Perspectives – The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Mary Lee Webeck – 3/19/11

Tomorrow as we depart Berlin and drive to Bergen Belsen, we will use the time on the bus to reflect on what we have seen and experienced so far on our study trip.

This morning we visit the Jewish Museum of Berlin and then, this afternoon, we have free time to explore on our own. Each of us will go to spots we want to know about. We have yet to have a non-rainy day to take pictures at the Brandenburg Tor (gate), and this is something people want to do for sure. Some will return to Holocaust-related spaces and others will explore cultural/artistic aspects of Berlin. Some will be shopping.  One person wants to do what “regular people do here.” What we each see this afternoon will surely add to what we understand about the Holocaust and how it is “felt” in Berlin, a city that is layered with the past as it lives today and reaches into the future.

Tomorrow, amongst other things,  we will talk together about The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. That discussion has begun with blog entries.

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4 Responses to Perspectives – The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

  1. Jerry Rochman says:

    Saturday, 3/19/11

    I return to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe to continue to explore my feelings about this very public space.
    Today I return alone. In this afternoon of free time in Berlin the group has scattered to various museums, sites around the city. On this day filled with sunshine I sit here alone; but really not alone as this space is filled with people

    As I sit here these are the scenes that unfold before me:
    A couple in a passionate embrace

    Italian school group acting like the teenagers they are – loud, laughing, smoking, until a guard came to tell them no smoking here.

    People sitting in silence, enjoying the moment? Or contemplating the reasons this memorial exists. Or enjoying the sunshine with the season of re-birth and new life almost upon us?

    A young lady who is a guide at this memorial admonishing children not to run on the blocks of stone.

    The guide and I talk a while. I introduce myself, tell where I’m from and why I’m here. She shares with me her feelings about this space and the uncertainty she felt when she first started working here. She is impressed that a group from Houston, Texas would come here to study the Holocaust after all she tells me that the United States is at the forefront of Holocaust education.

    A person sitting here, drinking beer is asked to remove himself from the memorial space, but a young couple eating a sandwich is allowed to stay.

    Oh no – a young child trips over the edge of a stone and skins his knee, consoled by his father.

    Tourists snapping pictures.

    A bus of Japanese tourists pulls up. 30-40 people file off the bus seemingly confused by what they are seeing.

    I could sit here longer, see more. In the span of only 15 minutes I have seen all the above. I have seen life. I have seen love.

    I like this space.

    The survivors I know ask us only to remember. They don’t want us to stop living, paralyzed by their experiences.

    In this space of life, love and laughter is remembrance. I have reconciled my feelings about this space. This is a wonderfully fitting way to remember. This space and I have become friends.

  2. Brad Segal – 3/18/11

    A Tribute to my wonderful wife.

    Yesterday was a particularly emotional day for me. We have traveled to Mauthausen (my very first camp to visit), Dachau and Buchenwald. On this particular day we had traveled to House of the Wannsee Conference, and to several memorials in Grunewald and the Schoneberg (I hope that is correct) district of Berlin and finally to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. It was cold, it was rainy, and when we got to the exhibit, I spent a large amount of time walking the perimeter and then roaming through the large stones. By the time I actually went into the “inside” exhibit, I was pretty damp and cold. After the awkward security check (I was slightly disoriented), the first item I came to was a time line. I skipped this and walked into the first room. The first thing I see, is this story:
    “…after lunch the corpses from five vehicles were buried. From one vehicle a young woman was thrown out with a baby at her breast. It suckled its mother’s milk and died.”

    Reeling from shock of the individual stories depicted in this room, I move to the next room that showed pictures of individual families and their experiences. Reading the family stories, I feel waves of intense emotions rising, so I leave the room. The next room was large and dark, with about six benches in the middle of the room illuminated slightly from the floor, and projected onto the four walls was a single name and a date of birth and a date of death followed by a brief story on the individual in a couple of languages. As I sat on the bench I began to cry. I couldn’t stop crying. For at least 5-7 minutes the emotional journey of the past few days was set off by this wonderfully beautiful memorial! After I began to notice how loud my sniffling had become, a flash of wondering how long I had been at the exhibit crept into my mind, and not wanting to make the others wait on the bus, I recovered.

    That evening I shared this exhausting moment with my wife via Facebook chat. She was very sympathetic and was wondering how the group was coping as a whole, while experiencing such an intense and emotional trip. The next morning when I woke up, a 30 second video of my almost three year old beautiful daughter being tickled by my sister-in-law was waiting for me on Facebook. Hearing my little girl laugh was the perfect jolt that I needed to recharge my batteries and plow on to the next camp.

    I could not thank her enough.

    I love you, Meredith!!

    your husband
    -brad

    • Hy Penn – Friday, 3/18/11

      One of the newer Holocaust sites in Berlin is the outdoor Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

      Walking on uneven grounds between hundreds of tomb-like structures of varying heights was a sobering experience. At times, I felt towered over and overpowered.

      But what moved me the most was watching the people walking AROUND the memorial as I stood inside. People quickly going by – not taking the time to see what was going on inside.

      Their lives were moving on. . . Do they care? Do they know?

      Will they remember?

  3. Jerry Rochman

    Thursday 3/17/11

    What’s in a name? With a name you have an identity. With no name you are a mystery, unknown. Today in Berlin we saw the difference. At the Gruenwald Memorial we saw plaque after plaque embedded in the concrete railroad siding of Track 17. Each plaque had the same information – a date, a number, a destination. Nameless human beings being deported to wherever the Nazis wanted to send you . Transport after transport of individuals, 50 in this transport, 100 going here, 1,000 going there, day after day, after day, after day. What do we know about these people? We know they were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, friends. We know they were innocents victims caught up in unspeakable horror. We know their lives had beauty, meaning. We know what they did not know – their destination, plainly inscribed on each plaque. Theresienstadt seemed to be the most common destination – that way station on the way to the death camps of Poland. These are the people who are mysteries to us. We don’t know who they are as individuals. We don’t know their lives, their families. We want to know them, we want to mourn them. We do the best we can with the knowledge we have of them.

    The Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe. The blocks of stone undulating over the enormous square. Narrow paths between the blocks, where people are walking. Where are they going? Where are we going when we view this controversial memorial?

    Is this a proper way to remember the 6 million innocent lives lost? Can we remember in a vast public space, with traffic flowing by and the cacophony of the city all around us?

    I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about this memorial. I hope to have an answer for myself before we leave Berlin. I want to see this memorial come to life. I hope to visit here again before we leave Berlin.

    The treasure of this memorial however is what lies underground. A museum of memory, of faces, of people, of their lives, of their families. We feel as if we know them. They have names, identities. Not all of their stories have a happy ending, but we can honor them because they are real to us. As we read their stories, see their faces, we don’t realize the silence that pervades this space. It not the same silence as the the silence that surrounds Buchenwald, but a silence of reverence, of thanks, that for a moment we have been allowed into the beauty of the faces that we see and the lives they led.

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