Lessons from History: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

To conclude this blog series on my abroad experiences in Deutschland, I figured writing this blog about Berlin would be appropriate. Berlin, after all, is the city that comes to mind when most people consider Germany: the Bundestag, Angela Merkel, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and so much more. I only spent two days in this fantastic city, and now I am eager to return one day! But one attraction really staggered me—the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, and it was inaugurated in 2005. A friend told me that this memorial was specifically created it without an interpretation. Thus, its interpretation is held in the eyes of the beholder.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The memorial itself sinks deeper with each concrete column or slab gradually growing in height. Eventually, you are dwarfed by the columns, left wandering in a concrete maze. There was something unsettling about this site; perhaps it was its history, but I also thought the structure of the memorial evoked this feeling. The memorial stands gray, bland, motionless, and ruminating. In my eyes, it is a reminder and a lesson.

Its homogenous gray color and change in depth are the most conspicuous features of the memorial, which I believe represent, respectively, the abnegation the Holocaust victims were subjected to and the change in severity or damage overtime. The deeper the memorial stands, the further along in the tragedy you have descended, until you are ultimately engulfed by it. I believe the passage of time is a critical component because many people and nations were either naïve or willfully ignorant to the tragedy until it smacked them in the face—until it couldn’t be ignored any longer.

It is a lesson and a reminder because, most importantly, history serves as both, if duly followed. Perhaps the essence of this memorial’s “lack of interpretation” is such that the Holocaust invokes an endless variety of feelings and memories. Another friend of mine raised this point: the way I perceive something will look different than how someone else perceives something. For example, five people could visit this monument and have entirely different interpretations precisely because we all see and feel things differently. As such, this memorial represents a horrific tragedy that was and is perceived and felt differently be each and every person. Because of this fact, it is impossible to give this memorial solely one interpretation.

Checkpoint Charlie

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