Warning: this post contains some stories from the Holocaust, so you might want to avoid reading if you’re sensitive to things like that.
Up until this point, one post in my Grand European Tour series has been equivalent to one day. This will change right now, because I spent around 12 hours on a train from Budapest to Berlin and hence did nothing when I arrived in Berlin.
So I’ll be skipping that day and moving straight on to the next day, when I actually did something in Berlin.
When I woke up, I took the U-bahn and S-bahn into the city center and went first to Brandenburg Gate. Like many popular tourist attractions in Europe, there were plenty of the creepily dressed people standing around here, so I snapped my pictures then moved on quickly.
I next wandered around Berlin until I came across a stand selling currywurst. One of my friends from high school was recently in Berlin, and she recommended that I try the currywurst.
Oh man, that stuff is awesome. I need to find a recipe for it so that I can make it when I go back home to the US. Mmmmmm.
After eating my currywurst and miraculously not spilling any of it on my shirt, I walked over to the Topography of Terror, an open-air museum with a number of different exhibitions concerning Nazi Germany. I unfortunately walked through the exhibit the wrong way, meaning I started in the 1940s and went backwards through time, so I was a bit confused for some of it. There was one thing that did strike me though–the story of Stella Kübler. Kübler was Jewish but ended up working for the Gestapo as a “catcher,” finding Jews hiding as non-Jews and handing them into the Gestapo. In return she was promised that her family wouldn’t be deported. However, despite doing what the Nazis asked of her, her family was deported to concentration camps and killed there. After the war ended she was sentenced to prison time for her crimes, and eventually she committed suicide.
After the Topography of Terror, I walked over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. As you can see, the memorial consists of blocks of concrete, or stelae, arranged in a grid. The stelae are of differing heights and the land itself is sloped, all of which works to create a confusing atmosphere. I wandered through the stelae for a few minutes before coming to the entrance of a museum, which is located underneath the memorial.
The museum attempts to make a more personal connection to visitors concerning the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust. Six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, but even realizing that that is an incredibly large number of people, it doesn’t give you much of an emotional connection. It’s too hard to wrap your mind around something so big. However, being able to see that only two people of a twelve person family survived is easier to visualize, and hearing stories of survivors is much more emotional.
I don’t remember everything about the museum, but each room in the exhibition had a different theme. One room was filled with letters or entries in journals from Jews during this reign of terror. One letter in particular was interesting–it was written by a young girl to her father shortly before she was murdered.
You have to realize that most Jews didn’t realize they were going to their deaths when they were sent to the concentration camps. Some suspected what was happening, but the Nazis tried to keep it under wraps as much as possible. Even in the extermination camps, ie Auschwitz, when Jews were being led to the gas chambers, they were told that they were going to have a shower for delousing purposes and afterwards they would go to work.
The reason why this letter was interesting was because the girl knew that she was going to her death. Sometimes the Nazis would force Jews to stand along a pit and then shoot them so that they fell into the pit afterwards. If there were a lot of people who were going to be murdered in this way, the people standing behind could see what was happening. It’s believed that this girl was in a situation like this, so she scrawled the letter down before going to her death.
There was also another letter in the room which was written on a train to one of the concentration camps. The woman who wrote the letter threw it out the train, and somebody delivered it to the recipient. I think that’s incredible that somebody found this letter and made sure it was sent on to the person it was intended for.
Another room took a closer look at the way families were affected by the Holocaust. Several different families, from different countries within Europe, were described in detail, and the outcome of each of the family members was listed. It was incredible to see that in all the families shown, most of the family members didn’t survive.
The next room contained a list of the names of Jews who didn’t survive the Holocaust. Each name is shown on a screen, and then a short biography of the person’s life is read.
The room after this looked in-depth at a few concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Belzec. For each of the concentration camps presented, an account by either a survivor or a victim of that camp was read. There was one in particular that I thought was moving. One woman was sent to Auschwitz with her elderly mother and her two children. Her youngest boy was automatically grouped with the adolescents, but the older boy could have passed as being old enough to be grouped with the adults. The mother, in order to spare her older boy a life of hard work, told the inspectors that he was not old enough to be in the adult group. She also asked that her mother accompany the boys so that she could look after the children; again, she asked this with the intention of sparing her mother from the hard work that awaited that.
What the mother didn’t know is that in Auschwitz, those unable to work, including children and the elderly, were immediately sent to the gas chambers. In sparing her children and mother a life of hard work, she sent them to their deaths.
I mean, how awful. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
I finished the museum shortly afterwards. It was a depressing museum, but I mean, the subject matter itself is depressing. I thought the museum did a very good job of presenting the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of the people who experienced it, thereby making it more personal for visitors.
I next continued to walk around, walking past the Reichstag (Parliament) building, before taking the U-bahn over to the Berlin Wall Memorial Site.
And that, along with ghost stations, which I find particularly fascinating, will be discussed in the next post!