Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz in Different from the Others. Museum of Jewish Heritage / The New York Blueprint. Accessed September 2, 2016. http://www.nyblueprint.com/different-others.
Archives don’t just safeguard primary sources for future generations – they preserve institutional memory. So often we preoccupy ourselves with issues of “worthiness” when trying to compile and weed our resources. But who has a say in what is and is not needed or necessary to both history and historiography?
Such is the case of Different From the Others (Anders als die Andern), a 1919 German film denouncing Paragraph 175 (which criminalized homosexuality). Banned, burned, and then considered lost for over half a century, the film was recently restored by archivists. When the film was “lost,” had it also been forgotten? If the histories of marginalized communities are suppressed and hidden away, whose job is it to resurrect them?
This year marks the 85th anniversary of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s visit to San Francisco, and the announcement cropped up in my newsfeed this past week. Hirschfeld co-wrote Different From the Others and had himself pioneered queer, cross-cultural archival work in the early twentieth century. Who knew that one hundred years later, the GLBT History Museum – home to one of the country’s largest repositories of queer archival materials – would be throwing an event in his honor? How have we gone from a society that would destroy these works to one that would revere them?
My conservationist peers tell me that they only enjoy saving books that are “worth something” (monetarily or ideologically). Anything that has hateful implications or acts as superfluous ornamentation isn’t worth keeping for posterity. They would want to re-bind Mein Kampf just as much as they would a coffee-table book. Do we have a moral obligation to save everything? Should the ugly or the mundane be destroyed or maintained? Is erasure of history (its artifacts) ever acceptable? What we save, what we enshrine, can’t be separated from what we value.
Different from the Others features the earliest film footage of gay men and lesbians dancing. Museum of Jewish Heritage / The New York Blueprint. Accessed September 2, 2016. http://www.nyblueprint.com/different-others.