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June 24, 2022 2:24 pm

Home of Assassinated Jewish German Politician Remade as Art Installation Upon 100th Anniversary of His Murder

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Walther Rathenau. Photo: German Federal Archive via Wikimedia Commons.

The country home of Germany’s first and only Jewish foreign minister is being reinvented into an art installation to mark 100 years since his assassination by far-right extremists in Berlin.

Oxford University’s Jewish Country Houses Project and UrKultur, an international arts consultancy firm, have commissioned a new artwork in the house, known as Schloss Freienwalde, by British-German painter Sophie von Hellermann. The estate was owned by Walther Rathenau, a former foreign minister of the Weimar Republic.

“Using her characteristic loose and lively brush strokes, von Hellermann is painting both on canvases, as well as directly onto the walls bringing some of the lost spirit back to the Schloss,” said urKultur. “Contemporary photographs give a strong sense of the Schloss interior during Rathenau’s lifetime. Starting from these images, von Hellermann’s work will hint towards both the life once lived there and a possible future.”

The installation will open to the public on Saturday, and a partnering show at the gallery Wentrup in Berlin opens in July.

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Rathenau published a number of writings on the nation state, economy, war and revolution, including  “Of Things to Come” in 1917. On June 24, 1922, only three months after becoming foreign minister, he was assassinated in Berlin on his way to work by far-right extremists, becoming “a martyred icon of German democracy,” urKultur explained. His assassins later committed suicide but the man who helped them escape the scene of the killing, Ernst Techow, was tried in court and convicted.

Rathenau acquired and restored Schloss Freienwalde, a former Prussian royal palace outside of Berlin, in 1909. It is now a museum dedicated to his life.

On Friday, the 100th year anniversary of Rathenau’s murder, the German Embassy in Canada paid tribute to his memory, writing in a Twitter post, “It’s 100 years later but the dangers of right-wing extremism and terror are still vital in Germany and the world. With various projects … we continue our work against right-wing extremism, fascism, racism and antisemitism.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also spoke out in Berlin on Friday about right-wing extremism in remembrance of Rathenau’s murder. He called for the state and society to act against hate and incitement, saying, “our democracy is being challenged and threatened.”

“There is no question: Every democracy needs debate, it needs conflict — but the political dispute ends where violence comes into play, physical violence, but also hate speech and hate crime,” Steinmeier declared. “Violence wants to stifle freedom, violence kills democracy!”

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