At a Memorial to Dutch Resistance Fighters, More Than Just a List of Names

Israeli-born sculptor Ram Katzir was inspired by the chairs at Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens to create a unique place of memory in Amsterdam

Sculptor Ram Katzir's memorial to Dutch resistance fighters killed by the Nazis.
Studio Ram Katzir

Ram Katzir, an Israeli artist based in Amsterdam, will be in the spotlight Tuesday at a dedication ceremony in one of the city’s most beautiful parks. The event at the Amstelpark marks the completion of Katzir’s memorial dedicated to Dutch resistance fighters who fought the Nazis and were executed nearby.

In a rose garden at the edge of the city, the Gestapo brought the resistance fighters to face a firing squad. At the end of the war a small sign was put up to mark the spot, but nothing else.

Years later, when the city’s ring road was being built and the garden was relegated to the shadows near a bridge, the families of the dead felt the time had come to do something more. The Amsterdam municipality invited proposals, both in the Netherlands and abroad, for a memorial a few hundred meters from the site near the Amstel River. Katzir won.

Ram Katzir was born in 1969 in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono. At 10 he moved with his family to Amsterdam, where he attended a Jewish school. He later returned to Israel to do his army service. In 1990 he returned to Amsterdam to study animation at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, a school of art and design. Two years later he won a scholarship to Cooper Union in New York, where he studied sculpture with German artist Hans Haacke.

Katzir’s work has been shown – and is currently being exhibited – in Europe, Asia and Israel. In the mid-’90s, one of his projects sparked something of a scandal in Israel. As a metaphor, Katzir created a coloring book of Nazi and fascist motifs. He wanted people at the exhibition to discover what it was they were coloring in, as a way of understanding Hitler’s brainwashing efforts.

The project began in the Netherlands; two and a half years later it moved to Krakow, Vilnius, Berlin and Zurich. It was presented as “Within the Line” at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1997 at the Billy Rose Pavilion, which Katzir converted into a railroad car.

Israel-born sculptor Ram Katzir at his memorial to Dutch resistance fighters.
Katrien Mulder / Studio Ram Katzir

An article on the exhibition in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth left the false impression that the coloring books were to be sold for profit, raising the ire of Knesset members and Holocaust survivors. In 2001, Katzir’s coloring book was featured at an exhibition surveying 20th century art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

When he was selected to create the memorial in Amsterdam, Katzir found that there was almost nothing these victims had in common. “They were of various ages, young and old. There was also one teenager,” he told Haaretz.

“They came from a varied number of professions. There was even a pickpocket among them. There was also a famous name among the killed – Theodor van Gogh, the grandson of Theo van Gogh, the art dealer and brother of Vincent van Gogh.”

Katzir recalled his process for developing his concept for the memorial. “I asked myself what I wouldn’t have wanted if my grandfather had been among the killed. The answer was that I wouldn’t have wanted him to be just a name on a long list of names,” Katzir said.

“And then, in a flashback, I recalled a night when I passed the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, when it was already empty with just the scattered chairs remaining – in pairs and groups of three. In my head I began constructing stories about who had sat there and was no longer with us. This thought took form and became the memorial made of chairs that appear as if they’d just been used. And each chair has a name.”

The memorial was completed in 2015 with the names of 100 resistance fighters. Later more names were discovered, and Katzir created chairs for them as well.

The unveiling Tuesday will be held under the auspices of the Amsterdam municipality. It will coincide with the launch of a 400-page book with biographies of the resistance fighters killed. The book was written by art researcher Bianca Stigter, who worked with her director husband Steve McQueen on the Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave.”