Hi everyone! My name is Sarah Eachus and I am a sophomore from Waterloo, IA majoring in psychology with a minor in religion. After a long overnight flight, we have finally made it to Berlin, Germany.
The class spent our first morning in Berlin on ‘The “classical” Jewish walking tour of Berlin.’ Our tour guide, Asaf, led us around East Berlin to a variety of different sights, including a Jewish cemetery, the grounds of an old synagogue, and the Museum of Otto Weidt’s workshop.
On the grounds of the old synagogue were several different sculptures. One of the sculptures (pictured right) shows a man sitting on a bench, gazing toward the street where protests were held by non-Jewish women. These protests were held in opposition of the Nazi’s plan to remove all Jewish individuals, many of which include these women's Jewish husbands. The man on the bench represents a large majority of the population during this time of Hitler’s regime. During Hitler's actions to remove Jewish individuals, many stood by silently and watched these actions being taken, without speaking out against them in fear of the repercussions. It is important to note that while not all German’s were actively involved in the extermination of Jewish individuals, many participated in the Nazi actions through their silence and minimal opposition, which is represented in the statue— a bystander gazing from afar.
Next, Asaf took us to the ‘Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind.’ Otto owned a workshop and employed mostly blind and deaf individuals, many who were Jewish, to work for him during World War II. This museum, located at the authentic site of the workshop, provides information of Otto’s continuous efforts to help protect his workers from deportation, going as far as hiding them in the shop when necessary. While the sculpture represents a bystander, Otto’s story shows his act of courage to oppose Hitler and the Nazi party during the Holocaust.
This tour gave all of us a chance to ask ourselves “what would I do in a situation like this?” but it is truly hard to come to a decision if you haven’t actually experienced anything like it. In Mary Fulbrook’s book German National Identity after the Holocaust, she discusses how before Berlin was unified, East and West held different beliefs on how events of the Holocaust should be remembered. At first, the East blamed capitalists and the West, while the West recognized their collective guilt for the events that occurred. Once Berlin was unified (1989), there was an emphasis on creating memorials and museums to remember the Jewish victims and “celebrate the triumph of struggle against oppression.” These museums and memorials give viewers a great sense of admiration for heroes like Otto who resisted and fought back against the Nazi terror during the Holocaust.
Our evening was supposed to be spent at the Jewish Museum of Berlin for the first of two visits, but due to the unknown closing of the permanent exhibit, we were unable to travel to the museum. While in Washington D.C., the curator of USHMM, Steve, discussed how difficult it is to make renovations to exhibits in museums, often resulting in temporary closure to some or all of the exhibit(s). While exhibits need to adapt as technology and the audience changes, it is often difficult to close a permanent exhibit for an extended amount of time. Although we won’t be able to see the permanent exhibit of the Jewish Museum, it is important to focus on making the necessary changes in order serve the changing population so they are able to best understand dark times such as the Holocaust.