[This post regards our excursions on Saturday the 19th]
I had a hard time processing today. My team (Team Charlie; consisting of myself Brittany H., Jake L., Audrey P., Olivia W., and Jacob J.) and I were assigned to visit the Museum for the Murdered Jews of Europe here in Berlin. As the name suggests, it’s a heavy topic; not one I find myself pondering very often in every day life. But this was a necessary excursion. This city is a mine of complex history and fascinating stories. It also was home to many of the victims of the holocaust and was basically the center of Nazi power. Thus, delving into the stories of a few of the millions of individuals directly affected by this terror in the very city so much of it took place is chilling. Team Charlie knew we were in for a tough morning; nevertheless, we walked into the museum with open minds and an eagerness for deeper understanding.
Stories get me. Life stories, with details that depict the rawness of humanity, really get me. As I inched my way through the rooms of the museum, I found myself being sucked into the stories of ordinary people who unexpectedly suffered a tragedy far worse than anything I could imagine. I observed photographs of the grotesque corpses of completely innocent people. Each of these mutilated individuals had their own story. Many stories were lost and are forever gone, but the relatively few stories that were preserved are heart breaking. I still can’t comprehend the horror. Words legitimately don’t suffice. And I have so many questions: How could so many join this cause to kill? How should I respond to this? My natural instinct is to avoid thinking about this mass murder… It’s much too painful.
I journaled a bit this afternoon, after our team discussion following the museum, and got to the page that had Philippians 4:8 written on it in pretty lettering. As I scribbled down my thoughts and feelings about this experience, our discussion, and the holocaust, I couldn’t help but ponder this verse. It reads: “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think on such things.” I want to. I want to find the beauty in everything. That’s typically my unofficial Goal of the Day. Thus, I veer away from harping on the negative. I’m not a big fan of delving into heavy, depressing topics. But Christ did not ask His people to avoid suffering. He asks us to be empathetic, as He was and is. He mourned with those who were hurting and rejoiced with those who celebrated. Clearly He is not saying to only think about the good stuff and pretend like terrible things don’t happen, and I don’t think Paul was saying that either. So how can I respond to this incomprehensible suffering without falling into a pit of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness? I truly don’t have the answer. But I believe–as I investigated in an honors “Wisdom Books” religion class this past semester–that it is absolutely necessary to remain attuned to joy while being responsive to suffering. God exists in both extremes, on the mountain tops and in the valleys. By considering the depths of the horrors of the holocaust, I am becoming more aware of the nastiest side of humanity. I wish to use this knowledge as an incentive to love better… There is indeed pain and unexplainable suffering in this world, but there is still so much good. So much reason to encourage my neighbor and to speak truth. My heart hurts for those who lost loved ones or who survived the holocaust… How could one come out of that tragedy without a constant sense of emptiness for those who perished? How does one move on from that and get back to a life that is relatively normal? How can we encourage and support those who are hurting in this way, even when we cannot grasp the pain they have experienced?
I still don’t have words to concisely wrap this up… I don’t have the answers. But I believe I will be left asking these kinds of questions as we further explore each city.
p.s. As I am left pondering, I must say that I so appreciate this opportunity to explore the dark sides of the history of Berlin as well as the stunning cathedrals, parks, monuments, food, and more. I feel like I have learned a lot, particularly from listening to the other members of my group as we all try to digest the world around us. Thanks for a great adventure, Berlin. Onto Munich!