Houses of Darkness is a joint initiative of three WWII memorial centres: Falstadsenteret (The Falstad Centre, Norway), Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork (the Netherlands), Gedenkstätte Bergen-Belsen (Germany), and Paradox. The project aims to raise awareness of WWII heritage from an alternative angle — the perpetrator’s perspective — for a culturally diverse, young audience.
Houses of Darkness aims to initiate discussions of the perpetrator history on several levels. Through artistic and cultural cooperation, by bringing together different national and professional perspectives, knowledge and skills, the project will generate innovative outputs which place the perpetrator spaces in a broader context of European memory. Additionally, by implementing participatory methodologies in all audience activities, the project offers an innovative take on how to make future generations the co-creators of shared European narratives. Finally, being aimed at young, underrepresented groups, in particular refugees and newcomers, Houses of Darkness contributes to a better social inclusivity in the common European space. This approach represents a counterbalance to the growing and worrisome tendencies of using perpetrator spaces to promote nationalist and racist ideologies.
A creative team consisting of a visual artist, writer and a designer will develop three site-specific outdoor photo exhibitions as well as a connected web stories platform. The latter will function both as means to enrich the on-site experience and as an independent distance learning tool. The exhibition will offer a base for further activities such as art workshops and summer schools, with the focus on engaging young and diverse audiences in dialogues on perpetrator history — as a means to raise awareness of common challenges and reinforce a sense of belonging to a shared European space.
Perpetrator spaces are present at all three sites in different conditions complementing each other: one recently renovated commander’s house (Falstad), one preserved under a glass roof (Westerbork), one completely gone, but where the Kommandatur remains (Bergen-Belsen). The participating countries were all involved in WW2, either as the occupier (Germany) or occupied (Norway and the Netherlands). There were direct connections between inmates as well as guards and staff of the three camps. The countries share a common European history, but different national narratives and memory cultures. While a clear victim vs. perpetrator understanding characterizes the Bergen-Belsen history, the narratives of Falstad and Westerbork are blurrier. Both served as detention camps for collaborators after WW2, referring to the dubious role substantial numbers of the local population had played during the war. As a consequence, the sites are symbolically as well as physically powerful platforms for discussing the role of the perpetrator as part of European history and identity. The project will benefit from an advisory board of members experienced in working with issues of contested memory, cultural heritage, education and inclusion.