May 19, 2018

Berlin - Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under National Socialism

15 May 2018

We visited the “Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under National Socialism” on our first day in Berlin. 

The memorial commemorates the 220,000-500,000 victims of the Porajmos, which is the Nazi genocide of the European Sinti and Roma peoples. Since this was our first day in Berlin and on the trip, my expectations for this memorial were rudimentary. However, any expectations that I did have for this memorial were shaken. I was surprised that the atmosphere of the memorial felt quiet and peaceful. The memorial contains a grassy area with a circular pool of water in the middle. A glass wall and trees enclose the area, making it feel like a sanctuary, separated from the bustling city streets of Berlin. I could hear birds chirping, and the thick trees casted shade where some groups chose to sit silently on the grass.

Dani Karavan, an Israeli artist, designed this memorial to the Sinti and Roma. Initially, I felt nearly uncomfortable that I experienced tranquility while walking around the memorial. I expected that I should feel horror upon remembering the perpetrators’ acts of violence and hate. In designing a calming space, Karavan seems to shift the focus of our remembrance from anger at the perpetrators to acknowledgement of the victims. She suggests that when remembering victims of the Holocaust, one should step outside busy life and reflect with concentration.

The wall that lines the entrance to the memorial provides a chronology of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma. In this way, one gains insight on the history of the Porajmos before entering the open space in which they can reflect at their own pace. The words on the outside of the wall are in English while the ones on the inside are in German. Karavan might mean to suggest that Great Britain and the United States were outside of the Holocaust during its duration, looking in, while Germany was instigating the Holocaust from inside. In addition, the stories of the Holocaust, written in German and other Eastern European languages reverberate outside the war and the walls of this memorial, and are spread to global citizens often in English. 

Around the perimeter of the pool, Karavan engrains in bronze letters the words of “Auschwitz,” by Roma poet Santino Spinelli. The poem reads: “Gaunt face, dead eyes, cold lips, quiet, a broken heart, out of breath, without words, no tears.” The poem recalls how many of the Roma and Sinti died-- in wooded areas, suddenly, “out of breath, without words.” Karavan places this poem around the pool, prompting visitors to walk around while they read. Karavan suggests that we must work to recall this narrative, which continues endlessly in a circle.

Next, Karavan places a triangular stone in the middle of the pool. The triangular shape reflects the badges that prisoners wore in concentration camps. On the stone is a flower. Karavan explains, “Every day the flower disappears and is replaced; it is like a prayer that reminds us never to forget, never.” Thus, Karavan suggests that like the replacement of the flower each day, we must make remembering a ritual. In Karavan’s design of the memorial to the Sinti and Roma, she demonstrates how the shape of a memorial facilitates the way that we remember an event. The memorial’s secluded and peaceful atmosphere allowed me to escape the distractions of daily life and focus on the history and victims of the Porajmos.


Group 4: Lulu Feldman, Dan Vozza, Kally Xu (Author: Lulu Feldman)