The Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is located in Berlin a short walk Brandenburger Tor. The memorial is composed of rectangular pillars of varying heights, arranged in a grid-like pattern. You can look down one pathway and see through until the end of the memorial. You can see the curves of the ground as the entire grid is set on a wavering ground pattern.
The memorial is composed of 2,711 concrete blocks with 87 blocks going in one direction and 54 in the other. Aerial views of the memorial show that the ground is a bit hilly and almost makes the top of the blocks seem like a flickering metallic sheet.
I began my walk into the interactive memorial. I walked past the first of the stones that made up the memorial. They were low to the ground and mostly seemed like comfortable places to sit. With friends going down a different, yet parallel pathway, I walked further and deeper into the rows. The stones gradually raised in sized and they were quickly at shoulder length. I could see children and other tourists running around playing games.
I remember looking into the eyes of one teenager as he held his arms in the position of a fake gun with a huge grin on his face. I thought it was strange and insensitive to play such a game in a place like this – a space dedicated to thousands of murdered people. It shows how with enough time and lack of information, people forget the emotional connection these historical events have on us. That young man probably knows what the Holocaust was, but the event feels so far back in history that it’s not a big deal to pretend to shoot another person among the pillars of this sacred place. It makes me wonder how many years must pass for it to be okay to behave as if we don’t respect a space dedicated to such a significant moment in history? My friends returned to the safe outer limits of the memorial as I ventured on.
As I moved a bit further, it was nearly instantaneous that the shoulder length stones shot into the sky. It was an interesting trick of the eyes. The undulating ground steeps downwards as the pillars reach higher and higher into the sky. I became smaller and smaller twice as fast as I expected. One moment, it was a carefree atmosphere, surrounded by friends and kids playing make believe. And the next moment, I couldn’t breathe. I was overwhelmed and suffocated by the height of the pillars. It felt like the inescapable space was closing in on me. The parallel rows I had seen reach to the end of the memorial, now seemed endless. I spun in a circle looking for a way to escape – to escape the anxiety produced weight on my chest and the towering structures. I looked forward, right, behind me, and even to the last route of escape before I returned facing forward with an infinite number of pillars bounding beyond me. When the weight of the memorial was too much for me, I rejoined my friends.
I slowly walked out of the maze of pillars. They disappeared just as quickly as they appeared moments ago. I was taken aback that any memorial could have a physical affect on me. The memorial was remarkable because in some ways, the interactive manner of the piece helped me, and likely others, feel what the holocaust was like for those trapped within the walls and chained fences.
When we had finished, we walked away and shared our experiences. I find it necessary to point out that just like that, we walked away when we were finished feeling suffocated, overwhelmed, and lost in a maze. If only it was as easy for the victims of that historical event.
Martin brought up the location of the memorial and said there was great debate over where it would be. I looked up information on the location and choosing the center of Berlin was intentional. For example, it is set at the same location as the ‘death trap’ from the Berlin Wall. This section of the wall was a minefield filled with numerous traps, which would later kill an estimated 1,200 people. The location of the memorial is worthy of attention, yet I made a few other observations during my visit.
The towering structures of varying sizes all seemed to be about the same length. They looked like they were about the length of a casket, but a few inches longer. It seemed like their increasing size symbolized the increasing number of deaths and those thrown into the mass graves. However, I’m not sure if this was the intentional symbolism. In addition, from the outside, no one can feel or see how people feel what it’s like being trapped in the maze. Similarly, from an international perspective, people knew what was happening, but they didn’t know to what degree. They couldn’t imagine how disorienting it felt being in there.
The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany is one of the most impactful monuments I have seen and experienced. The interactive design pulls viewers in and makes them feel how the Holocaust may have felt like to those involved: suffocating and inescapable. The memorial engulfs the person slowly and then all at once, the same pace as the Holocaust. While it is uncomfortable for the monument to produce such feelings, I think it’s necessary. It brings us closer to the events that happened years ago. This connection makes history come alive and hopefully, prevents us from allowing these moments from repeating themselves.
Which monuments and memorials move you and make you feel something you didn’t expect?