Dr Julien Drouart
Platform 17 Memorial: The vacuum for the memory
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The Deportation Memorial, or Platform 17 Memorial, commemorates the fate of thousands of Jewish Germans during the time of National Socialism. It is certainly one of the most poignant and dignified memorial spaces in Berlin.
A visit to the Gleis 17 Deportation Memorial 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 culture or faith were arrested and confined in detention centres before deportation to the East and death.
The Grunewald railway station became the main departure point for the convoys to the concentration camps, the ghettos in the occupied territories and the Auschwitz complex. More than 50,000 people, men and women, elders and children, used the ramp to reach the platforms.
Cynically, the railway administration initially held the deportees to ransom and then billed the Reich Central Security Office directly for its services. This active participation was rediscovered much later and led to the creation of a multiple memorial complex in the 1990s. Various works of art are displayed on the station forecourt. The visitor then walks up the ramp.
An exceptional emotional power
The particularity of the Platform 17 Memorial is that it is set in a bucolic setting of large noble houses. The space is singularly charming. This configuration gives the place an exceptional emotional power, perhaps equalled by the Jewish Museum.
On the original site, metal plaques follow one another on both sides of a disused railway line. Each one represents a convoy. The information is reduced to the bare minimum: the date of departure, the number of people, the place of destination. The academic contribution is not necessary because the objective here is to maximise the emotional impact.
Gradually, the visitor becomes aware of the scale of the disaster, of the incredible logistics involved in transporting hundreds of people, of the human drama that only those who did not want to see did not see. The predominant role of anti-Semitism is obvious. Until the last hours of its existence, the Third Reich made the deportation of Jews an absolute priority; 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
A visit to the Memorial is a disturbing, even heartbreaking experience. The sobriety of the concept, the tranquillity of a space away from the tourist areas, the nature invading the place indicate that never again will a single train leave this platform.
Some will object that the singular absence of historical information hinders a true understanding. These criticisms do not hold. The aim of the site is not to inform or to learn about what happened, but to fight against denial and to offer those who wish to do so a place of remembrance. It is here that the Jewish community of Berlin and its friends commemorate the tragedy of the November 1938 pogroms every year. Therefore, a visit is not necessary, as it should be personal.
Reasons to go
A decent representation
A strong emotional impact
Authenticity of the place
Reasons to avoid
A visit time depending on the expectations of each person