The German Resistance Memorial Centre, Berlin

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The German Resistance Memorial Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Most cities have moments in their history that remind us of the extent of humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Arguably, Berlin has witnessed more of it’s fair share of these moments. They are events that it would be easier and more comfortable to forget, but that is exactly why we must remember them. Memorials serve as physical reminders of our past, commemorating people and events that are triumphant and inspiring as well as dark and shameful. There are numerous memorials in Berlin that mark events that should never be allowed to be repeated. On a recent visit to the city, I visited many of these memorials, including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, the Topography of Terror, and the Berlin Wall Memorial. The memorial that most resonated with my research interests, however, is the German Resistance Memorial Centre, which commemorates all those who stood up to the Nazi regime in various ways. It is housed in the Bendler Block, which was used by the military during the Nazi regime and was the centre of an attempted military coup on 20th July 1944.

Like other large memorials in Berlin, there are two key elements to the German Resistance Memorial Centre. The commemorative courtyard is the site where several of the officers involved in the failed uprising were executed on 20th July 1944. There is a statue and two plaques. The second element is a memorial and education centre, on the first and second floors of the building. It is designed to inform people about the motives, aims, and forms of resistance against the Nazi state. The Bendler Block also houses the Silent Heroes Memorial Centre, which commemorates people who helped Jewish people facing persecution during Nazi rule.

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The commemorative courtyard in the Bendler Block. This statue, unveiled in 1953, was designed by Professor Richard Scheibe. The text was written by Professor Edwin Redslop, and translates as: “You did not bear the shame. You fought back. You gave the great, Forever tireless Sign of change, Sacrificing your glowing life For freedom, Justice, and honor.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The commemorative courtyard is a fairly typical memorial space, calm and reflective, with a sculptor inspired by what happened there. The memorial and education centre feels more like a museum, although it displays very few objects. Instead, it uses text, images, and copies of documents to tell the stories of hundreds of individuals who used a whole range of tactics to resist Nazi rule. The Nazi state used a thorough process of dehumanisation to rationalise and justify their systematic persecution and murder of minority groups. Berlin’s memorials are highly effective at ‘re-humanising’ what happened, highlighting the stories of individuals, and putting faces to tragedies which are often difficult to comprehend because of their sheer scale.

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One of the displays in the German Resistance Memorial Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In Britain, if we hear anything at all about German people living under the National Socialist regime, its that they quietly accepted the cruelty and violence. They were all too scared to speak up, or were perhaps willing to accept the excesses of the Nazi government as long as the economy continued to prosper. The German Resistance Memorial Centre completely turns that narrative on its head. It tells the story of hundreds of people who resisted the Nazi regime for religious, political, or moral reasons, or even just because they wanted to listen to genres of music that the Nazis frowned upon (Swing Kids, for example, liked to listen to jazz music, which the Nazis classified as “cultural degeneracy”). Resistance ranged from listening to foreign radio stations and printing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets to attempts to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the entire government. The Silent Heroes Memorial Centre tells the stories of Germans who hid Jews from Nazi soldiers, classified their Jewish employees as essential workers to prevent their deportation, and forged passports to enable Jewish people to escape Nazi-controlled territory. When even the most basic act of resistance carried the potential for severe punishment, or even death, I am amazed at how many people were willing to take action. I left the exhibition with more faith in the bravery and integrity of humanity than I had when I arrived, which is always a nice feeling.

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The Silent Heroes Memorial Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The German Resistance Memorial Centre is not one of the best-known tourist attractions in Berlin. It is even not one of the city’s best known memorials. However, a visit there is not only educational and moving, but also unexpectedly uplifting. I highly recommend checking it out if you ever visit Berlin.

