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  • One of the most powerful parts of the Jewish Museum for me, and I think for many of my classmates, was the Garden of Exile. It’s similar to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in that it’s composed of many different stelae which you walk around, but the stelae are much taller and all about the same size (as far as I could tell). Also, olive trees grow on top of each stela, which symbolizes hope. Walking through the Garden of Exile is a totally disorienting experience. The stelae are set on a slanted foundation, so you never feel very stable or confident in where you are going. I also noticed that, as in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, when you see someone else as you’re walking through, you tend to want to avoid them. You feel very alone, but it’s like you want to stay that way. The stelae have this kind of ominous beauty that’s hard to process. I think this area of the museum is more successful than the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is. It’s abstract enough that it gives lots of room for various interpretations, but it does push you a little further in the right direction than the MMJE (so I don’t have to keep typing it!), because the title and description are clearly visible right beside the door. I think this is useful, because it works to avoid the whole little kids/dumb teenagers jumping around in it problem by implying that there should be a level of reverence felt by those who enter. As far as symbolism goes, I felt that the Garden of Exile was a way to show the instability of Jews as a people in Germany, particularly because of the slanted ground.
    This may be a little far fetched, but one thing that I thought about a lot after this experience was the fact that we, as friends and peers, blatantly avoided one another in this space. What does that mean? Of what is this symbolic? In her essay “Holocaust Education after 1989 in Polish Schools-- and Beyond,” Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs quotes Charles S. Maier, “modern historical memory, however, cannot be universal because ‘memory does not come in a social or political vacuum’ and communities of memory cannot empathize with members of other communities of memory.”(78). I thought this seemed fitting to our experience in the Garden of Exile, noting our group’s diverse backgrounds, because we each seemed to represent our own community of memory. We couldn’t be around each other or look at each other, because we were so engrossed in our personal experiences that it was difficult for us to acknowledge others. It is in such a surreal situation that Maier’s point is clear, because the physical act of turning away seems like a kind of symptom of the inability to empathize with other communities of memory.
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