Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of place & home

Posts tagged ‘Shoah’

KZ-Dachau Memorial Site: never again

Where: Dachau, 20 km northwest from Munich, Germany.
What: The blueprint by which murder became a methodical industrialized process.

I once thought I wasn’t prepared emotionally; perhaps I never would. But I couldn’t go further in my long-term examination of Germany and Jewish-German history without a visit.

It’s an overcast morning in early June, and a couple of rain showers accompany me along with a handful of other people, waiting for the site to open at 9am. A dark heavy cloak descends the moment I step through the main gate and into the site. There is dread, waiting. I promise myself to be open as much as possible, to really look and listen.

This is KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The abbreviation KZ is “Konzentrationslager für Zivilpersonen” or concentration camp for civilians, although the initial terminology used by the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) was KL for “Konzentrationslager.”

There’s a lot to absorb. And maybe, it’s best not to.

Systematic torture and unrestrained cruelty. Forced medical experiments. Arbitrary execution by hanging or gunfire. The destruction of human dignity. The annihilation of hope. This camp as a “model” to broaden the scope and scale of industrial mass-murder. The first commandant of Auschwitz in 1940, Rudolf Höss, honed a career in brutality as SS support staff and block leader at the Dachau camp in late-1934.

I had planned to stay for a few hours at most and leave around noon. I didn’t notice the time. When I finally noticed clear skies and the change in sun-angle, I check my watch. It’s almost 5pm, closing time. Eight hours have flown by outside my bubble, which begins to dissolve.

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My Vienna: Holocaust Memorial, by Rachel Whiteread

Where: Judenplatz, in Vienna’s Altstadt.
What: Holocaust Memorial, by Rachel Whiteread (2000).

How do you commemorate or memorialize the absent or missing? How should the void be acknowledged, recognized, and remembered? Does the act of constructing a physical monument “draw a line”, creating a physical manifestation of marking an end that gathers and wipes away all subsequent future responsibility for remembering?

In Vienna’s Old Town, what was unjustly and violently removed from the city’s long historical memory and cultural identity comes into shape at Judenplatz. Under the public square are ruins of the medieval synagogue destroyed in the pogrom of 1421 with hundreds of Jews driven out, hundreds killed by burning, and the community erased. Directly above these ruins is the Holocaust Memorial which attempts to generate experiences and memories to address the void left behind after the systematic murder of 65-thousand people.

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IHolocaustdenkmal, Berlin, Germany, fotoeins.com

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: observations from Germany

Primo Levi, Italian-Jewish author, chemist, and Auschwitz survivor, delivered a set of essays about life and survival in Nazi extermination camps in his 1986 book “The Drowned and the Saved”. Levi wrote:

… For us to speak with the young becomes even more difficult. We see it as a duty and, at the same time, as a risk: the risk of appearing anachronistic, of not being listened to. We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experiences, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental, unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It took place in the teeth of all forecasts; it happened in Europe; incredibly, it happened that an entire civilized people, just issued from the fervid cultural flowering of Weimar, followed a buffoon whose figure today inspires laughter, and yet Adolf Hitler was obeyed and his praises were sung right up to the catastrophe. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.

On 27 January 1945, Soviet Red Army troops liberated the Nazi concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in south-central Poland. Over 1 million men, women, and children were murdered.

The United Nations declared January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day; the designation came during the 42nd plenary session of the United Stations when resolution 60/7 was passed on 1 November 2005.

Accepting and openly stating responsibility are critical first steps, but spending time, money, and effort to ensure the simple motto of “never again” is also an ongoing reality that isn’t solely up to the citizens of Germany. It’s a collective responsibility that we all should have to remain vigilant; that we all have to recognize and bolster actions which encourage and strengthen the universality of human rights, and reject the erosion and withdrawal of those rights.

I believe responsible tourism also includes paying appropriate respect at a memorial, especially the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. It’s my view this important memorial is not (supposed to be) a playground.

