In a breakaway from my usual blog style, I will discuss my recent personal experience which has taken the better part of this week for me to begin absorbing. On October 29th I returned from a Canadian delegation trip to Berlin and Krakow to visit key Holocaust sites. Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) sent out invitations to individuals from around Canada. Called “From Compassion to Action–Mission to Germany and Poland”, ten people — police chiefs, politicians, academia and media– took part in this honor.
For me, the trip allegorically started before departure date as I endeavored to brace myself for what friends and acquaintances forewarned about an atmosphere of death and desolation that I would soon contend with.
In Berlin, we visited: the monumental Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the original Berlin Jewish Museum, the site of the former Gestapo and the SS Headquarters–known as the Topography of Terror. At this site we saw the German Historical Museum –a ‘majestic’ and overwhelming display of the forces of Hitler that troubled Avi Benlolo–CEO of FSWC who described it as follows:
The exhibit shows how Hitler was portrayed as the ultimate statesman as he addressed thousands of well-dressed Germans at rallies; photographs reveal a leader loved, almost worshipped by the people he lead down a path of unimaginable evil.
So I ask myself, why do I feel so uneasy? Perhaps because I’m concerned that many of the people visiting this temporary exhibit will not interpret it in the way it was intended
I saw that Avi was clearly disturbed at the time. He and I had a mini discussion about it, as he also had with other delegation members that he describes:
My travelling companions advise giving people the benefit of the doubt, arguing that Hitler has come to embody the idea of evil and the point the Museum is making is a fairly obvious one. This is true – despite what I believe is insufficient evidence about the devastation and tragedy wrought by this common little man; the information is presented almost without context. In a world filled with increasing Holocaust denial, context seems so very significant.
I appreciated Avi’s convictions. What people take away from these tours was the beckoning question that haunted me throughout the trip, particularly when visiting Auschwitz in Krakow. Before leaving to Poland for the full, agonizing day in Auschwitz we also saw: the Wannsee Conference House, Track 17 where most deportation trains carrying Berlin Jews departed for the Litzmannstadt and Warsaw Ghettos; then later to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt Concentrations Camps for extermination.