Sabine and I went to Berlin and to the spectacular Jewish Museum. Afterwards we drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and discussed what we had experienced.
Basically we had gone to the museum because we were in Berlin and also to see the texts provided by Sabine’s colleague, Professor Richard Bessel. We later visited the Topography of Terror exhibition near the Hansa Tonstudios, more on that later.
There are two elements to the museum: the directly educational, teach the kids with interactivity side that seeks to proffer positive images and background for Jewish culture.
Then there is the newer, or rather more post-modern, area. This is the place for a homage to the dead. It is the memorial to the Jews murdered during what the Germans constantly referred to as “The Nazi Times”. As a side note, this is very a very similar to the way that the Muscovites I’d met referred to “The Stalin Times” or “Communist Times”.
The building is claustrophobia inducing, as is the walk-through sculpture outside. The floors slope, the walls are cabinets with glass viewports both monumental and also domestically small. Looking through into spectacles and letters, handbags and musical instruments, the obvious phrase leapt to mind:
“The Banality of Evil” – Hanna Arendt’s description of the operation of the Nazi machine during the trial of Adolf Eichmann. In this case, the smallest postcard and most beaten up valise toned Ms Arendt’s quote. Once again I became aware that the mundane, the everyday can regenerate intense grief. This is apparent to anybody when a loved one dies. The museum made it clear that this grief of small things can be effective when grieving for many deaths.
For me this sees the quote most often attributed to Stalin that, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” proved wrong. It also proves the need for public spaces that are given over to the communication of history as personal.
From such as personal point of view (I am not Jewish) via my daughter’s cerebral palsy and easy dismissal by the general public, I have done some research into the treatment of the disabled in the camps in the 1930s and 1940s. Visiting the Jewish museum was insightful. It also induced a fresh anger. This was good anger.
We left. We had those coffees. We smoked those cigarettes. We had cake. We looked at the children on the streets near the café that was near the museum in Berlin. We talked about the previous day’s visit to the Berlinische Galerie. For some reason we didn’t talk about the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Not then.