The Meaning of Memorials

Hello everyone!

My name is Katie and I am a double major in history and political science from the Twin Cities, MN. We have had a great time in Berlin and will be heading to Nuremberg tomorrow afternoon!

Today we spent our morning on a guided walking tour of Berlin. We focuse  specifically on memorials dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. The memorials we saw included:

  • Gleis 17: Train tracks used to deport Jews out of Berlin during the 1940s
  • Train to Life and Train to Death dedicated to nearly 11,000 children transported to London, England on the kindertransport
  • Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of EuropeMemorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe dedicated to Jewish victims of the Holocaust
  • Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism

Before we encountered the first memorial, our tour guide, Asaf, asked  us to think about two questions when looking at a memorial:

  • who is the memorial for?
  • what is the purpose of the memorial?

These questions allowed us to interpret many of the abstract memorials on our own. Because of our readings, we had an idea of what many of these memorials intended to represent. Again, these were open for personal reflection and interpretation. We realized the importance of context when reading Judith Keilbach's Photographs, Symbolic Images, and the Holocaust: On the (Im)possibility of Depicting Historical Truth.

In her article, Keilbach discusses the impact of placing artifacts, specifically photographs into context. Many of the memorials we  encountered were not a direct representation of what the memorial was trying to say or what it represented. Some of the memorials we saw had plaques describing them or gave the dates they were constructed. Without these, there was no way to be sure that our personal interpretations were accurate, or know that a specific memorial was a memorial. By placing the memorials into context, we were able to get a better understanding of the intentions of them. Our tour guide, Asaf, was very helpful when attempting to give context to the memorials we visited.

When visiting Gleis 17, there were three pieces of wood outside of the train station (pictured right) that was constructed in the 1950s to remember those who were deported from Berlin. Many of us did not know that this was a memorial; something we soon learned based on the context given by Asaf.

As we worked our way around Berlin, the memorials we saw progressed  in time based on when they were built (starting in 1950 through 2008) Without the context Asaf gave us, there is no way to be sure our interpretations of these memorials would be accurate.

We realized the importance of context today by knowing the history of an event . The Holocaust's impact had an understanding of the intentions of a memorial of monument. Without context, it is almost impossible to know the purpose of some memorials such as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or the memorial at Gleis 17. Context does have an impact on one's understanding of a memorial or monument. It impacts the emotions you feel when visiting such places.

I am excited to continue on to Nuremberg tomorrow and hopefully see more memorials dedicated to victims of the Holocaust around Europe. This  was one of the worst crimes in history and it is only fair that the victims be properly recognized.




Katie Hendrikson
An abstract memorial dedicated to the victims of the holocaust from the 1950s at Gleis 17.
“Train of Life and Train of Death”
Our group with our tour guide, Asaf.