Commemorating Resistance during World War 2 in Warsaw: Part 2

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Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Industry was a gift from the USSR to Poland. Built in 1955, it is one of the city’s stand-out landmarks (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A few months ago, I visited Warsaw for the International Conference of Historical Geographers. Whenever I visit a new place I try to find out as much as I can about its history of radicalism and dissent, and there’s no doubt that Warsaw has plenty of that. In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April and May 1943, and the ways that it is remembered in Warsaw’s streets and museums. Part 2 is about the Warsaw Uprising, which lasted for 63 days in 1944. The Uprising has an entire museum dedicated to it, as well as an impressive monument.

Warsaw Uprising

During the summer of 1944, the German Army was retreating across Poland, pursued by the Soviet Army. The Polish Home Army undertook uprisings in several cities in order to help the Soviet Army, and to assert Polish sovereignty–there were fears that the German occupying force would just be replaced with a Russian one. As the Soviet Army advanced towards the Vistula river, the Home Army in Warsaw decided to begin their own uprising on 1st August. It became the largest military effort of any resistance movement during the Second World War.

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A group of Home Army soldiers pose on a pile of rubble in Warsaw (Source: Imperial War Museum).

The uprising was only ever supposed to last a few days, until the Soviet Army reached Warsaw. However, the Soviets halted their advance on the eastern bank of the Vistula, and the resistance forces ended up fighting, almost entirely unsupported, for 63 days. The Home Army, aided by other groups including the National Armed Forces and the communist People’s Army, quickly took control of large sections of Warsaw. These areas were separated from each other however, and communication was difficult. The resistance fighters had received training in guerrilla warfare, but they were inexperienced at prolonged fighting in daylight and severely under equipped.

On the 4th of August, the Germans started to receive reinforcements, and began to counterattack. The following day, they began a systematic massacre of civilians in order to crush the resistance’s resolve. The strategy backfired however, only making the people of Warsaw more determined. Resistance fighters captured the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto (see Part 1), and liberated the Gesiowka concentration camp. At the end of August, the resistance decided to abandon the Old Town; the area was evacuated through the city’s sewers, which also served as a major means of communication for the resistance. The resistance eventually surrendered to the Germans on 2nd October; the expected help from the Soviets never came. The city wasn’t captured until 17th January 1945, giving the Germans plenty of time to systematically destroy the city and transport many of its residents to work and concentration camps.

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A Home Army soldier surrenders his weapon after the uprising ends (Source: Imperial War Museum).

Life in Warsaw was very hard during the uprising, for civilians as well as resistance fighters. There were severe shortages of food; people largely survived on ‘spit soup,’ made from barley captured from the Haberbusch i Schiele brewery. The media flourished in the city however, multiple newspapers were published frequently, and 30,000 metres of film documenting the uprising was produced.

Warsaw Rising Museum

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The Warsaw Rising Museum in Wola district of Warsaw (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Warsaw Rising Museum was opened in 2004, to mark the 60th anniversary of the uprising. The Museum contains more than 800 items and 1500 photographs and videos spread over 3000 square metres. It covers all aspects of the uprising, and provides visitors with a huge amount of information. It is arranged chronologically, and I would recommend following the order of the galleries carefully (you go from the ground floor to the top, then work your way back down, which could be more clearly sign posted). I think you need at least 3 hours to see everything, and I would recommend stopping halfway through for a drink and a slice of cake in the cafe, otherwise you will get too tired to take it all in properly. A highlight for me was the Kino Palladium, a small cinema that shows footage of the uprising that was used to make newsreels. I was also particularly moved by the collection of armbands. Soldiers in the uprising didn’t have uniforms, so used red and white armbands to identify themselves. Some people personalised theirs, and it really brought the human element of the uprising home to me.

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Resistance fighters wore armbands instead of uniforms to identify themselves. Some of them have been given to the museum (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Monuments and Memorials

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This wall in Freedom Park documents the names of more than 10,000 resistance fighters who died during the uprising.

