words by

daniel rafecas



"1930": The Angel of History
by Daniel Rafecas*

The Weimar Republic Era (1919-1933) always generates a particular fascination with me. A little more than a decade of democracy in Germany between wars contained a great and dense social, economic and political history in the context of a nation with a tradition strongly inspired in the authoritarian-imperialistic model.

Despite the attempt to institute democratic principles, Germany never felt identified with that experiment of equality and participation, and it seemed destined that it was going to end in the worst way, creating from its core nature the most bloody totalitarian regime in recent history.

It was a time of true convulsion. Not only for the desperate conditions Germany endured following its surrender after World War I, but also due to the humiliating and disproportionate conditions the victors imposed, conditions that brought the nation to its knees. To this we must add the enormous repercussions of the fall of the czarist dynasty in Russia that were felt throughout all of Europe, and its cruel replacement by a communist state, a process that was unfolding like an inescapable backdrop during the initial years of the Weimar Republic. The Russian communist state, perhaps the most momentous political event in the history of the 20th century, generated support among intellectuals, political leaders, and especially the German working class as it did horror in the dominant elite class, landowners and the petit bourgeoisie. This tension decisively influenced the Weimar political scene until it was finally resolved by its collapse on January 30, 1933 with the rise of the radically anti-Communist option embodied by Hitler and the NSDAP. As throughout any period of history spanned by convulsions and contradictions, the Weimar era was very prolific in terms of the arts and culture. These were years illuminated - forever - by writers, theater and movie directors, musicians, painters and sculptors. Venues for dance, fun, and morally prohibited activities flourished.

This cultural and artistic expansion provided refuge, an escape from the oppressive reality; an impression that, despite the "normality" of a developing, formal democracy, something very profound was amiss, a dormant authoritarianism maintained artificially in a state of latency, a monster - well captured by Rafael Landea - which haunts city streets like a ghost that appears in dreams but that at any moment could rouse us from our deep sleep

Upon viewing this collection of paintings, where first we see images of routine tranquility and then secondly the approaching horror (or vice versa), I cannot erase from my mind each person depicted: the young men, the women, and the children and in my imagination I transport them to the next decade. Absolutely none of them will escape a tragic fate under Nazi dictatorship in a Germany marching toward war. As Borges said in Deutsches Requiem, "the exhilarating glory will be given to him first and then the bitter defeat."

I believe that this is the point that Rafael Landea's paintings capture with subtlety, and which constitutes a universal theme: images of everyday life, the jovial faces, a feeling of nonchalance in the face of the tragedy that lies ahead. As an observer, one feels an impulse to enter into a dialogue with these figures, to warn them, to shake them, to scream at them until they come to their senses, but their fate had already been written and all of them will be consumed in a bonfire of the inevitable. After this irrational impulse comes a necessary and profound reflection that leads us to wonder if, in one way or another, each one of us is currently being recorded as images. Perhaps new observers will want to warn us, with the same desperation, about the danger that hangs over our own existence. Is it that nothing has changed for the Angel of History (that Benjamin discovers in Paul Klee's 1920 painting, Angelus Novus): "His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Surely these paintings by Rafael Landea allow us to put ourselves in that moment where Benjamin confronts the Angel of History...a necessary and urgent task in these fast-paced and tumultuous times.

Buenos Aires, May 2016


*Daniel Rafecas is an attorney and has a PhD in Criminal Science from the University of Buenos Aires. Since 2004, Mr. Rafecas has been working as a federal judge with purview over criminal cases against humanity arising from Argentina's last military dictatorship. He has presented at many conferences concerning the Shoah in the United States, France, Spain, Israel and several Latin American countries. He authored the books "History of the Final Solution. An investigation of the stages that led to the extermination of the European
Jews" (Twentieth Century, 2012), "Torture and other illegal practices of detainees. A reflection on the Argentine Penal Code" (Editores del Puerto: Buenos Aires, 2010)