Mercedes-Benz led one of the biggest forced labor camp within Germany during WW2 in Ludwigsfelde, only a 25-minute regional train ride away from Berlin. Today, no traces of this history can be read in the town that is today mostly known for its spa and thermal recreational activities. Yet most of the town was built under forced labor. In the former factory, forced civil laborer from Eastern Europe, from Italy and France produced motors for airplane bombers. Since 1942 Mercedes Benz site in Genshagen requested forced labor from the concentration camps from the SS Economic and Administrative Office. In 1944, with Nazi Germany’s defeat starting to shape and a defense industry yet increasing, Mercedes-Benz selected and commanded about 1.100 women from the concentration camp of Ravensbrück from August until October 1944. Since November 1944 the women had to stay in a cellar located directly under the workplace, the so-called “Deutschlandhalle”, they did not see daylight until the war was over in May 1945. This site remains until now un-marked: only a few traces from the former building can be found. During the GDR the cellar was filled up with concrete, an archeological search conducted in 2022 by Thomas Kersting just opened it a little bit on the side, otherwise one stands on an ordinary meadow, with the height and growth of the nature potentially informing us about a time rupture.
Not far from this cellar, in the middle of the woods, right next to the highway, there is a mass grave from that time that was never excavated. Neither the city of Ludwigsfelde nor Mercedes-Benz take responsibility for it, with the car company explicitly closing their archives for research, while relocating a production lot in the 1990s only some meters away from the former Deutschlandhalle. It is assumed that the remains of at least 100 Italians civil forced laborer who died of typhus lie in this mass grave: excavation would be needed to understand who they were and inform the people that never knew what happened to their loved ones.
In the frame of a research for a movie, filmmaker Marlene Pardeller did a lot of field and historical research on the ground already, including photographs. Artist Dominique Hurth has been investigating Nazi female perpetrators for many years focusing on the guards of Ravensbrück concentration camp. This footage film presented here takes images from the field as a starting point and focuses on the scope of Ludwigsfelde’s negation and repression of the city own history, juxtaposing the positions of the city council, Mercedes Benz representatives with images and notes of the site as of today and a collage of historical quotes and material.
*Title borrowed from Maaza Menghiste (2019): Shadow King, WW Norton & Co.: New York City; p. 3. (Original: Where memory gathers bones)