The Uprising Museum is located in Freedom Park, where you can also find several memorials connected to the uprising. The memorial wall documents the name of more than 10,000 resistance fighters who died during the fighting. Set within the wall is a bell dedicated to General Antoni Chrusciel, one of the uprising’s leaders. There is also a memorial to the estimated 150,000 civilians who lost their lives during the uprising, as well as the 550,000 who were deported from the city after the uprising failed.

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The memorial in Freedom Park to civilians killed and displaced during and after the uprising (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The Little Insurgent monument is located in Podwale Street on the outskirts of the Old Town (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Set into the city walls surrounding Old Town is the Little Insurgent, a memorial to the children and young people who served as orderlies and runners during the uprising. The statue is based on a small plaster statuette created after the war by sculptor Jerzy Jarnuszjiewicz. It was paid for by former scouts, and unveiled in 1983 by Jerzy Swiderski, a cardiologist who had served as a scout during the uprising. It is a moving reminder of how the uprising consumed every aspect of Warsaw; even children could not escape the brutality.

 

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The Warsaw Uprising Monument in Krasinki Square (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The best-known memorial to the uprising, the Warsaw Uprising Monument, is on a much grander scale. Located on the southern side of Krasinki Square, the momument was unveiled in 1989, and is up to 10 metres tall. The monument has two sections: the larger represents a group of insurgents in combat, running from a collapsing building; the smaller section, in the foreground of the above photo, shows fighters and civilian woman climbing into a manhole. This is an acknowledgment of the significance of the city’s sewer system to the uprising. The monument is impressive, and you’d be hard pushed to walk past without stopping for a closer look. Monuments and statues can often blend into the street around them, which I think defeats one of the key objectives of memorials; drawing attention to the event, person or people it is meant to commemorate. There is no danger of the Warsaw Uprising Monument failing to attract attention.

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The larger section of the Warsaw Uprising Monument, depicting resistance fighters in combat (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Like all cities, Warsaw’s past is inscribed into its streets, buildings and public spaces. Warsaw’s history is more violent than many cities–it has faced more than it’s share of death, destruction, and upheaval, and not just during the Second World War. There a number of different approaches to dealing with such a traumatic history in Warsaw: the city’s museums use different balances of objects and multimedia; and the monuments work on different scales, from the small and personal to the grand and official. Which approaches work best probably depends on personal taste, but the fact that so much effort and thought has gone into all of these commemorative practices  demonstrates an admirable relationship with the past.

Sources and Further Reading

Frederico. “The Warsaw Uprising Museum.” Odd Urban Things. Last modified 13th March 2017, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at https://www.oddurbanthings.com/warsaw-uprising-museum/

Polish Tourism Organisation. “Monument of the Little Insurgent in Warsaw.” no date, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at https://poland.travel/en/museum/monument-of-the-little-insurgent-in-warsaw

Simkin, John. “Warsaw Uprising.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/2WWwarsawU.htm

The Warsaw Rising Museum. “The Warsaw Rising Museum.” No date, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at https://www.1944.pl/en/article/the-warsaw-rising-museum,4516.html

Trueman, C N. “The Warsaw Uprising of 1944.” The History Learning Site. Last modified 18th May 2015, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/world-war-two-and-eastern-europe/the-warsaw-uprising-of-1944/

Wikipedia. “Warsaw Uprising.” Last modified 21st August 2018, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Uprising

Wikipedia. “Warsaw Uprising Monument.” Last modified 28th March 2018, accessed 25th August 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Uprising_Monument

