Photo: BKOR archive


Monday, May 15, is the seventieth anniversary of that The destroyed city of Ossip Zadkine was unveiled by mayor Van Walsum. On May 14, 1940, Rotterdam was bombed by the Germans, causing a large part of the center to go up in flames. The destroyed city Plein 1940 has become the epitome of bombed Rotterdam. The hole in the body of this stricken figure symbolizes how Rotterdam was hit in the heart by the bombing.

Terracotta figurine

The destroyed city is one of the most famous international war memorials. According to Ossip Zadkine (Vitebsk, 1888-Paris, 1967), the image arose when he rode a train into Rotterdam, which was battered by war, in 1946. A year later he made this war memorial as a 70 cm high terracotta statue, which was shown at exhibitions in Prague and Berlin.
It is, in his own words, 'A cry of horror at the inhuman cruelty of this act of torture'. The statue represents a devastated figure, head and arms are raised to heaven. Zadkine has the arms, legs and hands point in different directions, giving the image a particularly dynamic appearance. The figure is leaning against a stump; the six meter high colossus has an extra support to keep its physical balance. Particularly striking is the hole in the middle of the hull. Rotterdam recognizes its city center destroyed on May 14, 1940. The sculpture combines important features of Zadkine's sculpture: the human figure, a cubist visual language and the violent expression of emotion.


A plaster version of the statue was shown in 1948 at solo exhibitions in Brussels and Amsterdam. The then director of the Bijenkorf, mr. Van der Wal was so impressed by the design that he bought a large bronze version and (anonymously) donated it to the municipality of Rotterdam. The work of art was subsequently shown to the Rotterdam public on two occasions to gauge the reactions, including during an exhibition in Museum Boijmans and the 'Rotterdam Ahoy' manifestation in 1950. Only a few thought the upheaval of the image was too demonic to perpetuate the streetscape. determine. However, the vast majority of Rotterdammers thought that the sculpture very well represents the upheaval and the desire to rise up in an immediately intelligible way.
On May 15, 1953 The destroyed city revealed. The sculpture was placed at the head of the Leuvehaven in consultation with the artist. The statue was surrounded by the battered city with a view of the damage of the bombardment. Zadkine also chose this location because of the view of the Leuvehaven behind it: it connects the port and city, and has a view of sky and water.

Special place in his oeuvre

Also in the oeuvre of Ossip Zadkine The destroyed city a special place. It is not only his largest sculpture, but also one of the most convincing expressions of what occupied him as an artist. The work has been compared several times to Picasso's Guernica from 1937, because both have given shape to the drama of the war in a modernist visual language. The destroyed city has become the symbol of the bombed city center of Rotterdam and also one of the most famous war memorials in Western Europe. Every year the destruction of Rotterdam is commemorated here, as well as dramatic events elsewhere in the world.

Publication date: 11 / 05 / 2023