A Place of Remembrance and Exercise

Posted by John Rosenthal

The below picture is used to illustrate the link to the “Picture Gallery” on the homepage of the Berlin daily die Berliner Zeitung.  

Click on image for larger pop-up image from Berliner Zeitung “Gallery”

In the words of the Berliner Zeitung, the “picture gallery” is supposed to present “Berlin in Pictures”: “An endless number of perspectives are possible. We show you the most beautiful pictures taken by our photographers.” And there is no reason to question the aesthetic qualities of this photo. Nonetheless, it is an oddly revealing choice to introduce a gallery that is evidently supposed to cast Berlin in a “hip” favorable light. For, as the German public will easily recognize or at least suspect, this is a photo of the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Berlin and what it depicts is a — presumably young — visitor jumping across some of the concrete pillars in the 5.5 acre field of pillars supposed to commemorate (as according to the official name of the memorial) the “murdered Jews of Europe.” As the caption for the full-sized picture notes, such an activity “is in fact prohibited” — an observation that suggests, moreover, that the youngster depicted in the photo is not the first to be tempted to hop across the commemorative pillars. 

(photo: Wikimedia Commons)

What is so striking here is not so much the insouciance of the youngster in using the memorial to play, but rather the insouciance of the Berliner Zeitung in using the picture to introduce its gallery. In this connection, it might be worth quoting some observations I made on the old Trans-Int ( “Looking Behind the Scenes of German Holocaust ‘Remembrance’”) on the occasion of the Memorial’s opening in May 2005: 

Megalomaniacal prestige projects like Peter Eisenman’s newly inaugurated Holocaust Memorial in Berlin are essentially designed for the benefit of foreign, not German, audiences. Eisenman’s “field of pillars” responds to the same – essentially political – imperative as that which I have described in connection with Daniel Libeskind’s “Jewish Museum” project: “Germany has not only to commemorate [the Holocaust]. Germany has to be seen to commemorate by the rest of the world” (source). 2711 concrete pillars spread over 5.5 acres of prime real estate at the heart of Berlin are hard to overlook.

The impact of such reputedly artistic efforts at “memorialization” upon the actual historical “memory” of the German public – or, more exactly, its historical knowledge, since we are mostly here dealing with generations that did not themselves live through the events in question – can be gauged by some other figures: such as the 50% of young Germans between 18 and 24 who (according to a poll taken recently by the German public television network ZDF ) did not know that the term “Holocaust” refers to the mass murder of European Jews. Or the 51% of Germans who (according to a poll conducted by the University of Bielefeld last year) considered that “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians” is “no different” from “what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich”. Or the 68% who (according to the same University of Bielefeld poll) agreed that Israel is waging a “war of extermination” – an expression most commonly associated with Nazi Germany’s military campaigns – against the Palestinians.

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