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  • We had spent almost four full months studying, researching, reading about, and presenting on Holocaust Memory. Would that be enough? Would that be enough to guide us through the landscapes where the most infamous crimes in history actually occurred? Would anything have been enough to prepare us to walk around these spaces in which such horror occurred?

    I know that it must have difficult for Berliners right after the war was over. They were dealing with the fall of their leader and general belief system. They also had to deal with their entire city being ravaged by war and they had to deal with the fact that almost the entire world was against them because of the crimes they committed against the Jewish community and other minorities. To say that they had faced a bleak future would be an understatement.

    But now that that was all over and so many years had passed, Berlin has grown and expanded and now is a well-populated and thriving, urban, European city. But at what cost? I know that the history of this city hadn’t just disappeared. So what happened to it? Did the current Berliners ever think about it? Were they reminded of it in everyday life? Were they forced to confront it in their daily activities? Did they forget about it? What were their views on Jewish life today?

    As these questions raced through my mind, a quotation that I reflected on in my commonplace book popped into my head. I thought back to my Intro to Anthropology textbook and what the author had to say about adaptability. He states, “Humans are among the world’s most adaptable animals” (Kottak)*. I originally chose this quotation because how well it applies to the Holocaust and all that we had been studying. The adaptability of humans is one of the first things you learn about in anthropology because as animals of the world, we are at the forefront of adaptation abilities. I think it is because of this that the survivors of the Holocaust were actually able to survive. They were put through hell and back and nothing that Hitler and the Nazis did to them could break them.

    But how does the adaptability of the humans play a role in Holocaust studies today? Berliners have had to constantly adapt throughout history and as a result, they have adapted to what their city is like today. They know the history and they know that they are entirely surrounded by it. But that doesn’t mean that their lives have to be engulfed and taken over by it.

    I guess I had always thought that people who lived in such historical cities should be more affected by that history on a daily basis, that they should somehow live their lives in a way that kept it alive and in the forefront of their minds. But the fact of the matter is, while it is the responsibility of those who work in the historical centers and museums, and at memorial sites, I no longer feel that it is regular citizens’ responsibility to maintain that history. I mean, where I live in a suburb 20 minutes outside of Boston, Revolutionary War sites and memorials are all around me. While I know what events and battles took place near by, it’s not as if I am thinking about them on a daily basis and constantly reflecting on them. There are museums and historical sites for that.

    I do, however, feel that people who live in historical cities and towns should be aware of what took place. They just don’t have to let their lives be dominated by the history.

    *Conrad Phillip Kottak, Window On Humanity – A Concise Introduction to Anthropology, pg. 2
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