We traveled from Buchenwald to Berlin Thursday night, enabling us to have the entire next day in and around this historic city. We began our day at the Grunewald Rampe, which is the railroad station in Berlin from which Jewish Berliners were deported. The selection of this station by the Germans is significant. The Grunewald Station is in a beautiful, upper-class section of Berlin, an area where many Jews once called home. The station now contains two memorials commemorating the deportation of Jews from the capital.
The first memorial is located near the entrance of the station and commemorates the Jews from Berlin who were deported. The memorial contains sunken-relief silhouettes of figures, which are perhaps meant to depict the disappearance and absence of these people as a result of the transports. While this memorial is moving, our group found the second memorial to be even more meaningful. This is because the second memorial, which was constructed by the German Railroad company, is dedicated to the “Jewish citizens of Berlin.” This phrasing is interesting because these deported Jews are now regarded as former citizens of Berlin. At the time, however, they were not considered citizens. The memorial consists of small plaques which line the tracks that give the date, the number of deportees and the destination of each transport that left the station. These plaques represent a disturbing chronology of the Holocaust as you see the frequency of the transports and the number of deportees increase over time, and then decrease as Berlin became virtually void of Jews. The fact that the German Railroad Company played such an integral role in the deportation and subsequent murder of so many Jews adds another layer to this memorial, where it can be seen as a form of reparation on the company’s behalf.
We left Grunewald Station for the House of the Wannsee Conference, which is a museum that educates about the Wannsee Conference, the events leading up to it, and its consequences. The Wannsee Conference, which took place on January 20, 1942 and was attended by a small group of high-ranking Nazi officials, was the meeting at which the “Final Solution” was officially organized. During the conference, Nazi officials and agencies determined the logistics and responsibilities for implementing the so-called “Final Solution” of the Jewish “problem,” establishing the SS as the highest German authority on the problem. Wolf Kaiser, Deputy-Director of the Wannsee House, gave us an in-depth tour of the exhibition, explaining both the history of the house as well as the history of the Wannsee Conference and its significance within the history of the Holocaust. What was chilling for our group to learn was how the “Final Solution” was conceptualized over time. The Wannsee Conference was not a single event where the “Final Solution” was first conceptualized, but rather, it was the sum of ideas about murdering the Jews in mass numbers.
After learning about the difficult history of the “Final Solution”, Wolf let us walk around the museum on our own and then took us to the education center to discuss how the Holocaust is taught in Germany. It was interesting to hear Wolf, who is an important international figure in Holocaust education, talk about some of the obstacles and issues he faces when educating teachers and their students in both Germany and Europe. Usually these issues have to do with time constraints because teachers can spend only a limited time teaching the subject and are therefore not able to cover the subject in-depth with students.