Monday, May 10, 2010
The past few days in Berlin have been a whirlwind of experiences and emotions. It is my first time in Berlin and I must say it is a great city. With its many museums, cafés, parks and memorials, it is truly a fascinating place.
The past two days have conveyed a range of emotions dealing with the darkest period of German-Jewish relations, the Shoah. Our visits to the Jewish Museum, the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and today’s visit to Sachsenhausen demonstrated how central the Shoah is to German history and identity.
I have to say in advance that I have previous knowledge about the Jewish Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, having discussed it in history classes at my university. I came to Berlin on hand with opinions and feelings about these two sites discussed from my classmates and friends. However, nothing could really prepare me for how I felt. The Jewish Museum is a great museum, and stood up the challenge of presenting 2000 years of Jewish history in Germany. Its avant-garde architecture and method in which it displays Jewish culture over such an extensive amount of time is truly an accomplishment. The only criticism I would give about my experience is our guided tour, it was too rushed and gave us a superficial view of how the information was presented. I could clearly see that the museum provides a wealth of information in a meaningful way- an amusing way as well when visiting the “Heroes, Freaks and Superrabbis” exhibit, which displayed the works of Jewish cartoonists in the twentieth century. Museums such as this should be visited with ample time to really appreciate its content and the hard work of its curators and historians.
The Holocaust Tower in the Jewish Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe struck the same cord with me. I felt cold and lost in both memorials. In both memorials, I could hear muffled voices. The muffled voices to me represented the voices of those in Europe who could see and hear what was happening to the Jews. It gave me the sensation that other people during the Shoah were so near yet far to the Jews of Europe. Near because there were people who came close to Jews and hid them during the war years. Far because many people during the war years either chose not to do anything or could not. In later conversations about the two memorials, I found out that Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Jewish Museum was a student of Peter Eisenmann, the architect of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It made a little bit more sense to me why the two memorials invoked a similar reaction for me.
Today’s visit to Sachsenhausen and my personal visit to the recently opened Typography of Terror museum left me with more question about the Shoah in Germany. But mostly these memorials and museums left me with a sense of being impressed by the German people and their extensive efforts to portray such a horrible part of their history. These sites promote education, thought, reflection and dialogue about the Shoah. They do it in a way that stirs debate among its visitors. The issue of debate is an imperative one- and leads me to my thoughts about the Oberammagau Passion Play. Many Germans I have spoken to thus far are shocked that we are going to see this play- conveying an image that we must be crazy for wanting to go to this. However, I am still confident that this Passion Play will promote inter-religious dialogue in Germany and beyond. I do think that we all go home and talk about this play for a long time- and discuss what sort of implication it has in the worlds of religion and theatre. What is absolutely certain is the development of historical and contemporary consciousness for North American Jews about Germany is absolutely essential. It is also rewarding and even fun, especially over a beer with young Germans.