Earlier this year, the Historical Museum in Stockholm housed a haunting exhibition by the artist Hanna Sjöberg. She called it A Clean Sweep Will Be Made (a wartime phrase of Churchill's about the fate of Germany). Sjöberg had been to the place which was once the old Prussian fortress-city of Küstrin, on the Oder. It lay on the east bank, and since 1945 has been marked on maps as the Polish city of Kostrzyn. But at the time she visited it, a few years ago, the old heart of the town was still uninhabited: a wasteland of rubble and overgrown shell craters. The fighting over Küstrin between February and April 1945 had been so savage - as one of Hitler's 'fortress-cities', it stood directly in the path of the final Soviet offensive towards Berlin - that not even the diligent Poles had rebuilt it. Sjöberg made her installation out of surface scatter she picked up, as if she had been wandering across the site of a Greek colony on the Black Sea: fragments of coffee cups, corroded spoons, an inscription which must once have hung outside a tourism office. Her exhibition spoke of people who must have been 'just like us', and yet insisted on the black gulf of time and change which makes the past untouchable.
LRB 28 November 2002 | PDF Download