of bells from Poland and other places were "just acts of war." By virtue of this ruling all confiscated bells essentially became German national properties. Few people cared at that point - Europe was in ruin, there were more pressing issues to worry about. Annex-territory bells were sent - rather randomly - to German churches that cared to ask for one. A 2004 article in Der Spiegel (http://www.zeit.de/2004/44/OstGlocken) told the story of an episode between a Polish parish and a German church over the ownership of one such Nazi-confiscated bell. After much digging and a few phone calls - with the help of a German friend Matthias his Polish-speaking friend Joanna - we discovered that the bell had been returned in 2005 to its rightful owner in the tiny village of Slawianowie, which sits at the outskirt of Bydgoszcz in Poland.
On this trip I first visited the bell archive at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. The index cards were beautifully made, and to my surprise the museum also kept a large number of fragments of bells. Apparently the bell cemetery was bombed by the allies and some important bells were destroyed. Dr. Mathias Nuding, director of the archive, told me that I was literally the first person to look at these fragments since their transfer into the museum. I carefully photographed, measured and recorded the ring of each of these fragments. In Nuremberg I also recorded the clock bell of Frauenkirche, from the market where Hilter was seen addressing his troops in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. I also made several field recordings at the Zeppelinfeld at the Nazi rally grounds.
I then went to Poland to see the abducted bell in Jakuba Apostola in Slawianowie. The head priest was kind enough to let me ring the bell. The next day the guide took me to the district of Fordon near the infamous Death Valley. We visited an abandoned synagogue there, where I made some recordings, and I interviewed a local resident who is fundraising to revive the synagogue, and he told me this remarkable story: at one time, a sizable Jewish population resided in the district. A Swedes King established Fordon as a "model community" where Jews, Catholics and Protestants would live in close proximity in harmony. This aspiration is still evident in the city's plan today. The majority of the Jews however fled before the war. Exactly 28 of them stayed. They worked together to maintain the synagogue until each one of them were sent to the concentration camps. Out of the 28 Jews, one survived the war. This lone survivor came back to the district in the 50s in hope of rejoining her community, only to discover that none of her friends and neighbors survived - an entire community had been wiped out. Many believed that she then left the country, and never came back. Others however believed that she took on a new non-Jewish identity, and continued to live in the district to this day.
Artist website - www.thismusicisfalse.com
Project website - www.bmw-art-journey.com
BMW Facebook page - www.facebook.com/bmw
- Field recordings