Commemorating Resistance during World War 2 in Warsaw: Part 1

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Warsaw’s Old Town was almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War, and was rebuilt in the 1950s. The mermaid is the city’s symbol (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In July, I visited Warsaw for the International Conference of Historical Geographers. The Polish capital is a vibrant city with a fascinating, if traumatic, history. As ever, I paid particular attention to the history of protest and dissent in the city, and Warsaw has plenty of that. Whilst under German occupation during the Second World War, the city experienced two significant uprisings. The first took place in the Jewish ghetto in April and May 1943, and is known as the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The second is known simply as the Warsaw Uprising, and engulfed the whole city between August and October 1944. In retaliation for these two events, the Nazis destroyed more than 85% of the city. The total death toll from both events is around a quarter of a million people, both combatants and civilians. It is hard to forget such awful events, but they are still actively commemorated in Warsaw, both in the city’s museums, and on the streets through memorials. This post will focus on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, whilst Part 2 will look at the Warsaw Uprising.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Captured Jews during Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Jews captured by German soldiers during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April-May 1943. This picture was used during the Nuremberg Trials, and became very well known (Source: National Archives and Records Administration).

Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw was established not long after. More than 400,000 people were crammed into an area of little more than one square mile, and many died from disease and starvation. In 1942, the Germans began deporting people from the ghetto to concentration camps (mainly Treblinka) and forced-labour camps. Around 300,000 people were deported or murdered, leaving 55-60,000 fearing they would suffer the same fate. They began to develop resistance organisations; the Jewish Combat Organisation (ZOB) and the Jewish Military Union (ZZW) decided to work together to oppose any further deportations. On 18 January 1943, the fighters manage to disrupt a deportation, and drive the Germans out of the ghetto.

Buoyed by this success, the ghetto population began to build underground bunkers in case the Germans tried any more deportations. Unfortunately, the reprieve was only temporary, and German soldiers re-entered the ghetto on 19 April. Most of the ghetto’s residents were hiding in the bunkers or elsewhere. The Germans put down the uprising by destroying the ghetto building by building, forcing people out of hiding. Resistance continued for almost a month, but on 16 May the Great Synagogue on Tlomacki Street was destroyed to symbolise the German victory. Almost all of the remaining Jews were deported.

German soldiers burn buildings during Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

German soldiers systematically burnt the buildings in the Warsaw ghettos to drive out the people hiding within (Source: National Archives and Records Administration).

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest Jewish uprising, and the first urban uprising, in German-occupied Europe. It inspired uprisings in other ghettos and concentration camps. Although the ghetto was destroyed during the uprising, its memory is inscribed in the urban fabric of Warsaw through various memorials. It is also commemorated in the city’s museums.

Polin: Museum of the History of Polish Jews

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The Museum of the History of Polish Jews was purpose-built. It is a striking building, and everything about its design is symbolic (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Opened in 2013, Polin: Museum of the History of Polish Jews won European Museum of the Year in 2016, and it’s clear why. It uses the latest technology to explore 1000 years of Jewish history in Poland, and it is absolutely overflowing with information. The building was constructed in the former ghetto, in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes (more on this later). Personally, it was a little lacking in actual objects for my taste, but it’s still a wonderful museum. One of my favourite things about it is that it whilst it does cover the holocaust, it doesn’t dwell on it. Jewish history in Poland is so much more than World War Two, and Polin reflects that. It does, however, cover the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and it does it well.

Memorials

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The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes stands opposite the Polin museum, but it has been there for a lot longer, since 1948 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There are many memorials in the area of Warsaw that used to be the Jewish ghetto, but there are two that relate directly to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The first, as I mentioned above, is the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, next to Polin. Designed by Natan Rappaport and Leon Marek Suzin, the monument was built in 1948, near to the location of the first skirmish between the Jewish resistance fighters and German soldiers. It is an imposing structure, built from stone that was originally bought to Warsaw by the Nazis; it was intended to be used for monuments to Hitler’s victory. There is a bronze sculpture on the western side of the monument, depicting both resistance fighters and civilians. It represents the resistance’s struggle, and the suffering that civilians experienced. On the eastern side is a relief of women, children and the elderly being led by German soldiers.

During a state visit to Warsaw in 1970, Willy Brandt, the Chancellor of West Germany, fell to his knees in front of the Monument in a solemn gesture of apology and regret. It was a fitting location for such a significant political act; the Monument has a very grand, official feel. The second monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that I visited feels much more personal.

