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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: The choice of remembering

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Thinking about emptiness and the Shoah, an essential memorial for understanding Berlin.
A striking perspective of the void

Next to the Reichstag Palace, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is undoubtedly the main emblematic ensemble of the new German identity. When visiting Berlin, no one can ignore this exceptional architectural work.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a highlight.

In April 1999, the German Parliament celebrated its return to the Reichstag Palace after 50 years in Bonn. Two months later, on 25 June, it decided to erect a memorial dedicated to the memory of the 6 million European Jews murdered by the extermination policy of the National Socialist regime. The act, which endorses an exhausting debate that arose after German reunification in October 1990, sends a strong message to the nations of the world: reunified Germany rejects any political legacy of the Third Reich.

The memorial dedicates a space to the memory of the victims of the Shoah in the very heart of the capital, and it also sanctifies the new German identity, one of the pillars of which is the work of repentance for past crimes. Quoting Elie Wiesel, Sabina van der Linden-Wolanski recalled during the inauguration ceremonies that the children of the perpetrators can never be held responsible for the acts of their parents, but only for the way they carry out the work of remembrance.

A remarkable and intuitive concept

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews is divided into two distinct parts. On the surface, it adopts an extremely impressive physical architecture, composed of thousands of more or less high steles on a gigantic space. The whole thing, which forms a perfectly coherent and ordered whole, is totalitarianism, a system in which human reason no longer has a raison d'être.

This is an innovative concept that leaves the visitor alone with his own interpretations and representations. The approach is confusing because everyone will see what the limits of their imagination will allow. And we are all different. This memorial presents the visitor with a wide range of emotions, from indifference to joy to fear and isolation; emotions that the victims of the Shoah were confronted with.

The above-ground section is complemented by a Documentation Centre in the basement, where the history work is carried out intuitively with the help of chronological and biographical contributions, in a remarkably well thought-out and arranged sequence.

Fighting historical denial and moving forward

It was very difficult for me to understand this Memorial. I am now certain that people will continue to come to Berlin to see this Memorial and to observe the work done by the Germans on a painful and tragic past. The whole thing is a call for tolerance and respect for the opinions of others. There is no denial possible because the Memorial exists. On the other hand, it gives new generations the chance to continue their own journey without having to carry the weight of the mistakes of previous generations on their shoulders. The Memorial is located in public space and is freely accessible.

This unique concept and the exceptional complementarity between the two parts above and below ground make the whole thing a great success. In my opinion, and from a more personal point of view, the tribute to the victims of the Shoah takes on a different meaning at the Berlin Jewish Deportation Memorial. According to one's perspective, and these perspectives are not antagonistic but complementary.

Reasons to go

  • Impressive architecture

  • An innovative and remarkable concept

  • Accessible to all, regardless of intellectual background or experience

  • A call for tolerance and respect

Reasons to avoid

  • A reflection of our society that both frightens and fascinates

  • Beware of rush hours

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