Many months before arriving in Germany I was a little uneasy, worried about what I may feel or worse, that I might not feel anything.
The history of this place, the history of what happened here, to my family, to my tribe, to my people.
I arrived and was welcomed by warm hugs and a familiar, loving face but almost 2 weeks later I hadn’t felt any real sadness about the history. Perhaps my mind wouldn’t let me, perhaps I had tried to ignore the truth of where I was now exploring, standing, walking, eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing.
Walking in beautiful forests and old streets, streets where people had likely been executed in front of their neighbours, friends and family.
Surely the memories are locked away in my subconscious, hidden in my DNA?
I love concrete as a medium, to build and construct, It’s permanence it is living rock, it is both rough and smooth, but strong, it is stone, it is earth, made up of tiny crystalline structures that I was once told live for thousands of years, still growing as they continuously soak up water. After being in Berlin for a few days I decided I had to visit the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”
As I walk between the pillars firstly I felt a sombre wave come over me, I saw a small crack in one of the concrete slabs, I reached out to touch it.
The tactile part of me could now feel the gravitas of where I was walking, the vibration of the cold stone, the cold shadows I was now standing under. These concrete slabs are as people, or maybe they represent graves, they remind me suddenly about what happened here, maybe everywhere I look. I am not scared, but sad, I am overwhelmed, and slightly shaken.
The exhibition was moving beyond words. There was so much information, I found it overwhelming at times and yet I knew that there was no way they could have included everything. This was a tiny fraction of what happened. The pillars reach deep underground, some had personal stories with information & notes attached. Some of the pillars had notes beneath them that were smuggled out of the camps by people who had no will left to live, after losing everything they loved in the world, notes written in moments of the worst and most extreme desperation. My heart sank, I felt my eyes welling up with tears. My body trembling ever so slightly now. I remember thinking how can my body or mind be equipped to bare, these intense feelings and emotions.
I noticed right away how quickly I was trying to distract myself, looking around. I take a picture on my phone so i will never forget what I see.
I’m glad I visited this place. It helped me connect to the reality of my people’s past. A terrible part of history, but such an important part to remember and try to understand.
The trauma of those times has had a long lasting effect on the Jewish people and our collective psyche which we often forget about. As I watch the people around me walking through the exhibit quietly and respectfully, I am reminded that many other cultures and people were effected, almost everybody was effected by those terrible times. The whole world got sucked into that vortex of misery, sadness and death in some way or another, albeit some more wilfully than others, but nobody was the better for it.
I am exceedingly grateful to live in such a different world today and feel so blessed to be free to express myself and my religion so freely.
Coming to this exhibition was such an important experience for me, to read and listen and connect with some of the very personal stories and accounts that were pieced together, the exhibition was meticulously researched and curated to show this part of the dark and ominous history of Europe for the Jewish people, one that the world wants to forget, yet never can.
I have such a deep gratitude for the seemingly trouble free and abundant existence I live in by comparison. I leave this place and spare a lingering thought for those who are still in plight or poverty, people who are starving, or in parts of the world where innocent blood is still being shed all around them. May we all inspire and live to see a lasting peace on earth.
by Gavin Arnold Goodman