Documenting Germany’s remembrance policy


The genocide of Jews in Germany is certainly not unique in world history. The Rape of Nanking, Rwanda and Manifest Destiny are part of a short list the perpetrating nations would like to forget.

In one aspect, Germany stands alone and the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Purchase offered a recent presentation at the White Plains Library to acknowledge the manner in which the atrocity is remembered as policy by a nation.

“Germans don’t shy away from the Holocaust, they face it head on,” said Steve Goldberg, the Education Center’s co-director of education during his presentation of Monuments and Memorials in Germany: Creation and Controversy.

The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe resides at the Brandenburg Gate, where the regime’s beating heart once pulsed.

“It’s located at the key Nazi administrative center in East Berlin,” Goldberg said.

Completed in 2005, the memorial follows in-line with the trend that began with the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Covering 4.7 acres, it consists of more than 2,700 rectangular concrete blocks that resemble coffins of different sizes—not necessarily perpendicular—while the ground and rows are uneven.

“It looks orderly, but it’s not,” Goldberg said. “The regime was obviously discombobulated and irrational.”

The effect of the memorial has taken hold. A remembrance started by Gunter Demnig is spreading across the country.

Stolpersteine, which translates to “tripping stones,” marks the actual spots in bronze cobblestone where Jewish families once lived and the tragic fate that befell them.

“Each one is raised a quarter of an inch above existing stones on streets,” Goldberg said.

Similarly, train stations represent another reminder that Germany doesn’t hide from the Holocaust.

The Memorial to Deported Jews at the Grunewald train station in Berlin stages one of the most haunting reminders of the Holocaust. An 18-meter, rectangular concrete slab, the hollowed-out human figures aren’t hard to equate to the hundreds of thousands of disappeared ghosts they represent.

But the art is not all heartbreak.

Frank Meisler was a youngster who escaped in a pre-war exodus known as Kindertransport. Parents loaded 10,000 children from the Berlin train station en route for survival in England.

“In all likelihood, they never saw their families again,” Goldberg said.

Meisler went on to build five statues to commemorate the transport alongside the daily hustle and bustle.

“It’s amazing how many commuters stop to take a look every day,” Goldberg said.

Interestingly, a nearby 200-
year-old plaque foretold how serious the Holocaust would be in human costs.

Of course, the memorials are not only contained to the Jewish plight.

Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and political prisoners are part of the memorial movement. In fact, each child is required to visit the numerous sites and death camps across Germany.

“It’s just a phenomenon you don’t ever see,” Goldberg said.