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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Platform 17 Memorial: Vacuum for Memory

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Platform 17 Memorial is extremely moving.

The Deportation Memorial, or Platform 17 Memorial, commemorates the fate of thousands of Jewish Germans during the era of National Socialism. It is undoubtedly one of the most poignant and dignified memorial spaces in Berlin.

A Visit Is Optional. It Is also A Personal Favourite.

Hitler's regime led to the physical and moral extermination of the Jewish community in Berlin. During the Second World War, Berliners of Jewish faith or culture were arrested and confined in detention centers before deportation to the East and death.

The Grunewald railway station became the primary departure point for convoys to concentration camps, the ghettos in the occupied territories, and the Auschwitz complex. Over 50,000 individuals – men and women, elderly and children – boarded the trains at the platform.

Cynically, the railway administration initially exploited the deportees for ransom, later billing the Reich Central Security Office directly for its services. This active participation was rediscovered much later, leading to the creation of a multifaceted memorial complex in the 1990s. Various works of art are displayed in the station forecourt, followed by a ramp that visitors ascend.

An Exceptional Emotional Power

The unique aspect of the Platform 17 Memorial is its placement in a bucolic setting of grand manors. The space is singularly enchanting. This configuration gives the place an exceptional emotional resonance, possibly equaled only by the Jewish Museum.

On the original site, metal plaques follow one another on both sides of a disused railway line. Each plaque represents a convoy. The information is reduced to the bare minimum: the date of departure, the number of people, the destination. Academic elaboration isn't necessary because the aim here is to maximize the emotional impact.

Gradually, visitors become aware of the scale of the disaster, the incredible logistics involved in transporting hundreds of people, and the human tragedy that only those who turned a blind eye failed to see. The prevalent role of anti-Semitism is evident. Until the last hours of its existence, the Third Reich prioritized the deportation of Jews; the last known convoy left this station in March 1945 with 18 people on board, bound for the Theresienstadt camp in Bohemia-Moravia.

A Place of Remembrance Above All

Visiting the Memorial is a distressing, even heartbreaking experience. The soberness of the concept, the tranquility of the space away from tourist areas, and the nature reclaiming the place all indicate that never again will a train leave this platform.

Some may argue that the distinct lack of historical information hinders a true understanding. These criticisms do not hold water. The site's aim is not to inform or educate about what happened but to counter denial and provide a place of remembrance for those who seek it. It is here that the Jewish community of Berlin and their friends commemorate the tragedy of the November 1938 pogroms annually. Therefore, a visit is not necessary, as it should be personal.

Reasons to Visit

  • Respectful representation

  • Powerful emotional impact

  • Authenticity of the location

  • Tranquility

Reasons to Skip

  • Visit duration may vary depending on individual expectations

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