By DeAira Cooper
It’s Hump Day! The week is almost over, and you would think that we’d recovered from jet lag by now, but it seemed to be at its peak today. We took a three hour walking tour about Jewish history and the Holocaust with our amazing tour guide Carolyn Gammon. One of the first points that Carolyn made, which I found to be very interesting and surprising, was that there are no memorials for Black victims of the Holocaust in Germany. The Black experience in Germany had been written out of history until about thirty years ago, which is fairly recent. In “Knowledge of (Un-) Belonging,” Maisha Eggers writes, “The term Afro-deutsch (Afro-German) was coined in 1984 by Audre Lorde (1934–1992) together with a group of Black women activists in Berlin. This is considered the moment at which the Black movement in Germany was born.” (3) As far as Black race relations go in Germany, they still have some work to do seeing that there is only one Black man serving in parliament out of about 300 people. Carolyn then went on to make a very important thought-provoking point; claiming that whenever going on a tour, we should always have in the back of our minds the question, “What am I not seeing? What is the information being withheld or in the literal sense has been taken out the picture?” Throughout the tour, I constantly found myself referring back to these questions.
According to Gammon, the anti-Semitic discrimination of Jews dates back to over 800 years ago when Jews occupied “Jew Street,” because they weren’t accepted by the rest of the German population. Their only jobs involved working for the Royal Court because they were excluded from all other jobs. They also couldn’t own land and had no access to permanent rights to citizenship. Anti-Semitism actually stemmed from antagonism towards monotheism, and Judaism is one of the three main monotheistic religions along with Christianity and Islam. The introduction to this new way of thinking about religion was problematic for the Romans and Greeks, who, historically, had participated in polytheistic thought.
One important figure in Germany’s Jewish history is Moses Mendelssohn, a Jewish modernist who believed strongly in tolerance, strength, and equality for all regardless of religion. Mendelssohn gave the parable of the ring when asked about which monotheistic religion was the greatest. This parable was about a father with three sons having to choose which one of his sons would take his inheritance. Instead of just giving the ring to one of his sons, he decided to duplicate the ring twice so that each son would have a ring not making one of them worth more or better than the other. Once each son received their rings, they were confused that each of them had a ring and had to find a way to lead their families together in harmony. This parable is symbolic, because it shows that neither of the three monotheistic religions are better than the other and that it is possible for those practicing these religions to live with one another without discrimination or a hierarchy.
Mendelssohn also quotes, “beware of the green spaces,” which is significant, because most green spaces in Berlin probably have a significant story behind them in that many used to be a cemetery, synagogue, or house. Many Jewish museums exist because of these spaces. As Sabine Offe writes in “Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “On a pragmatic level, the existence of the majority of museums is linked to the fact that former synagogues, Jewish schools, or houses formerly owned by Jews that had survived the pogrom in November 1938 and the war were ‘rediscovered’ during the 1970 and 1980s” (79). The story behind the Jewish cemetery we saw on our tour really struck me, because it was destroyed by the Nazis. Not only did they destroy the cemetery, they also excavated the graves. Even the deceased Jews couldn’t live in peace. Still, Mendelssohn’s legacy lives on today at the Moses Mendelssohn high school, which teaches Jews and non-Jews together and teaches them about Judaism and tolerance. In “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich,” Marion Kaplan writes, “Because children spend so much time in school, unprotected by family, Jewish children continually met face-to-face with the repercussions of Nazism there.” (42). This high school gives hope that one day Jews and non-Jews will be able to live in peace with one another and learning from each other.
I can definitely say that my peers and I were very surprised by most of the information we learned today. We’ve all studied the Holocaust in our school systems, but never in the context of where it took place. Today, we walked the same streets that the murdered Jews and other victims of the Holocaust walked. It’s mind-blowing to think that people were being killed in those streets and taken out of their houses. That reminds me of one last comment Carolyn made today, “Everyone was part of the Holocaust via a perpetrator, bystander, or victim.”
DeAira Hermani is a Chicago girl living in Colorado. She is an Anthropology major and double minor in Theatre and Race & Ethnic Studies. She enjoys acting and doing comedy, and performs all types of comedy, including short and long-term improvisation, short skits, and sketches. She also writes a lot of her comedic sketches and monologues, and enjoys singing. You can often find her harmonizing with her friends or just creating new music. She’s just a down-to-earth lady always looking for the positives in a world full of negatives. She tries to stay optimistic at all times, and because of this, you’ll probably find her with a group of people making them laugh.
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