When we think of Germany, we often think of them as the awful perpetrators in the Holocaust and of who’s to blame for World War II. But what is their identity today? This year will be 74 years since the end of WWII. From their laws against swastikas and SS symbols to the banning of the Nazi salute in public, Germany appears to be recognizing the past and taking steps to ensure it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes. Yet, there was still one thing that stood out to me as being nonprogressive towards ending Nazism: The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.
Talks of building the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe was in the works all the way back in the 1980s, but it wasn’t awarded funding by the German Federal Parliament until 1999 and construction didn’t begin until 2003. Finally, the Memorial was completed and opened to the public in 2005. The fact that it took nearly 25 years to get this memorial established in such a key place in Germany was really striking to me. Whether this was due to the fact that many perpetrators, collaborators, and bystanders of World War II and the Holocaust were still alive during that time period or if it was Germany’s unwillingness to take responsibility for their past, this seemed like a job that was well overdue.
The name of this memorial also stood out to me because it does not disclose who murdered the Jews of Europe, when or exactly where they were murdered, nor does it include any mention of the Holocaust or Nazism. In addition, the historical placement of this site is important because it in the city center where most of the deportations took place. The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe is also located around the corner from the infamous Führerbunker where Hitler committed suicide. This could be seen as problematic in the fact that it takes the attention off of the Jewish memorial itself.
Since its opening in 2005, there have also been problems of tourists and locals alike, taking pictures, posing on top of and vandalizing the rows of Memorial stones. These acts of insensitivity are extremely dangerous and give the impression that people do not know or care about the genocide of the Jewish people. Like Hannah Arendt pointed out, these “nobodies” are the most dangerous of all when it comes to the Holocaust. This bears the question if the memorial had a stronger and more descriptive name, would people be more empathetic to it?
The only thing this memorial seems to have done right would be in the actual construction and design of the Memorial. It consists of various rows of gray rectangle blocks that vary in size, shape, and texture, with an unstable ground that changes in elevation. Visiting this memorial with my comrades only intensified the experience. Walking through the blocks I would see my friends one second and then they were gone the next. There was a sense of uncertainty with no set direction as to how to walk through the memorial and a feeling of instability and chaos in the precarious ground, where you are almost never able to properly catch your footing. The exposure you feel when standing by the short blocks and a sense of isolation you feel while standing by the tall blocks was also something I encountered while visiting. These were all feelings that the Jewish people experienced during the Holocaust. You leave the memorial feeling uncomfortable and unsure, only a minute part of what these victims felt every day of their lives during World War II. This memorial does seem to be a step up against Nazism, but as we can see in the lengthy timeline of construction, vagueness in the title of the memorial and in the insensitivity of visitors, there is still a long way to go for Germany.