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Holochaust Mahnmal Berlin (International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016)

Yom-HaShoah - International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honour the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides. (USHMM)

Holochaust Mahnmal (Berlin) isn't a museum, but a place Berliners live and visit in they day life

I’ve never been to Berlin, though I’m becoming increasingly eager to go. My sister has been there many times. She loves the city. She was there again last year to research her thesis about the Berliner Kabaret of the 1920s, and she took the chance to visit the Memorial to the Holocaust. All the photos in this post are hers (Mascia Zama)

The idea for a memorial to the Holocaust was first proposed in Berlin in 1988, but only in 1999 was a project finally chosen, that of U.S. architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial was built in 2005.

It stands in Mitte, not far from the Brandenburg Gate, on land where the Wall once stood and not far from where Hitler’s bunker was located.

It is a unique memorial. Covering an 800 square meters area, it consists of 2711 rectangular blocks of concrete laid out as a grid. The outer blocks are smaller, they only reach knee height, and they resemble graves quite clearly. But as you go deeper into the memorial, the slabs rise in height until they tower over you, and you find yourself walking in the alleys of a concrete, silent, lonely city.

This memorial has apparently raised both praise and controversy, starting with its name. The official name is  Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), and some people have raised the question of why the Holocaust isn’t mentioned. Though my sister calls it Holochaust Manhmal (Holocaust Memorial), which I suppose is what they call it in Berlin.

She told me visiting it was a very emotional, almost touching experience. The grave-like shape of the outer slabs implants a very strong image in your mind, very strong ideas of what you are experiencing, and when you enter the maze of the memorial and slowly ease yourself among the towering, faceless, grey slabs, you cannot help yourself thinking where you are and what that place means.

There is a Visitor Center in the deepest part of the memorial, which is really a kind of museum, but I think the memorial itself is a very strong experience and a thought-provoking one.
When I visit Berlin, I want to go.

  • Sunset on the Holochaust Mahnmal
  • Sunset on teh Holochaust Mahnmal
  • Someone left a flower on one of the slabs of the Holochaust Mahnmal
  • The shadow of the photographer on the blocks of the Holochaust Mahnmal
  • Darkness falls in teh corridors of the Holochaust Mahnmal
  • Light and shadows at the Holochaust Mahnmal in Berlin
  • Mitte in Berlin, the neighbourhood where the Holochauset Mahnmal stands
  • Sunset on the Holochaust Mahnmal
  • Night falls on the Holochaust Mahnmal
  • Gathering couds over Mitte in Berlin
  • Night falls in the corridors of the Holochaust Mahnmal
Visiting the Berlin Holochaust Mahnmal is an emotional, touching experience #holocaust Click To Tweet
Holochaust Mahnmal (Berlin) isn't a museum, but a place Berliners live and visit in they day life

Berlin.de – Memorial to the Murdered Jewes of Europe
New Yorker – The Inadequacy of Berlin’s ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jewes of Europe’


14 Comments

  • Andrew Leon Hudson
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 09:05

    Very interesting.

  • Sara L.
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 15:47

    This is a bit eerie, because I caught the end of Schindler’s List on a Pay Per View channel this past weekend. I’d seen the whole month years ago in school, and granted that the film takes place in Poland… But now that I’m reading this and I realize what today is, I don’t think the film’s scheduled play time was a coincidence.

    The memorial is haunting. Beautiful in its simplicity, too, but the cemetery appearance and gray colors send chills down my spine. Thank you for sharing this, Sarah. (And thanks to your sister, too.)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted January 27, 2016 at 20:34

      I haven’t had the heart to watch Schindler’s List yet. There’s something about the concentration camps that I have a really hard time coping with. I keep thinking, the people who were deported inside those camps and treated like nothing and killed were people like me. And the people who deported them, and who pushed them into the furnaces were also people like me. And there’s something about this that really scares me.

  • Anabel
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 20:54

    I’ve been to Berlin twice – the first time, the Memorial was under construction and the second time we were able to visit. It’s very, very moving. The museum part underneath is definitely worth going to as well, I have never been in such a quiet museum. Everyone just seemed shell-shocked. I love Berlin, and I love that they confront the bad parts of their history openly. It’s all over the place, so although it’s a fun city to visit you can’t ever get away from the underlying sadness.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted January 29, 2016 at 17:34

      My sister was also very moved by the memorial. That’s why I’d really like to go visit.
      Thanks for sharing, Anabel.

  • Amy
    Posted January 28, 2016 at 17:08

    I have seen photographs of the memorial, but they do not capture what you have described here as the emotional impact. Thank you for posting.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted January 29, 2016 at 17:50

      It was a pleasure. And it was actually my sister’s merit 🙂

  • Ali Isaac
    Posted February 3, 2016 at 22:54

    Lovely post!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted February 5, 2016 at 17:04

      Thanks Ali. I believe is my sister’s merit more than anything 🙂

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted February 4, 2016 at 16:42

    I write and read so many books about the Shoah and its aftermath (as well as watching films and documentaries), though I haven’t yet gone to Europe to see these places, or memorials, in person. Boston has a Shoah memorial, I believe in the North End (the city’s oldest neighborhood, now largely an Italian neighborhood). I’ve also been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem thrice, though I wasn’t on my own timetable and couldn’t do and see everything. One of their memorials is the Valley of the Destroyed Communities, which has large stone pillars bearing the names of all the cities who lost all or almost all of their Jewish community. The biggest population centers, like Warsaw and Bialystok, have their names engraved in larger type. It’s hard to explain the feeling of overwhelming empty space there.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 19, 2016 at 06:12

      Carrie-Anne, I can’t believe I’ve never responded to your comment. But it’s kind of weird that I’d have the chance to do it now.
      A couple of weeks ago, I had the good luck (yes, I do say so) to hear a survivor of Mathausen speak of his experience in the concentration camp. He’s Italian and he was there for political reasons (he isn’t Jew).

      You know, hearing those stories from someone who lived it… it’s completely different. This is why I say it was my good luck. Horrible as it still sounds, I felt having the possibility to hear, to come in touch – it was a gift. To know this “this man was there. He saw it with his eyes. he felt it on his skin.”

      I think this is particularly important for us Europeans, in this historical moment, to remember (and be reminded of) this. Luckily someone is still alive to tell the story.

  • Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies
    Posted May 18, 2016 at 16:18

    Beautiful post. The memorial looks powerful and well thought out, although I don’t know if I could bring myself to go. I’ve been to Yad VaShem in Jerusalem several times (like the previous commenter), and it’s an overwhelming (but important) experience.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 19, 2016 at 06:19

      Thanks Lisa, thought it’s mostly my sister’s merit 😉

      I think I’d go to see the memorial. My sister said it’s very moving, but it’s something I can handle. My brother wants to go visit Auschwitz. He’s been saying it for a few years now, but he wants his kids to be old enough to go with him. I think he’s right to do so, but as for me, I don’t think I’d be able to go. Maybe I should. Maybe one day I will. But at the moment, I don’t think like going.

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