This morning we finished our series of walking tours of Berlin with a focus on more contemporary Jewish life. We first ventured all the way to the Grunewald train station on the west edge of Berlin. This secluded station was the location of the deportations of Berlin Jews, mostly to transition concentration camps like Terezin in the current Czech Republic. These deportations took place in the middle of the night and at a well hidden part of the tracks because the Nazis didn't want the locals to become suspicious or ask questions. Jewish families were taken from all over Berlin at 11 or 12 at night and in the morning their neighbors would have no idea where they went or what had happened to them. We saw three different monuments dedicated to these deported Jews and aspects about them sparked good conversation. These monuments weren't established until the 1980s or 1990s which seems like a long time since the Holocaust. But the idea of Germans addressing the Holocaust really took a long time, which we compared to Americans addressing the Native Americans- it is hard to start the conversation but eventually we realize that it is necessary.
We finished the morning on a lighter note with stops at contemporary Jewish areas in Berlin like the Jewish community center and the old Jewish quarter. We saw the hotel chain Kempinski that was started by a Jewish restaurant magnate, and the street Kurtirsßendam, lined with designer shops like Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Although the days were cold and rainy, our walking tours with our guide Asaf were very informational!
After our tour of the city in the morning, we grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to the Topography of Terror museum. This museum was established on the same ground that a building of the Nazis stood before being destroyed in WWII. The museum was filled with many photographs pertaining to the Nazi campaign. We started by viewing pictures of how Hitler and the Nazi regime came to power. This included pictures of his political party, how the Nazis came to gain popularity with the German citizens, and ultimately lead his country into starting the Second World War. We saw many pictures of buildings being built for heavy military purpose in the 1930's, well before the war began, showing Hitler and the Nazis plan from the beginning. We then moved to pictures during war time of SS Officials smiling and laughing. These pictures were then juxtaposed with ones showing executions by the officers, showing the little remorse the SS felt committing these crimes.
We then visited an area of the museum that focused on the post-nazi reign. This showed how some of the main perpetrators were prosecuted, but many were not. It was easy for non-high ranking officials to get off clean by saying, "They were forced to or they would be punished". Morally correct or not, the harsh reality is that most of the Nazi officers were not punished for their crimes. The museum overall showed our class how terror can be so impactful. Through terror on the mass scale, Hitler and the Nazi regime were able to persuade so many into following their twisted ideals. After today, our class has a greater understanding of how the events of WWII unfolded and how to recognize terror propaganda today.
Farewell, Rachel and Gabe