Salaspils Memorial, 1967
Taking up 25 hectares, the Salaspils camp (1941–1944) memorial is one of the largest in Europe and a brilliant example of brutalist architecture from the late 1960s. It is an example of the successful synthesis of architecture and sculpture of international proportions and significance. The ensemble is the result of a collaborative effort by architects Gunārs Asaris (1934), Oļģerts Ostenbergs (1925−2012), Ivars Strautmanis (1932–2017), and Oleg Zakamenny (1914−1968) and sculptors Lev Bukovsky (1910−1984), Oļegs Skarainis (1923–2017), and Jānis Zariņš (1913−2000).
From May 1942 to September 1944, the camp was used as an extension to a prison, where, among others, Baltic soldiers from police battalions and legions endured their sentences, a “re-education” work camp, a transit camp for prisoners destined for camps elsewhere, etc. Over the time the camp existed, about 22,000−23,000 people were imprisoned there, and of those, about one half were deportees who spent very little time at the camp.
The Salaspils Memorial possesses a clear and well-considered emotional drama and architectonic composition. The car park is located at a distance from the memorial and one can reach it only on foot, walking through a pine forest. The visitor first encounters a slanting wall of rough concrete where the barbed-wire fence once stood. This symbolic gateway, that separates life from death, is the entrance to the memorial, but inside its walls is a small exhibition about the former concentration camp. Behind the wall there is a ceremonial square with a pedestal in black granite, designed for laying official wreaths, and a concealed metronome whose artificial heartbeat is heard throughout the memorial. Adjacent to the square is a lawn with enormous concrete sculptures “Mother”, “Unbroken”, “Humiliated”, and a group of sculptures “Solidarity”, “Oath”, and “Rot Front”. A footpath leads around the sculptures and on one side visitors can see the contours of the former barracks.
Oleg Zakamenny, who had settled in Latvia in the 1950s, taught at the Engineering Faculty of the Latvian State University and later held the post of chief architect at the Latvian Urban Design Institute. Gunārs Asaris, Oļģerts Ostenbergs and Ivars Strautmanis were young architects who, at the time the Salaspils Memorial competition was announced, had finished their studies only a few years earlier. Later, however, they went memorial on to have successful careers both in creative work and teaching. Throughout the design process there were heated arguments between the architects, who defended a modern approach, and the sculptors who, in keeping with the official socialist realism ideology, took a much more conservative position. Because of this, the harmonious, stylistically uniform ensemble is all the more surprising.
The Salaspils Memorial belongs to the Ministry of Culture and is managed by the Salaspils municipality. In 2018, a new exhibition was unveiled, telling the story both of the concentration camp and the history of the memorial. In 2017, the Salaspils Memorial was awarded the status of a monument of national significance.
Jānis Lejnieks on Salaspils Memorial in Latvian Culture Canon, 2008. (in Latvian)
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Jānis Lejnieks on Salaspils Memorial in Latvian Culture Canon, 2008.
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