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  • In order to understand the context of Nazi ideology and their rise to power, it is important to create a foundation of knowledge regarding German-Jewish history pre WWII. The long reign of anti-Semitism and its evolution throughout the centuries is laid out explicitly in the Jewish Museum of Berlin. The exhibits follow a time line pathway that trails through the 'lightening bolt' structure. They provide visitors the ability to clearly grasp the concept of the causes and effects of anti-Semitism on the Jewish culture in Germany before the Nazis. The jagged shape of the building with its warped floors and exhibit levels may allude to the tumultuous Jewish history of Germany so pristinely displayed through the museum’s exhibits.

    While all of the exhibits are intriguing, there is one in particular that I find worthwhile in mentioning. Towards the end of the museum tour there is an exhibit with an art installation called “ Fallen Leaves” by Menashe Kadishman. This installation is a memorial to the six million Jewish lives that perished in the Shoah. The room it is located is an obscure and dark location with only a sliver of sunshine passing through the skylight. This light falls right upon the individually carved metal faces of the victims. The installation is interactive and enables the individual to walk upon the faces and with each step hear them reverberate beneath their feet. It is as if one is stepping on fallen leaves, one crunching against the other. The loud clashing between the faces almost reminds me of crying or screaming since it is so high pitch and in high multitudes from the people stepping on them. Even though I couldn’t bring myself to walk upon them, I appreciated the artistic interpretation and value of the memorial. I thought it was avante garde and gave a new personal touch to memorializing the perished victims. I remember finding a face among the thousands that was very small and would have been for a young child. The face’s expression evoked horror and extreme sorrow from within me. In the words of survivor Lengyel:

    “ Figures rise before me and mutely plead that I tell their stories too. I can resist the men and the women but there are the phantoms of the little children.”

    I find this quote to be the essence of my emotions that day and throughout many of the other memorials we toured. My eyes remained fixated on the "child’s" face. I looked into it’s hallowed out sullen eyes and drifted off into thought of the children Janusz Korczak refused to leave that perished in Treblinka. While the tears I shed from the emotion of interacting with this piece matched the appearance of the child’s; they in no way matched the emotional suffering that the innocent child was crying for. The ability for a memorial to evoke this kind of emotion from visitors I believe is an impressive feat on the artist’s part. While Holocaust Memorials vary immensely in the way they are displayed, I believe that the end goal must be to evoke some sort of emotion from the viewer. These pieces are done for remembrance not the viewer’s entertainment. However what happens when it does cross that line between pleasure and memorializing? Is it appropriate to find a memorial or artistic piece symbolizing the Holocaust amusing? Is there a boundary art must abide too? How do you prevent the children that visit from just innocently playing with these faces with no recollection of what they mean? Will this be a complete insult to the memory of the perished? How do we prevent this from happening at numerous memorials like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe? These questions may never reach answers but they are something to ponder upon and contemplate.
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