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The remains of the bunker at 18 Mila Street, destroyed during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with more than 100 people inside (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A few hundred metres from the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, on the corner on Mila and Dubois streets, is a large mound of earth surrounded by trees. It is all that remains on the bunker at 18 Mila Street, one of the largest bunkers built during the Ghetto Uprising. It it thought that more than 100 people died within the bunker, both resistance fighters and civilians. Many of their names are not known, but it is thought that Mordechaj Anielewicz, one of the leaders of the resistance, was killed there. Their bodies remain there, in the words of the monument, “to remind us that the whole earth is their grave.” I personally found this memorial much more moving than the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes; it feels more connected to the extent of the human tragedy experienced by Jewish people during the German occupation of Poland.

Warsaw is a city that is thriving in almost every way, but you don’t have to look far to find signs of its traumatic history. Varsovians don’t try to ignore that history or sweep it under the carpet, but neither do they dwell on it. I think it is a city that has struck a good balance between learning from the past and looking to the future.

Don’t forget to check out Part 2 of this post, about the Warsaw Uprising, here.

Sources and Further Reading

History. “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.” Last modified 2009, accessed 12 August 2018. Available at https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/warsaw-ghetto-uprising

Polin. “Monument to the Ghetto Heroes (9/11 Zamenhofa Street).” No date, accessed 12 August 2018. Available at https://sztetl.org.pl/en/towns/w/18-warszawa/116-sites-of-martyrdom/52110-monument-ghetto-heroes-911-zamenhofa-street

Polin. “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Historical Information.” No date, accessed 12 August 2018. Available at http://www.polin.pl/en/news/2017/03/17/the-warsaw-ghetto-uprising-historical-information

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.” No date, accessed 12 August 2018. Available at https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005188

 

 

Tracing Turbulent London in North East England 2: Jarrow

Jarrow is in Tyneside, the name of the conurbation surrounding the river Tyne. Newcastle is also part of it (Photo: Graeme Awcock)

Jarrow is in Tyneside, the name of the conurbation surrounding the river Tyne. Newcastle is also part of it (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

As a national and imperial centre London is, and has long been, a key node in a whole range of networks involving the circulation of ideas, people, and materials. This fact was brought home to me recently when I visited the North East of England. Even though I was about 300 miles away from London, I found multiple connections to Turbulent London. Last week, I wrote about the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette from Northumberland who died at the Epsom Derby in 1913. This week, I will be thinking about the ways that the 1936 Jarrow Marchers have been memorialised in their home town in Tyneside.

Jarrow is a small town, with a population of around 30,000. During the industrial revolution the town experienced massive growth thanks to heavy industries like coal mining and shipbuilding. The Palmer’s Shipbuilding and Iron Company shipyard was established there in 1852, and went on to employ as much as 80% of the town’s working population. This dependence on one employer meant that the town was devastated when the shipyard closed in 1933. Unemployment and poverty was rife, setting the stage for the Jarrow March, sometimes called the Jarrow Crusade.

The Jarrow Crusade was a type of protest called a Hunger March. Beginning in the 1920s, groups of demonstrators (normally men) would embark on long marches to London in order to draw attention to issues of poverty, unemployment, and hunger. On the 5th of October 1936, around 200 men set off from Jarrow carrying a petition asking the British government to re-establish industry in the town. 26 days later the men arrived in London, 282 miles away. The House of Commons accepted the petition, but did not debate it. Although they were immediately unsuccessful, the marchers helped develop the attitudes that paved the way for social reform after World War Two.

When I went to Jarrow I found 3 memorials to the Marchers. If you arrive via Tyneside’s Metro train system from the direction of Newcastle and look across to the other platform you will see The Jarrow March, by Vince Rea, unveiled by Neil Kinnock in 1984.

