Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Circumstances Surrounding the Untimely Death of Herr L. O. The problem with memorials of any kind is the ease with which we can be manipulated by clich├ęd symbolism and overwrought expressionism. At best, the results compact traumatic events into cheap and easily digestible sentiment. This is nothing short of one-note propaganda. At worst, the designs compartmentalize history into a series of segregated events. The distancing of time and geography has made it easy to overlook current political discourse and to understand that it often echoes a chilling past. The Circumstances Surrounding the Untimely Death of Herr L. O. found its genesis in a paragraph in an old issue of the New York Review of Books. In concise language, it detailed the fearlessness of one man brave enough to confront a hateful bureaucratic machine. The text reads: “In October 1934, the Wurzburg wine merchant Leopold Obermeyer, a practicing Jew and Swiss citizen, complained to the police that his mail was being opened. He was taken into custody and, when it was discovered that he was a homosexual, subjected to an endless series of interrogations and beatings and incarcerations. Despite his courageous protests and petitions, the Swiss government found it inexpedient to intervene on his behalf. At his trial, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was murdered at Mauthausen in 1943.” Evoking the clinical burearucratic capacity for governments to reduce human beings to catalogued statistics – whether they appear in a database or on the forearm – the letters of the transcribed text are gradually replaced wih numbers following a logical system (A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, etc.). By the end all that appears are solid numbers. With effort the text is translatable, but perhaps the horror of the events is better evoked by the sheer incomprehensibility of the text. The unique challenge when confronting our collective gay history is the we are, somewhat uniquely, faceless individuals. It speaks volumes that the only known portrait of Leopold Obermeyer is his police mug shot. In this regard I owe Andreas Rosen my deepest gratitude both in providing me with a photo of Leopold and translating the text into German, and spearheading the campaign to memorialize the life of our ancestor. BRUCE EVES

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