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  • The Monument to Struggle and Martyrdom at the State Museum at Majdanek begins with the Gates of Hell depicted in the photo by my classmate Dylan Meyer, and is followed by the Road of Homage and Remembrance which leads to the Mausoleum of ashes at the end of the camp. I believe Professor James E. Young's quote from "The Texture of Memory" vividly illustrates the processes of experiencing this monument:

    " From the main road leading out of Lublin, we approach this monument through a gate of Hell before descending into a symbolic valley to the base of the monument. Standing beneath this tone, we gaze down upon an arrow-straight road, one mile long open fields to the left, barracks on the right. In the distance, at the very end of the road, we can see a great dome covering the mausoleum of ashes and to its right a squat building with a tall chimney: the crematorium and gas chamber complex. It takes nearly twenty minutes to walk this path, an enforced time of meditation, when our eyes remain fixed on the mausoleum and the chimney looming even larger into view."

    This quote captures the essence of the magnitude of the monuments at the camp. The Road of Homage and Remembrance pathway between the mausoleum and Gates of Hell provides the visitor an entire panorama of the camp as discussed in Young's quote. I feel that this view is what evokes the 'enforced meditation' Young mentions and silence present at the camp. It almost feels as if it is an attempt at respect for the perished victims and a moment to process the complexity and entirety of the camp.

    The Mausoleum is of particular interest though. The open dome at the end of the camp encases the ashes that were gathered into a mound in the late forties as a mass grave for the perished victims. The construction of the Mausoleum is what is my concern and a major controversy within the Jewish community. While the artist tried to memorialize the victims by using Slavic and ancient traditions he completely disregarded the Jewish rituals. Since the Jews are the people that make up the majority of these ashes it is disturbing that there remains a blatant disregard for how they are displayed. This is an issue that resonates with other Nazi camp museum exhibits and displays but this one in particular yields the most consternation. In the Jewish tradition, the dead need to be buried within the ground in order to connect with the earth. A dead body according to the Talmud is to never be seen by the living in order to "not mock" the deceased. Therefore, this mausoleum may be seen as some as insult to the dead since visitors may see the ashes of the perished, photograph it and connect with it. Coming at it from the two different perceptions of Jew and student make it difficult to analyze this controversy. While as a Jew I feel this is disrespectful for the perished victim's memory, I also understand the education value and easier grasp to the visitor of the atrocities that occurred at this camp. Knowing what happened is one thing, but seeing the ash of an exterminated victim is another. The warning inscribed on the mausoleum " Let our fate be a warning to you ... " is attainable to understand when in the presence of the victims' ashes. This complex issue seems to have a lose, lose resolution. How does the museum meet the educational needs for the visitors but still memorialize the perished properly? After all this is the number one priority. Would a mausoleum that is completely enclosed with dim lighting be a better option with a glass encasing around the perished ashes? Or would just a simple signage and monument be built in remembrance and let the ashes be buried into the earth and covered? Then at what point does this lead into the exhibits that contain pieces of Jewish life such as the hair at the Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau?

    I don't think we will ever reach a conclusion that satisfies both needs and attains the ultimate respect for the perished victims, as pessimistic as it may sound. However, I do believe the debate should flourish and within it ideas may grow and provide for better ways of reaching this goal.
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