The ‘Siegfried’s Head’ was commissioned from the sculptor Josef Müllner by the German Student Fraternity in honour of the members of the university who fell in the First World War and was placed in the main entrance hall of the University of Vienna. The sculpture has been an object of controversy for decades, because Müllner and the fraternity who commissioned it are linked to an anti-Semitic, German nationalist and anti-liberal way of thinking.
The marble base of the monument bears the inscription ‘Honour, Freedom, Fatherland / 1914–1918 / To the Heroes of the University Who Fell In Honour / Erected by the German Student Fraternity and Their Teachers’. From 1919 the German Student Fraternity acted as a cover organisation for all students from Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Members had to have German ancestry and German as their mother tongue. Jewish, female, Social Democrat and Liberal students were excluded from membership and representation.
The historian Friedrich Stadler believes that the symbolism of the monument refers to the mythology of Siegfried found in the saga of the Nibelungs and hence to the myth of the ‘stab in the back’ at the end of the First World War. It is, according to Stadler, the ‘expression of an undemocratic, ethnocentric spirit which led to Austrofacism and National Socialism’. This was contradicted as one would expect by the student fraternities, who claimed to view the monument exclusively in connection with the remembrance of the fallen of the First World War.
As early as the late 1980s the university set up a committee to investigate the expulsion of scholars and scientists during the Nazi period and also the ‘Siegfried’s Head’. The committee came to the conclusion that the German Student Fraternity, which had commissioned the monument, had pursued ‘a radically anti-Semitic and German Nationalist course right from its foundation in the year 1919’. As a result, in 1990 the Academic Senate decided to have the Siegfried’s Head moved to the arcaded courtyard of the university and to have it artistically remodelled in a way that would explain how it should be seen in the historical context of the time when it was created. Finally, in 2006 the Siegfried’s Head was moved to the arcaded courtyard of the university. The Federal Bureau of Monuments stipulated that a glass cover was to be placed over the sculpture, and this has texts inscribed on it which put the monument in the context of a critical discourse. The Siegfried’s Head itself was taken apart as a way of distancing it from its original intentions and messages, with the plinth, the base and the head being displayed separately. The University of Vienna provided the following commentary:
The Siegfried’s Head was taken off its pedestal and surrounded with an inscription. The work of art created in this way is to be understood as a metaphor and is intended to serve as a warning that the first thing that extremes (dictatorships) do is to ban writing and the free word (auto-da-fé). Our inscribed sculpture ‘responds’ and ‘defends itself’ in a subtle manner, if necessary, in the event of possible attacks and lets its narrative emerge precisely and more forcefully from one occasion to the next. It has become the sign of an age that is as autonomous as it is neutral, but not indifferent, in which history is not suppressed and denied, but in which the present is to be understood as a bridge which leads to the future.
Translation: Leigh Bailey
Davy, Ulrike/Vašek Thomas: Der „Siegfried-Kopf“. Eine Auseinandersetzung um ein Denkmal in der Universität Wien. Dokumentation, Wien 1991
Kontroverse „Siegfriedskopf“. Unter: http://www.univie.ac.at/universitaet/forum-zeitgeschichte/gedenkkultur/siegfriedskopf/#c1201 (20.06.2014)
all quotes: Kontroverse „Siegfriedskopf“, unter: http://www.univie.ac.at/universitaet/forum-zeitgeschichte/gedenkkultur/siegfriedskopf/#c1201 (20.06.2014) (Translation)
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