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The genocide of Jews in Germany is certainly not unique in world history. The Rape of Nanking, Rwanda and Manifest Destiny tally a short list that the perpetrating nations would officially like to forget. But in that aspect, Germany stands alone and the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Purchase offered a presentation last Thursday at the White Plains Library to acknowledge the manner in which the atrocity is remembered as policy by a nation.
“Germans don't shy away from the Holocaust, they face it head on,” said Steve Goldberg, HHREC’s co-director of education during his presentation of Monuments and Memorials in Germany: Creation and Controversy.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe resides at the Brandenburg Gate where the regime’s beating heart once pulsed. "It's located at the key Nazi administrative center in East Berlin," said Goldberg.
Completed in 2005, the spirit follows in line with the abstract trend that began with the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Covering 4.7 acres, it consists of over 2,700 rectangular concrete blocks that resemble coffins. But they're all different sizes and not necessarily perpendicular, while the ground and rows are uneven. "It looks orderly but it's not," said Goldberg.
The abstraction coincides with a Nazi state that was lockstep on display, but quite different at its core. “The regime was obviously discombobulated and irrational,” asserted Goldberg of artist Peter Eisenman’s inspiration.
In turn, the monument adheres to Germany's principal spec. "They need to be part of the city and not separated from the main flow of life," he said.
This often has people entering the space to relax and eat their lunch, and while that has led to criticisms, the effect has taken hold. A remembrance started by Gunter Demnig is spreading across the country and is squarely in step to demonstrate the notion.
Stolpersteine, which translates to “tripping stones,” marks the actual spots in bronze cobblestone where Jewish families once lived and the tragic fate befell them. "Each one is raised a quarter of an inch above existing stones on streets,” said Goldberg, and are hard to miss – if not actually living up to their name, he added.
Unfortunately, in some places, entire streets are lined in the bronze obstructions. Similarly, train stations represent another reminder that Germany doesn't hide from – especially given their role in the Holocaust.
The Memorial to Deported Jews at the Grunewald Train Station in Berlin stages one of the most haunting. An 18 meter rectangular concrete slab, the hollowed out human figures aren’t hard to equate to the hundreds of thousands of disappeared ghosts they represent.
But the art is not all heartbreak. Frank Meisler was a youngster who escaped in a prewar exodus known as Kindertransport. Parents loaded up 10,000 children from the Berlin train station en route for survival in England. “In all likelihood, they never saw their families again,” said Goldberg.
Meisler went on to build five statues to commemorate the transport alongside the daily hustle and bustle. "It's amazing how many commuters stop to take a look everyday," says Goldberg.
Forgetfully, that was also the case during the many Book burning ceremonies infamously held at Humboldt University in Frankfurt, which was the primary academic and cultural center. Today, the abomination would be hard to strike from the record in the square where 451 degrees of Fahrenheit measured the nation’s hysteria. Encased in the ground, a glass covering houses empty bookshelves to symbolize the mania.
Interestingly, a nearby 200 year old plaque foretold how serious this action would be in human costs. "Those who burn books will one day burn people," the German intellectual Heinrich Heine’s words are immortalized.
Of course, the memorials are not only contained to the Jewish plight. Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and political prisoners are part of the memorial movement, while the government mandates that children are well versed in the history.
In fact, each child is required to visit the numerous sites and death camps across Germany. "It's just a phenomenon you don't ever see," he reiterated in conclusion.