'The Jarrow March' by artist Vince Rea at Jarrow Metro Station.

The Jarrow March by artist Vince Rea at Jarrow Metro Station.

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The Jarrow March is one of the first things you see when you step off the train at Jarrow Metro Station.

Walking out of the station towards the town centre you have to walk through an underpass, one of several which is decorated with images made up of painted tiles celebrating the town’s history. One of these mosaics shows the Jarrow Marchers.

The image showing the Jarrow March in a local underpass.

The image showing the Jarrow March in a local underpass. A list of the places which the marchers passed through is included on the right.

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Like most underpasses, it is not the most pleasant place.

Finally, if you walk through the Viking Shopping Centre to the Morrisons Supermarket you will see the life-size bronze sculpture Spirit of Jarrow. The sculpture was commissioned by Morrisons, made by Graham Ibbeson, and named by 2 local residents. The marchers are depicting walking out of the frame of a ship, surrounded by scattered tools. It was unveiled in 2001, marking the 65th anniversary of the March. As in Morpeth, the varying ages of the memorials demonstrate that commemoration is an ongoing process, it has to be constantly renewed and maintained.

The Spirit of Jarrow is outside the local supermarket, very close to the town centre.

The Spirit of Jarrow is outside the local supermarket, very close to the town centre.

The statue in more detail.

The statue in more detail.

This plaque in the floor near the statue gives information about it.

This plaque in the floor near the statue gives information about it.

Although each representation of the Jarrow March uses a different medium, the content is very similar. All 3 show male marchers in flat caps, the ‘Jarrow Crusade’ banner, and a dog- Paddy the dog was apparently the marchers’ mascot. The fact that there are so many representations of the March within a small area suggests that this is an event that the local community are proud of.

A close up of one of the male marchers in Spirit of Jarrow. He is wearing a flat cap. stereotypical of the working class

A close up of one of the male marchers in Spirit of Jarrow. He is wearing a flat cap, stereotypical of the working class, and a badge declaring the marchers’ intention to march on London.

When comparing these memorials to the grave of Emily Wilding Davison, what really struck me was the difference that location makes. Emily is buried in a churchyard- out of the way, quiet and sedate. You have to consciously decide to go and visit, and for me it felt a little like a pilgrimage. In Jarrow, the memorials are part of the everyday infrastructure of the town and, like a lot of public art, they run the risk of fading into the background. When asking for directions whilst looking for the Spirit of Jarrow, one local woman had no idea what we were talking about. If you travel the same route everyday, you frequently stop noticing what is around you.

Another striking element of the Jarrow memorials was their representations of gender. Both The Jarrow March and the Spirit of Jarrow include a women carrying what appears to be a baby. The only woman permitted to join the march was local MP Ellen Wilkinson, and she only marched sections of the route. No children took part either. The memorials present the March as being more inclusive than it actually was. It is a reminder not to take memorials and other similar representations at face value.

The female marcher in the Spirit of Jarrow carrying a bundle that is probably a baby.

The female marcher in the Spirit of Jarrow carrying a bundle that is probably a baby.

The proliferation of Hunger Marches as a method of protest in the 1920s and 30s linked London to provincial Britain in a clear way, and the Jarrow March was no exception. Despite being almost 300 miles away, the people of Jarrow decided that London was where they needed to be in order to get their voices heard. London was, and still is, the political heart of Britain, and as such it interacts with the rest of the country in a whole range of complex and interconnecting ways.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Jarrow Crusade Captured in Bronze.” BBC News. Last modified 5th October 2001, accessed 10th August 2015. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1581572.stm

Anon. “Jarrow March.” Wikipedia. Last modified 29th July 2015, accessed 10th August 2015.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jarrow_March

Colette, Christine. “The Jarrow Crusade.” BBC History. Last modified 3rd March 2011, accessed 10th August 2015.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/jarrow_01.shtml