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  • Jewish history and culture is something I had never really studied into prior to my Holocaust classes. I saw no reason to because I have no ties to Judaism, and to be quite honest I thought for a long time I thought it was a quickly dying religion. Now after taking Holocaust classes, I have learned that one must understand Jewish history and culture to understand how the Holocaust came to be through anti-Semitism. I have noticed that when most people talk about the Jews, they really only know about the Holocaust. It’s almost as if the hundreds of years of history prior to it never existed, like because the Holocaust was such a travesty, it is the only history worth knowing about them. This museum gave me a greater context of what it meant to be a Jew throughout history, and as I read Holocaust: A History, all of these anti-Semitic ideologies and actions created a snowballing effect.

    What this museum succeeded at the most is giving every angle and facet of Jews from past to present. Here I was able to branch out from just the Holocaust and look at the bigger picture of hatred and oppression. This museum didn’t only offer the negative aspects of Jewish history, but also showed how they have surpassed this persistent hatred and created an identity that has struggled, yet succeeded, to carry on throughout the centuries. Both these negative and positive aspects of this history gave me a newfound respect for the Jews.

    Our tour guide did an amazing job at not only teaching us the major points of the Jewish history, but also incorporated her personal experiences as a Jew into the tour. At certain points, she would interject with snippets about current events about Jews and Jewish culture that correlated with the exhibit we were seeing. The most moving of these was when we were looking at a giant sculpture of garlic. She explained that garlic was important to the past culture, and then brought up a recent event where a woman was killed because she wore a Star of David necklace. Our guide stressed that she thinks it is important to display one’s religion, but that it isn’t safe in this world. She wears a different Jewish symbol on her necklace because of this apprehension. I realized the importance of this history to present-day Jews like her. It seems like there is an extreme desire to preserve and maintain Jewish history and culture to make sure a collective Jewish identity continues into the future. That culture though is threatened by the long-standing Jewish oppression.

    The part of the museum that really affected me was the room of metal faces. In Literature After Auschwitz I learned about this room, but completely forgot that it was at this museum. I found myself stepping on the sturdy faces instead of the wobbly ones to make sure I didn’t lose balance and fall. I was oppressing the stable and well ones to make sure I was okay. The entire walk across I wondered, “Is this how Jews have been treated throughout history, taken advantage of to further the well-being of other groups?” And yet I did not stop. I wanted to get to the back of the room and not fall. With each loud clank of the faces I stepped on, I took one step closer to my own safety.

    After visiting the museum, our group was given the task of finding the Grunewald Memorial. This initially seemed like it would be simple, but ended up being like the world’s hardest scavenger hunt. I won’t go into the minor details, but needless to say our group got split up on the subway, but luckily I was in the half-group that got to experience Grunewald in full.

    This memorial is surprisingly simple yet very powerful. There are train tracks with dates and figures of its deportations, as well as a wall with silhouettes sunk into it. I think its simplicity is what makes it so haunting. Here we have the shadows of the deportees walking to the traintracks like ghosts. It seemed like they were just repeating this walk to their inevitable death over and over again. The physical forms are gone, ripped from the stone wall, leaving just a hollow indent of what was a tangible, real person. Some of the writers I have read have talked about how the deportees already felt doomed and seemed like corpses on their trip to the camps, and this memorial completely encompasses that idea. Walking along with them to the train tracks just made this experience even more real, because by the time you reach the tracks, you feel drained emotionally and physically.
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