by – Friedemann Derschmidt: Growing up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in a well known Upper Austrian family, I was made to believe that I am a part of an “outstanding” family, but I was not able to put a finger and figure out why.
Slowly I started to realize, with the help of some family members, that there is a very sophisticated cocoon woven around our family, made of myths, narratives and lies about the former generations. I learned that people I truly loved where actively taking part in weaving this net of self-aggrandizement and some still do until today. Inside the cocoon I found out that some family members had been Nazi Party supporters or even members, army and SS officers. This was the beginning of the process which turned me to be one of the family chroniclers. I collected loads of material, and started to do interviews with family members for almost two decades, but did not have a clue what to do with all the information.
My great grandfather, Dr. Heinrich Reichel, a well-known physician and eugenicist, played a major role in what I call “the system of the family”. He saw a noble task in having a large family for the sake of the “genetic stream”.
He encouraged his students to do family research in order to learn about their “genetic stream” and to have a lot of children to continue it as he himself did.
This is a cardinal point of my project: Until today a majority of the greater family is still committed to the idea of “an extended tribal family”.
In 2010 I set up a web 2.0 platform together with my cousin Eckhart Derschmidt, inviting family members to join it. I provoked them by asking: “Did the eugenicist Dr. Heinrich Reichel conduct a personal genetic experiment on his own offspring. Are we the result of an experiment? …”.
I promised the family members that the platform would not go public for two years (2010-2012). During a difficult and painful process one third of the extended family joined the platform. On the other hand I gained some real enemies.
Ironically, I became an antagonist to my great grandfather, doing exactly what he wanted people to do: family research. But my interest is not in “the genetic stream”, rather in the “ideological stream” of six generations of this bourgeois family.
Now I started also to talk to historians, sociologists, psychologists and so on. I invited them to join my advisory board. Now we added and still add plenty of documents and other materials from archives to the database.
It is important to understand that the Nazis haven´t been “others” and didn’t jump out of a box like a bunch of lunatics so as to manipulate the majority. On a broader view including 19th century, and in order to understand the family’s past, one has to consider the relation between nationalism, youth movement, health and purity ideas, and most important modern science (eg: genetics). The Reichel family is not unique in this context. The model of this art project “Reichel complex” can serve as an example to other Austrian, German, and many other European families.
For people living today it is less a matter of guilt, but probably a matter of shame and I will remain part of the system, if I like it or not – there is no escape.