May 22, 2018

Berlin

Students visiting Potsdam Sanssouci.
15 May - 18 May 2018

Our first city, Berlin, was a great introduction to the remainder of our trip. As the center of the Nazi empire and place where many important executive decisions about the “final solution” were made, the city has a unique history in relation of to the Holocaust. In Germany and Europe, there was a history of antisemitism starting centuries before the 1930s. As the Nazi regime began, additional antisemitic practices were enacted, including a 1933 boycott of Jewish shops, Nuremburg Laws, and increasing social antisemitism.  This discrimination against German-Jews escalated to a “point of no return” on November 9th, 1938; this was Kristallnacht, more commonly known as the Night of Pogroms or November Pogrom in Germany today. Kristallnacht was the first open, state-sanctioned, physical violence against Jews. The discrimination was all over Germany and Berlin notably displayed the same antisemitic tendencies. Berlin saw a decrease from 160,000 Jews in 1933 to 80,000 Jews in 1938 due to mass emigration encouraged by these laws. Jews who were deported from Berlin were mainly placed in Sachsenhausen and later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau to be gassed. Today, Berlin mostly commemorates the murders of Jewish people as well as other murders committed under Nazi persecution with memorials and historical sites. 

The three memorials we visited on our first day in Berlin remembered the Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, and Jews murdered by the Nazis. These memorials each invoked a sense of emotion in viewers and two included aspects of education. We saw the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under National Socialism, the Memorial to Gay and Lesbian Victims of the Nazi Regime, as well as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; photos of these can be seen under the May 15thphoto collection. Each one of these materials targets a different emotion. Personally, we felt a sense of tranquility at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma with the sound of water and quiet green space playing a large role in that. The Memorial to Gay and Lesbian Victims was very simple; however, we felt slightly uncomfortable at the asymmetry and controversy over showing male homosexual relationships more than female. This memorial alludes to the larger Memorial of Murdered Jews. The Memorial of Murdered Jews does not invoke much emotion from a further view, but when we walked through the seemingly never-ending and increasingly taller cement blocks, a sense of unease spread through all of us. The exit looked impossibly far away, and students would often suddenly turn corners and scare each other, leading to an ongoing sense of fear. 

In addition to memorials, Berlin commemorates the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution with the “Topography of Terror”, an exhibit about the SS buildings used by the Nazi Regime to organize the persecution of Jews, disabled, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti, and many more groups. We also visited Sachsenhausen, a work camp placed on the edge of Belin where many political prisoners, Jews, Soviet POWs, and others were forced to work, terrorized, and killed. This was an unnerving and emotional experience as we heard about the abuses and murders that were carried out by German Nazis at the camp. 

In addition to the scheduled large group programming, many students independently or in smaller groups chose to see other parts of Berlin and German history. Some students visited extra memorials, museums, and sites. One of these includes the castles at Potsdam, seen in the attached photo. Students also attended boat tours, tried local restaurants, and learned swing dancing at a local bar. Notably, some students have decided to study German and many want to study abroad or live in Berlin in the future. 

 

Group 1: Madeline Alburtus, Shayna Finkelstein, Kaie Hayes, Ryan Nordheimer (Author: Madeline Alburtus)