A little less than a year ago I visited Berlin and want to talk about the Holocaust Memorial in honor of #HolocaustRememberance First, as you can see it was a cold and rainy day which I was actually grateful for. It matched my mood regarding the memorial. As I understand it, the artist who put this memorial together did not interpret his intended meaning behind the design. He wanted people to walk through it and feel free to interpret the meaning for themselves.
Here is mine:
As you enter the memorial site you see cement blocks of different heights. However as you enter, these blocks are shorter than in the middle. You can hear the wind whipping through the space. You can hear the distant traffic. You can hear kids laughing. You can hear people passing you. As you can see from the video these cement blocks are not level, meaning that the ground is not level and some of them are tilting a bit. As I walk through this site, I remember the subtleties that were made at the beginning of the Holocaust.
The short blocks represent to me an “easing in” period. As we know, the Holocaust did not begin the day after Hitler was elected. It was a gradual process. It was every-day people becoming slightly OK, day by day, with how their neighbors were being treated, being singled out, having their lives disrupted, having their businesses destroyed, being beaten, having curfews, being moved around town to the Jewish ghettos, and being harassed daily. After all of this, they became OK with the disappearance of their neighbors. (At this point, I would like to clarify that if Germans had begun to ask questions about their neighbors whereabouts that this probably would not of had a positive outcome under the Nazi regime. There were some Germans, I suspect, who were uneasy about the situation however, too many thought it was completely appropriate.)
As you move towards the center of the monument the ground underneath you becomes very uneven and the cement blocks become taller, way over your head. I think of this as the darkest part of the Holocaust. They seem like barracks to me or those bunkbeds that everybody is pushed into for sleeping. Not all of the cement pieces are the same height. I think about the difference in the experience of Jewish people throughout Europe. Clearly if you were a French Jew then your experience was probably vastly different than that of a Polish Jew. Some Jewish people went straight to work camps and others immediately to extermination camps. Some people started in a work camp and then were transferred. I think about that when I turn the corners. That you were once moving in one direction and then somebody decided that you would move in another. Families completely ripped apart, not knowing where the others would go. I’m not sure as a mother if I could live with myself if I survived and my child did not. Unfortunately, we have too many accounts from these brave mothers who courageously tell us what happened and are asked to repeat the fate of their child so that we just don’t forget. How they pulled together that kind of strength I will never know.
As you walk past the tallest parts towards the outskirts of the monument the cement blocks again become shorter. Could be that they were just not that many that survived. Their fates uncertain. How do you go home after that?
In the memorial there were children running around. This didn’t quite bother me because I have seen the movie, Life is Beautiful. I think children are a constant reminder of that. There were teenagers sitting on some of the cement blocks. I know there wasn’t much seating but it was pretty clear that these blocks were not meant to be a seat. Another very hard part about this memorial is the basement underneath the cement. The blocks keep going underneath the earth into the basement as you move throughout the museum. It’s so easy to become desensitized by something so horrible, it’s almost too much to comprehend.
I spent most of the three days in Berlin walking around trying to comprehend that great evil and the great sorrow. I asked questions of how can Germans be redeemed? I think often about the refugees that they’ve been taking in and I think that is a big part of the redemption.
One really amazing thing that Berlin has been doing has been to determine which Jewish people were taken from their own neighborhoods in Berlin. Once that individual and their neighborhood has been identified the city of Berlin will place a marker with the names of the Jewish people taken on the ground in the neighborhood in which they were taken. This is an incredibly humanizing act I believe. It really nails down that “your neighbor” was taken from this place that you now live.
I hope it makes us all think about our neighbors in today’s world in light of current events. We must consider what we are OK with and how far we might go. Where will your breaking point be? I would decide sooner than later. These changes can happen gradually and to the best civilizations in the world.