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  • On the third day of our journey through the landscapes that make up the memory of the Holocaust, we visited the Jewish Museum of Berlin. On our way there, I thought about how strange it is to have such a large museum dedicated to two thousand years of history belonging to a group that makes up such a small part of the population in Berlin today. But I guess that’s to be expected when the group in question was the number one target in the Holocaust.

    Upon arriving, the first thing that I noticed was the very strange shape of the building. It looks almost like a lightening bolt. It was hard to believe that the exhibitions would fit inside the oddly shaped walls that made up the museum. Once you got inside, however, it was clear to see that the curators did an amazing job and that they had found a way to make sure the exhibitions flowed seamlessly through the obscure space.

    It was probably my favorite museum on the trip. It was so full of such an oppressed yet lively history and it was so interesting to walk around and learn about it. One of the highlights of the museum that made it so unique were ”voided” spaces throughout. Most of them were just empty areas that visitors weren’t allowed in but one of them houses a special work of art. It is called "Fallen Leaves" by the Israeli artist, Menashe Kadishman, and it is pictured above.

    It is essentially 10,000 metal faces laid on top of one another in this voided space. Visitors of the museum are encouraged to walk along on top of the faces and listen to the metal faces clinking together. It is supposed to remind us of the millions of Jews that died during the Shoah and to help us remember all of the faces that no longer exist in this world.

    It was very interesting and strange walking on those faces because it almost didn't feel right. It felt as if we were walking on top of the victims and that just felt wrong. As soon as I thought about that possibility I walked back to the entrance and just observed my classmates.

    It's fascinating to think about how artists choose to portray something that is so close and personal to them. How vulnerable they must feel and how nerve-wracking it must be when they finally reveal their work and it is open to the scrutiny of the public. I think that this artist did a great job representing such a tragic part of history and I am so glad he could share it with us in such a grand way.

    Walking around the museum made me think of two different quotations that I highlighted in my commonplace book. The first being from “Memory Shot Through With Holes.”* The authors state, “It is only after something has taken place that we can measure its importance.” I believe this to be a very relevant quotation because while the Holocaust was happening, people didn’t think twice about it. Most people did not understand the impact of it. I think people knew that it was a big deal but I don’t think that people had any kind of idea of the effect it would leave on the global community as a whole.

    How interesting it is that there is now such a grand museum in Berlin that is dedicated to the very people that many Berliners and others during the 1930s-40s were trying their hardest to eradicate. It just goes to show how the views of Jewish people have evolved for the better in the German city and in Germany as a whole.

    I also thought about something that Edyta Gawron said while walking through the museum. Although she speaks directly about Poles in her article, I believe the sentiment is still applicable. She says, “Who, then, are the people interested in Jewish studies? Certainly there is not one type or one group of them. Both the scholars and the students represent all regions of Poland and almost all possible social and religious backgrounds. Only a very small percentage of them are Jewish, which means that most people involved in Jewish studies in Poland today are Christian Poles – Catholics and Protestants.”**

    Clearly, there is a strong interest in Jewish life and history in Berlin, or else there wouldn’t be such an enormous museum dedicated to the subjects. I’m glad that so many in both Poland and Germany are so interested in the topic. It proves how far the countries have come in the past decades (Not that Poland was involved in the acting out of the Holocaust at all, it’s just difficult to relearn how to treat a group of people after you’ve been brainwashed for so long).

    I’m glad that Jewish life continues to thrive and be popular in these countries and I hope that continues to be the case in the future.

    *Henri Reczymow & Alan Astro, “Memory Shot Through With Holes”, pg. 102
    **Edyta Gawron, “The Development of Jewish Studies in Polish Universities”, pg. 113

    Photo Credit: Dylan Meyer
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