I met my closest friend, Günther Natowitz, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 1989. He had survived Auschwitz and after the war he came to Bolivia. Sometimes he would tell tough stories of his days in Auschwitz as well as soon after when he was liberated.
One story that really made me think occurred after he was freed. He was being taken to Holland on a train and passed by a place where he remembered that there had been a little town prior to the war. It was not there anymore. He mentioned to a nun who was on the train that fact, but the nun responded: “No, there was never a little town there.” When we talked years later, Günther still insisted, ”I could not believe that she would say that. I saw that little town so clearly. Of course it was there and now it is not, but how could she say that there never was such a town?”
One of the characteristics of the Nazis, besides always assuming that they were the eternal victims, was to erase history. Anytime that I see anyone attempting to erase history, I am on guard. If history is not remembered and admitted good or bad, it is just a matter of time before the Nazis’ paradigm returns. As Walter Benjamin explained about the Nazi terror: they did not just try to kill us but they tried to kill our deaths; in other words, make it as if we never existed.
It is to avoid this that my artistic work exists. More than being great art (its essence being imagination, it is thus an antithesis to the dangerous “Socialist Realism”), it is also a testimony to my existence. If I were to be killed and become one of the disappeared, it would be impossible to erase my death because the art in my museums was made by no other than me. Thus, my art or that legacy stands as evidence that I have lived. Therefore, I have dedicated my art, my collages, to the memory of the disappeared throughout history.
Everything I have said so far should be enough to prove to anyone that one of the main things for me in life is to prevent the erasing of history. When we allow this, new generations may have doubts about whether unimaginable and indescribable horrors like the Holocaust, the Gulags, and the disappeared in Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia during the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s ever happened. Because of this I went on a solitary hunger strike against Ahmadinejad’s visit to Bolivia. How can one world leader erase the history of another country? Bolivia was one of the only countries in the Western Hemisphere that kept on giving visas to thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror in Europe when other countries like the USA and Argentina would not.
It is with all of this in mind that I transport myself to Manama, Bahrain. I think of the Al Jazeera video that is evidence of the inhumanity that took place in Bahrain a few months ago. It documents the abuses of the Al Khalifa ruling family in crushing the demonstrators that gathered in Manam’s Pearl Roundabout to express their yearning and need to have a democratic political system. But as terrible as that was, worse still is how the Al Khalifa rulers decided to erase history by tearing down the beautiful Pearl Roundabout. Its destruction is meant to erase the history of the movement of the Bahraini citizens for freedom and democracy.
And this happened while the world decided to ignore this tragic episode of history.
Fortunately in the time of the internet, things like that are not so easy to erase anymore.
From Bolivia, in the name of preventing historic revisionism and historic negationism, I demand that the Al Khalifa family and the Saudis rebuild the Pearl Roundabout. This will show that they are willing to rectify their inhuman and bloody repression against the Bahraini people. Otherwise, in the name of justice, in the name of history, I demand that the Al Khalifa family be taken to the Hague to answer for crimes against humanity, including the crime to attempt to erase history. New generations deserve to learn from past mistakes to avoid making those same mistakes in the future.
The Pearl Roundabout, which is a symbol of the Bahraini movement for greater human rights, must be rebuilt.