And yet, there’s something to be said about what it means to have freedom in the early 21st-century, allowing people to laugh and frolic in the public space, an undulating sculpture of featureless massive grey cement blocks, a testimonial to the systematic murder of millions of people.

Naturally, you have the freedom to play here, take selfies, and have a grand time. But it doesn’t mean I’m gonna laugh with you; for example: Yolocaust art project (DW 2017).

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Old Jewish Cemetery, Grosse Hamburger Strasse, Berlin, Germany, fotoeins.com

Fotoeins Friday: Intl. Holocaust Remembrance Day (2017)

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day:

•   United Nations
•   Yad Vashem
•   US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Outside the Old Jewish Cemetery near Hackesche Höfe in Berlin’s Spandauer Vorstadt is Will Lammert’s sculpture “Jüdische Opfer des Faschismus” (Jewish victims of fascism). The sculpture shows men, women, and children with horror and despair on their faces, directly confronting visitors with an equally direct question: “why?”

More from me in Berlin

•   City’s oldest Jewish cemetery
•   Grunewald train station, track 17
•   Memorial to murdered Jews in Europe
•   Memorial to murdered Sinti and Roma

I made this photograph on 21 November 2012 with the Canon EOS450D, 18-55 kit-lens, and the following settings: 1/25s, f/5, ISO800, and 28mm focal length (45mm full-frame equivalent). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-8WN.

Berlin Grunewald: no train will ever leave track 17

Present in the vicinity of a train station are very distinct and familiar sounds: the racket of heavy locomotives chugging down the rail and the screech of high-friction braking. A breeze sweeps through two columns of trees, creating a low keening sound which escapes into the open space beyond. To stop and listen, the sounds could easily be human: faint shouts and cries. Are they tricks of the mind, or are the dead speaking? The spectre of cruelty, despair, and suffering clings to the abandoned track; seven decades in the past don’t seem very far.

On a cool grey late-autumn afternoon, I’m on an S-Bahn train heading towards Potsdam. Beyond the limits of the “Stadtbahn” and one stop beyond the “Ring” at Westkreuz, the train pulls into the former goods and freight station at Grunewald. Dropping into the underground passage, signage points to the memorial at track 17. I leave the station by the southeast exit, and turn left to ascend the ramp along the side street.

In the Berlin borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Grunewald station lies on the S7 S-Bahn line serving central Berlin city, the city of Potsdam to the southwest, and Ahrensfelde to the northeast in the Berlin borough of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. Grunewald station began operation in 1879 under its original name Hundekehle named after a nature reserve nearby. The station changed its name to “Grunewald” in 1884 when the old Grunewald station began its new life as “Halensee” station. Grunewald station and its tracks were incorporated into Berlin’s S-Bahn train network in 1928.

Many companies including the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Rail) were actively complicit in the machinery of mass murder during Nazi rule. After reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the two separate railways also merged to form Deutsche Bahn in 1994, and calls arose for the new company to acknowledge its dark past. To mark the Reichbahn’s collaboration in deporting people to camps and their deaths, present-day Deutsche Bahn AG established a memorial at track 17. Inaugurated in 1998 the memorial was designed and built by architects Hirsch, Lorch, and Wandel who were very mindful of the 1991 Karol Broniatowski memorial near the station’s entrance.

Along track 17, metal plates have been inserted, one for every transport train which took Berlin’s Jews to their deaths. Each plate includes the transport date, the number of people deported, and the transport’s destination. The first train of record departed Grunewald on 1941 October 18 when 1251 Jews were deported to Łódź. Another plate marks the last train of record (so far) leaving Grunewald on 1945 March 27 when 18 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt; blank plates leave room for additional commemorations with new uncovered information. More than 50-thousand Jews from Berlin were deported from this station alone. The first set of trains went to concentration-camps in eastern Europe, but by the end of 1942, trains were directed to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt.

The vegetation that’s been left to grow around the track over the years is a visible symbol and an unspoken promise to all: that no train will leave track 17 ever again.

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