Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany
Basic History:The city of Berlin played a pivotal role during World War II. It was the command center of Nazi Germany. It was there that the orders for the Final Solution were executed. The war in Europe essentially ended when the city surrendered to the Soviets in 1945. The 2,711 concrete grey blocks they refer to as “stelae” represent the Jews in Europe that were exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was unveiled in 2005.
What Makes It Unique: Perhaps its most unique feature is the controversy surrounding the memorial. Some criticize the use of abstract art to commemorate such an atrocious act because it does not seem fitting especially in Berlin, but some welcome the thought that these simplistic blocks are a fitting representation.
My Personal Thoughts: When I first saw it from afar, it felt like I was just looking at another monument. The blocks vary in sizes and the collective image of them made it seem like tombstones. The deeper I went however, the more claustrophobic it became. Perhaps this was the symmetry to the treatment of Jews: it started small and harmless enough, but as you moved further along, it ended up swallowing you whole.
Shoes on The Danube, Budapest, Hungary
Basic History: The shoes represent the Hungarian Jews that were executed and pushed onto the Danube during the brutal reign of the Arrow Cross Party. They were a far right group sympathetic to Nazi ideology that ruled Hungary from 1944-1945. It has its origins from a national socialist party founded in 1935. The shoes are made out of cast iron and modeled after the designs of that period. There are 60 pairs lined on the Pest embankment, not far from the Hungarian Parliament
What Makes It Unique: The memorial is not at all grand. My Hungarian tour guide even told me that the Hungarian people did not expect it to have the kind of reception it possesses nowadays because it was simply meant to be a commemoration of the terror reign in Budapest. Some of the shoes have cracks and are rusty due to neglect, which ironically enough contributes to its authenticity. The shoes are positioned in a way that makes it look like they were just taken off then and there.
My Personal Thoughts: This was, for me, the most poignant of all the memorials on this list. As I walked along the bank, I saw several women’s shoes, some of them my size, which made me think about what things in common I might have had with that person. But what really shook me was the handful of children’s shoes. Some of them were so small which meant that the child was likely just a few years old. It was heart breaking to see.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, United States
Basic History: Dedicated in 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. is one of the largest museums honoring the victims of the Holocaust. Its extensive archive, both physically and electronically makes them one of the authorities on the subject. The permanent collection consists of several floors that will take you through the periods of Nazism leading up to the Final Solution in chronological order. The museum also has a sizable presentation about genocide in the 20th century and several memorials on display.
What Makes It Unique: The first and most notable characteristic is its size. It can be intimidating and overwhelming at times, but the museum is curated beautifully that almost every gallery feels very personal. And unlike some museums that focus on certain events, this one presents a comprehensive look at the incidents leading up to liberation. Second, it often refers to itself as a “living” museum because of the widespread effort it places towards educating its visitors about the horrors of that period and of genocide. Lastly, some of the volunteers at the museum are direct descendants or survivors of the Holocaust themselves.
My Personal Thoughts: I can honestly say that after my trip here, my views about the Holocaust were altered permanently and it left me with some indelible images. One of them was a photograph of a disable girl undergoing medical testing. The look on her face was utter fear, accompanied by pain. She was eventually gassed, and as horrible as it may sound, I could not help but feel slightly relieved for her. There was also the room with all the prisoner’s shoes taken from death camps. The sight was one thing, but the scent accompanying it took how I felt to another level. It was a chilling reminder of death and despair.
Kazerne Dossin, Mechelen, Belgium
Basic History: The site of the museum is adjacent to the 18th century barracks originally built for Austrian soldiers, but in the 1940s, they became the transit point for Jews and gypsies being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The museum opened its doors in 2012 and its exhibitions are presented under three major themes: mass, fear, death.
What Makes It Unique: The emphasis is towards the Belgian victims of the Holocaust and what roles did its citizens play during that point in time. We see that some Belgians took major risks to join the resistance movement, but at the same time, we also learn about the evidence of their cooperation.
My Personal Thoughts: I thought that the Kazerne was one of the better “themed” museums in the subject of the Holocaust. Many of the information presented here was somewhat new to me and after learning about Belgium’s resistance movement, it made me feel grateful for their actions. More than 25,000 people were sent to death camps from those barracks, but without Belgian defiance, it could have easily been more.
See also Part 1 of Holocaust Remembrance Day for the other 3 Memorial Sites.