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Day 4 (Wannsee / Grunewald Station)

May 13, 2012

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To say that I visited a charming manor in the German countryside where fifteen Nazi officials planned the Final Solution is utterly incomprehensible to me.  Unfortunately, such a rustic and scenic area became the location where men sat down to figure out the best way to exterminate the Jews in a quick and orderly manner, otherwise known in the future as systematic extermination.  As I walked around inside the infamous Wannsee House, I took note of the beautiful lake outside the conference room.  At lunch I ate with the lake’s view in front of me.  The connection between the past and the present was eerily surreal.  Had Reinhard Heydrich, the conference leader, looked out upon the lake, too, at lunch?  It’s amazing how evil can manifest itself in the most placid of things.  The lake had nothing to do with the evil that came forth from that day, yet I felt extremely uncomfortable eating lunch knowing the view was as beautiful to me as it was to those officers.  Actual transcripts and conference proceedings from the Wannsee House record the 1.5 hour long conference as a “normal” one– meaning hardly any emotion, certainly not the kind that we would feel upon hearing that men are planning such atrocities in the name of mankind.

The Wannsee House was built in 1914 and purchased by the SS in 1940.  By the time Nazism rose to power, Wannsee had become a hotel for important SS officials travelling to Berlin.  Today the house serves as a museum with floor to ceiling photographic exhibitions full of thought provoking captions.  During our tour of Wannsee, our guide lectured us on the use of photography during the Nazi period.  I will never look at a photograph the same way!  His lecture was so unbelievably eye-opening and revealed gestures, poses, and emotions in pictures I would never have noticed: whose hand is pushing whom in the background, what poses (if any) are the Nazis making in the foreground, what clothes are people wearing off to the side of the picture, what reactions do passerby have, etc.  Putting the pieces together can often tell someone who took the picture and what it was used for.  I will include a picture here although I apologize for the poor clarity.  Try to analyze the picture yourself and decide what purposes the pictures held and who took them and for what audience it was intended.  You can click on the image to bring up a larger size.  And feel free to reply to this post with your thoughts on the pictures (you do not need to be a WordPress member to comment).  I would be interested to know what the public thinks.

Please click on this image to get a closer look

The one part of the exhibition that stuck with me the most was a quote that ran along the length of a wall in Wannsee, and I think everyone should ponder on this poignant lesson:

“When I was fifteen, one of my classmates asked me in the history lesson whether I was in fact related ‘to that Himmler’.  I said yes with a lump in my throat.  It went so quiet in the classroom you could hear a pin drop.  They were all alert and curious.  But the teacher became nervous and carried on as if nothing had happened.  She missed the chance to make us understand just what continues to link us, the descendants, with these ‘old stories'”.  – Katrin Himmler, born 1967, Heinrich Himmler’s great-niece.

After Wannsee our class took a trip to see the Grunewald Station Memorial, a site where thousands of Jews were deported via train to various concentration and extermination camps.  As you may have noticed in previous (or future) posts, I am a big fan of integrative or interactive sites of commemoration because it transports you to a moment in the past.  At the Grunewald Grunewald Station MemorialMemorial, one must walk the length of the train tracks on either side to read about what the fate of the Jews.  Simple yet down to the point, this memorial commemorates the number of Jews sent to the camps on each date it occurred– unfortunately that meant the memorial was quite an extensive one.  In each piece of the memorial, the date was given along with the number of Jews deported and to where.  In the picture off to the right it indicates that on June 26, 1942, 202 Jews were taken from Berlin and deported, but the destination point is unknown (unbekannt).  I walked along the length of the memorial to capture video footage of each of the dates.  Unfortunately it was done in haste at times, as I did not have enough time to walk around slowly.  To see the video, please click here.

Grunewald Station Holocaust Memorial

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