The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin Germany

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Berlin was a city of intellectuals, of culture, art, music. But, as the capital of the country, it was also the place were the decisions were made that attempted to destroy all traces of Jews and Jewish life. It also became the headquarters of the National Socialist Party. The location of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, their holocaust memorial and museum, in Berlin sends a clear message of change and renewal.

This is not the only holocaust memorial in the Berlin. There is the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime located nearby. Germany, and Berlin, are determined to send the message of the new Germany to the world.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The holocaust memorial of Berlin, opened in May, 2005. The above-ground portion was designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman. The almost 5 acre site is located in the center of the city, and is accessible day and night. There are no gates or walls.

It is composed of a field of 2700 concrete stelae or obelisks of varying heights, placed in rows. Despite its purpose as a contemplative site providing a disorienting and unsettling experience for visitors, in reality it has also become a play ground for children who run through the stelae-created corridors. Tourists stand on top of the lower pillars and mug for the camera. Although it may be a bit incongruous to see children romp through a memorial, it is much like life perhaps, with life and death happening simultaneously. In this case, life above, and death below.

Underneath the southeastern corner is the Information Centre, and in a sense this is where the true memorial lies. It is a somber place, a place of loss and growing horror, not from ghastly pictures - there are no images of skeletal survivors, or tortured bodies. The horror comes from the cumulative effect of the stories of loss, and the simple declarations of fact.

Read more about Jewish Germany and the Holocaust Memorial at
There are images from the November 1938 pogrom when synagogues were destroyed and Jewish business ransacked across Germany. There are the day-to-day humiliations. A photo of men leading Christine Neemann and her Jewish boyfriend through the streets. They are forced to wear placards. Her placard reads I am a German girl and I have let myself be defiled by a Jew. His reads I am a race defiler.

The history is laid out bare and horrifying. Here is where the pain and extermination is documented. There is a room of families and what became of them. It is a repetitive litany - birth, arrest, death. But perhaps the most affecting place is the room of Names. The goal is to make the incomprehensible number concrete and real. It is a dark room and silent, save for a voice that reads the short biographies of Jews murdered or lost while the name, year of birth and death of each person is projected on the walls. It is estimated that the reading of the names and life stories of all the victims in the form presented here would take approximately six years, seven months and 27 days.

Mixed in with the murder of the Jews is the documentation of the destruction of the Roma, the attempts at rebellion – Warsaw, Treblinka – and the systematic starvation of Soviet prisoners of war. Whatever the National Socialists touched they destroyed.

There is no admission charge for the Visitors Centre, and it is open April to September from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (last entrance 7.15 p.m.). From October to March it is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (last entrance 6.15 p.m.). Closed on Mondays

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

August 8, 2015

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