When Dr. P says CR is all in 24/7, he means it. Not to say that I didn’t believe him before, but I assumed it was more of an exaggeration rather than the cold hard truth. From the first moment we landed in Berlin’s Tegel Airport, we’ve been challenged emotionally, physically, and intellectually to explore and push ourselves past our comfort zones. Even before our first full day in Berlin, Dr. P took us to Bebelplatz, the site of the mass burning of more than 20,000 pieces of literature. There he asked us to look for something out of place; something that didn’t belong. Shortly after, we came upon a transparent box in the otherwise stone floor. In it was a white room filled with rows on rows of empty book shelves, representing the books lost to the flames. In that spot, ideas were lost forever, knowledge was suffocated, and free thought was expunged. In that spot, the transition to cultural isolation began.
If you were to look at Berlin today without having any knowledge of its past, you would think it is one of the most progressive and culturally aware cities in the world. While this is true in many ways, it strongly juxtaposes against a Berlin that, only 75 years earlier, was the place of monolithic, facist thought, eventually leading to one of the most horrific events in world history: the holocaust. Yet, this transition from anti-semitic rhetoric to one of openness and inclusion has been met with an equally impressive recognition for the past as seen in memorials such as the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Topography of Terror. Each of these memorials were not only erected using money from the German government, but they are maintained and operated by the Germans despite free admission to the memorials. This speaks volumes to the transitions in government ideals. Rather than sweeping their past under the rug, the German people own up to their past and accept whatever burden is placed upon them to ensure that all past wrong doings are acknowledged and reflected on. We, as Americans, could learn a lot from this.
While the German ownership is impressive, the memorials themselves were astonishing. Team Alpha arrived at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe for our first venture of CR. We were all extremely excited to arrive, yet what we saw was extremely different than what we expected (Except for Emma and Kyle, they knew what to expect #fcberlin2017). On a street corner not far from the Brandenburg gate stood a multitude of grey rectangular columns of varying heights. Come to find out, this sea of grey was the memorial.
What I loved most about this memorial was it’s unassuming nature. Had I not known it was a memorial, I would have walked by without a second thought. Yet, in the same way I would walk by without acknowledgement, so did the world as they watched the travesty of the holocaust unfold, never doing anything until it was too late; when the transition from bystander to victim had already taken place. This ambiguity in the memorial allowed for personal interpretation, giving a static piece dynamic ability.
In contrast to the above ground memorial, The museum below serves to put meaning to the blocks and to answer the questions of all those who wonder. Upon entering there is a quote from Primo Levi:
“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”
Six million Jews were murdered in the holocaust. There is gravity in six million people. Never in my life have I ever seen one million people, let alone six. When I visited the museum, I couldn’t help but shake the thought that “this would never happen again.” Even now as I write this, I want to believe it’s not possible, that people are innately good. But if people are innately good, why did this ever happen?
“…the transition from starvation to genocide.”
The intent wasn’t to kill. The intent was to starve. The intent doesn’t matter. When plans are formed with ill-intent, the fall is swift and inevitable. This idea was adequately reinforced through the Topography of Terror memorial.
In the economic instability that ensued following World War I, the German people sought a leader that could resurrect their lost power and reestablish Germany as a world super power. Adolf Hitler was that person. In desperate times, people needed a leader. Where there was hope, there were the masses. Hitler was able to capitalize on the instability of a nation to push an agenda of evil, in turn changing the course of history forever. Propaganda turned into words. Words turned into prejudice. Prejudice turned into discrimination. Discrimination turned into the systematic murder of six million Jews, once again signaling a transition from hope to despair.
As society turns to a new chapter and transitions past the atrocities seen in the holocaust, it is important that we understands the magnitude of what took place nearly 80 years ago. People both young and old were stripped from their homes, forced into labor, and degraded to a point where their only identifying quality was their religion. They were herded like cattle into box cars and taken miles across Germany to concentration camps where they were forced to say goodbye to their family members, knowing the inevitability of their impending doom. Though we will never be able to give back the lives that were stolen, we have the power to ensure that their legacy is never forgotten. We have the power to seek knowledge beyond that of our own culture. We have the power to love those unlike ourselves. We have the power to stand up for humanity. We have the power to do what is right.