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  • At first glance the town of Wannsee appeared to me as an illustration from a children's fairy tale book. I was engrossed with its picturesque landscape of quaint homes and the beautiful nature that reflected upon the town's lake. However, when I approached the Wannsee Conference House these feelings dissipated. Even though the house still captured the town's awe inspiring beauty, I was overwhelmed by its sordid Nazi past. Author Brian Ladd expresses this sentiment about the house and its current use as an educational center perfectly in his book "The Ghosts of Berlin".

    " The exhibition's existence is symbolically important, however, in its acknowledgment that the single terrible day in this house's history denied it the right to be a normal place in the city."

    I could not figure out a way to look past its history and see the estate for its pure beauty. The historical presence of death and genocide lurked everywhere behind its marble facade. It was a bizarre feeling to enter this residence where the "Final Solution" was discussed during the Wannsee Conference of January 20,1942. My emotions of sorrow, disdain, amazement and desire to learn more all overlapped at once. As a Jew I felt pride and vengeance being able to enter this place freely and prove that the Nazi's plan was never realized. While as a student, I wanted to analyze the way the place was memorialized, how the town views the house, and the effectiveness of the exhibits on the German youth that visit here. Finding a balance between the emotions of the two roles was one that took the entire trip to figure out.

    My class's guide Dr. Wolf Kaiser made particular notes of interest that resonated with me in regards to the exhibit design and the educational process for German students on this subject. One major decision, which is mentioned as well in "Ghosts of Berlin", is the minimal concentration on the actual Wannsee Conference. Since there is controversy over Eichmann's minutes of the "Final Solution" and the fact that the process of murdering Jews had already begun, it seemed fit to show the entire history from beginning to end in order to not confuse students. It is imperative for German students to visit this site as part of their Holocaust education. Another point of interest Dr. Kaiser described to my class was the decision of the curators to not show the faces of the victims that were depicted in the photographs of the exhibit. In order to preserve the dignity of the victims that perished in the Holocaust, I believe it is a humane move that should be taken up by more museums that display this subject. Even though the original artifact is being tainted and therefore creates the question of authenticity ( perfect for ridicule by Holocaust deniers); I believe it is a respectable move. A final point that I found interesting in the museum exhibit design, was the utilization of a hallway for quotes by Nazi descendants and Holocaust survivors that concluded the tour. This display represents how generations after can coexist together in an effort to restore peace, understanding, and battle any future ignorance. I believe it is a sign of hope and provides a good lesson for the German youth, and youth of the races and religions that were persecuted in the Holocaust.

    The ability to connect the history through text with the actual place it occurred is always invigorating. However, the ability to connect with an original structure that is still fully intact is an opportunity not always found, especially in regards to the Holocaust. The decision to finally approve this place as a study center in 1992 gives students across the globe this amazing chance to see a place of extreme significance in Holocaust history. As I stared out through the window of our conference room with another student (as depicted in the photo); I kept thinking of Ladd's quote. If one passed this building without any knowledge of it, they would think it is just another pretty structure. It is this knowledge of the past that prevents visitors from seeing its beauty. How do you look upon a historic residence of death's vassals and see anything but sorrow or hate? How do you remove that coinciding guilt?
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