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  • One of the memorials that stuck out the most to me in Warsaw was the Umschlagplatz memorial. Umschlagplatz was a train station of sorts from where hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported from the Ghetto to the death camp Treblinka. The memorial stands where this freight depot once was. When you're standing in front of it, you see a large grey wall with "Umschlagplatz" inscribed on the left side, and over the opening in the wall, there is a carving of dead trees. When you step inside, there are hundreds of Jewish first names in the walls and this quote is repeated in several different languages, "Along this path of suffering and death over 300, 000 Jews were driven in 1942-1943 from the Warsaw Ghetto to the gas chambers of the Nazi extermination camps." Directly across from the entrance, there is a split in the back wall that reveals a tree growing directly behind the memorial. The juxtaposition of the dead trees pictured above the entrance and the living tree in the space in the back wall of the memorial is really beautiful, and gives the viewer a sense of hope and comfort that the memory of these people is still alive.

    This memorial does two things that I noticed other memorials doing: the inscription of many Jewish names to commemorate victims and the juxtaposition of the living trees and the huge grey stone. In the Bełzec memorial, there are two walls which have a long list of common names of the people who were deported to the camp, and in the Garden of Exile in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, you can see the use of the olive trees and the stelae that show both life and death. Personally, I’m not partial to the name-listing idea, because I feel like no matter how much research goes into picking these names (and I know a lot does), there will still always be someone left out. It goes too far into the representational realm of memorialization, and it feels a bit archaic and non-inclusive. However, I do really love the incorporation of nature into memorials. I think it’s very powerful to be reminded not only of your own mortality, but also of the world around you that’s still very much alive. Having these plants be a part of memorialization not only allows the viewer to experience the memorial, but it also lets you seamlessly link it to the world around you.
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