Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany
The zinc-clad, jagged structure of the Jewish Museum in Berlin is likened to a deconstructed Star of David, which I find genius. Zig zagging turns, slopes, voids all designed by Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-Jewish architect based in the U.S. His idea was to invoke disorientation, loss and the destruction of Jewish Life. Every facet of the museum from the plan, shape, style, interior and exterior arrangement of the building are part of a complicated philosophical programme to illustrate the history and culture of Germany’s Jewish community and the repercussions of the Holocaust.
I purposely set out early in the morning so I could savor the silence before I entered the space located in what was West Berlin before the fall of the Wall. I believe that a Jewish Museum in Berlin offers not just a memorial but dedication to the rebirth of the Jewish people and their history. The Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum) has succeeded. Every place I visit, every word I write and every time I share, I honor the memory of my father, who survived eight Nazi forced labor camps.
In March 1939, the Berlin couple Ruth & Wolfgang Prager, sent their children on a transport to Sweden. Because Ruth required treatment in a sanitarium, she and Wolfgang put off emigrating until it was too late. In October 1941, they were deported to the Lodz ghetto, where they died the following year. Here is the letter they sent to their children.
The Holocaust tower is a void of intimidating height with no windows, blank walls and a small slit just under the ceiling which allows in a tiny amount of light and amplifies the outside sounds. Being in this room one is completely separated from the rest of the museum (and world) which invokes a feeling of isolation while feeling the cold. This room is best visited alone to receive the full experience. It felt like having a moment, one tiny space of what it must have been like to be a prisoner in a camp, being incarcerated by the Nazis. Victor Frankl wrote of camp inmates experiencing shock, apathy, and depersonalization in Man’s Search for Meaning. I remember my father, when interviewed for Spielberg’s Shoah project, cried and explained that he choose not to share with his children when we were young because “I didn’t want them to know the suffering I went through.” The heavy door is opened and I couldn’t get out fast enough. As a second generation survivor, I experienced a brief feeling of discomfort that can never, ever come close to what my father experienced in the labor camps for years.
The Jewish Museum is dedicated to 2,000 years of history, culture and traditions of the Jewish communities in Germany. I loved the physical voids that Libeskind created throughout the building. These so-called voids extend vertically throughout the entire museum and represent the absence of Jews from German society.
The Memory Void contains a work by the Israeli artist Menace Kadishman, who calls his installation, “Shalekhet,” or “Fallen Leaves.” He has dedicated the over 10,000 faces covering the floor not only to Jews killed during the Shoah but to all innocent victims of war and violence. These 10,000 faces punched out of steel are distributed on the ground of the Memory Void. You can walk on the faces and listen to the sounds created by the metal sheets as they clang and rattle against each other. I think it’s powerful and made to unnerve.
The Garden of Exile is forty-nine tilted pillars to represent the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 plus one for Berlin. The garden symbolizes the forced exile of Germany’s Jews. There are concrete columns with oleaster (which look like olive but are wild) trees surrounding them. It’s not truly a garden to relax in and that’s precisely the point and intention.
As I exited the museum and began to find the train station that I came from, I began my solitary walk looking at people, trees, sidewalks, cafes, buses, bicyclists. Walking helps me to simultaneously quiet my mind while thinking. My thoughts flow better when I am moving my legs. Walking helps me reclaim myself as I am recently overworked, which feels like self escape. Unable to turn off the demands at work by not switching off my phone, I am invigorated by walking and being disconnected. I am inspired by the cold air and rain and relish the surprises I find when simply wandering. I have always been motivated to photograph exactly what my eyes see.
In Augustiner’s Restaurant, I was captivated by these two men’s faces while the Festival of Lights was endlessly compelling.
“A Jew must believe in miracles. If a Jew doesn’t believe in miracles, he is not a realist.” – Simon Wiesenthal