Undoubtedly some of the most poignant photographs of the twentieth century are of the holocaust, the corpses of the murdered victims and the emaciated bodies and desperate faces of the survivors. Anyone who has seen these images will have them indelibly etched into their brains, in the same way that the cowboy's brand sears into the flesh of the young calf. It is impossible not to be moved and affected in a profound way, by a visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The scar tissue on your psyche, will be scratched and re-inflamed as you ponder the significance and meaning of this great installation.
The brilliant design by the U.S. Architect, Peter Eisenman, provides a fitting script to the memory of this most dreadful event in world history. The grey concrete monolithic limbs of this sculpture have pathos in their hearts. The two thousand seven hundred individual tablets are each different, a feature which is accentuated by the amorphous nature of their constituent materials, before with the catalyst of cement, they set hard for posterity. It is aptly positioned between the east and west, and more so, only a stones throw from the Reichstag, the history steeped Parliament building and seat of the Federal Republic of Germany. Spreading over an area of nineteen thousand square metres (nearly 5 acres), it is also serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of a break down of democracy and the dictatorial usurper of power.
This monument is the physical embodiment of the historical stain, placed by the Nazis, on the character of the German people. However, it is also a symbol of their willingness to stand up to their gruesome past and to place it at the forefront of their society. Whilst in some senses this memorial can be seen as an effort to atone, in many more it can be seen to represent the belief, that in fact, atonement is not possible. The march of progress of the German nation may readily be judged by their willingness to erect monuments to their abject failure, right beside those to their success.
The existence of the Holocaust Memorial in this major city, at the centre of European and World politics, is an 'elephant in the room' to other nations, that did less than they could, or even worse, nothing at all, to prevent the general persecution and specific murder of six million European Jews. The answers to the 'who knew what when' and, 'could specific actions have been taken sooner' questions, leave many nations with more questions to face and even more unpalatable answers. On a wider scale, it serves as a reminder of more recent and ongoing genocide around the world. There are really no winners here, you may even feel implicated by being a member of the human race that could show such cruelty and barbarism to his fellow man.
Equally you will feel, the pain, the isolation, the separation and the desperation of the victims. The helplessness of their plight is echoed and magnified within the 'walls' of the Memorial. I could actually feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck at times. The myriad pathways and intersections also gave me the feeling that someone was behind me, or watching me. This is also a sacred place, a place for lost souls. The children playing and laughing innocently in the maze of columns were most poignant and most eerie. The symbolism of them descending into the tunnels, disappearing into the dark, was very severe. The feeling of sadness and depression is hard to describe, and then as you feel all these emotions you start to feel very upset and very angry. The brilliance of this memorial is that you become part of it yourself. It is a living breathing ever changing mass of activity.
There came a point when having been lost in time, it was time to leave. It is a place I will have to return to. It is a place I will have to bring my kids when they are old enough to understand. It is a place I will advise all my friends to visit. It is a place to me that is the most important part of Berlin.
For absolute clarity this is not in any way intended to be anti-German or racist in any respect.
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