Sunday, October 12, 2008

Holocaust Memorial In Berlin

Went to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin today.

It's a field of grey stone blocks of irregular height, set up in a grid. As you walk through the field, the ground drops and the blocks darken, and soon, you're walking in amidst a field of black stone pillars that block out everything but the sky. It's claustrophobic and uncomfortable, and it's a relief to get out of there.

There's no explanation of the memorial. The architect said that there's no why to explain an event like the Holocaust, and there's no way to provide an explanation for its memorial. It just is - a permanent reminder of how people can do something so horrible that it defies comprehension. Or maybe it's just that everyone needs to come to a personal understanding of what happened, that it's too important a lesson to just read off a plaque.

When you start walking through it, the blocks are at shin-height. You can step over them, you can see over them - people even sit on them while they watch everyone around them. But as you walk deeper into the maze, you sink deeper into the ground, and the blocks suddenly surround you and cut you off from everything. You're isolated and alone, and the only thing that's of comfort is the light that shines straight ahead of you. And as you walk ahead, the ground rises, the blocks shorten, and you're back above the maze again.

And maybe that's purpose of the blocks. To let us know that evil starts off ordinary and even banal, but as we walk further along the path, we sink deeper and deeper, until we're over our heads and have lost sight of our bearings. And yet, to let us know that there's always a way out. If we can see the light and walk towards it, the ground will rise, and we'll reach an end.


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