By Jesse Crane
After a sunny morning walking through downtown Berlin on the Holocaust History Tour with Carolyn Gammon, we ate a long lunch and then headed over to the Jewish Museum. As we gathered together on the upper floor of the museum, our group sat in a large circle in the middle of an empty room with slanted red, white, and steel walls. The introduction to our workshop was given by Fabian Schnedler. From the beginning, Fabian made it clear that the Jewish Museum was not a Holocaust museum. Museum visitors were there to talk about the history of Judaism, including the 2,000 years of Jewish history before the Holocaust. Fabian explained to us that “this is a museum about life, not death” and that the museum is meant for us to ask ourselves, “What is Jewish culture?” Similarly, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Sabine Offe argues that the Jewish Museum emphasizes the importance of new collective memories about German Jews in order to gain a rich understanding of the role of a Jew in Germany, both in the past and today.
As Fabian left us, we became acquainted with Muirgen, our enthusiastic workshop leader. Our workshop, “Forced Into Exile,” focused on the feelings of fleeing, the spaces involved in the Holocaust, and how those feelings and spaces impact our bodies and evoke emotions. She also urged us to re-conceptualize how we viewed the Holocaust in relation to the experiences and perceptions of German Jews. One of our activities included organizing various laws by year in order to understand Holocaust as a process.
Murigen laid our 8 cards with dates and handed out 8 cards with Nuremberg Laws to match these dates. As a group, we struggled to match the laws with the right dates. These Laws were each different. For example, “Jews are obliged to wear a yellow star” and “It is forbidden for Jewish children to attend a German school.” Murigen explained to us that the Nazis were originally trying to “bully” the Jews enough until they left Germany. This reminded me of “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich” by Marion Kaplan. Kaplan explains how the experiences of Jewish students grew worse and worse until they finally left the constricting German schools in order to go to Jewish schools where they felt comfortable and supported. This had me thinking about how the decision to leave everything you had ever known behind and how bad things would need to get before making that decision. Would I have left? Would I have stayed? I still wonder what I would do.
Murigen highlighted these questions parallel to the election of Hitler as Chancellor in the Third Reich. At first there were misunderstandings of who was really Jewish and who was really Aryan. At the time, German Jews often felt more German than Jewish or anything else, and suddenly their identities were conceived within the dominant social discourse as exclusively Jewish. The active creation of definitions by the Nazis for Aryan and Jew brought me back to Maisha Eggers‘ “Knowledge’s of (Un-) Belonging.” When discussing “moving inward,” Eggers discussed how Black Germans had define themselves in order to shape their movement and gain strength within their goals. In Nazi Germany, the government was took this power and was able to define all groups in the Third Reich and how they are meant to function in society.
After this exercise, Murigen led us we downstairs to gain a better understanding of spaces in Nazi Germany for the Jews and to demonstrate to us the way in which the museum contributes through its architecture in forming this understanding. As we ventured to the basement, we wandered into an unusual space. It was an industrial, off-kilter, narrowing hall with no right angles and no color. There was no familiarity. We discussed how we felt and as we moved through the halls, we continued to see changing dimensions. As we looked towards the ends of the hall, we saw separate halls that broke off to light and halls that broke off to darkness. Every space had a sharp turn, and it was difficult to center myself. We decided to go towards the light, and as we reached the door, we entered into the Garden of Exile. I believed that the Garden would be a centering relief from the angular halls we had just walked through. My assumptions were wrong.
The Garden of Exile consisted of long tall concrete rectangles with foliage off the top. It had tilted cobblestone floors. Some of the students in our class said it made them seasick, and others felt claustrophobic. Overall, this Garden of Exile after the sharp hallways didn’t feel much better. As we reflected on this as a group, we finally began to understand how Jews were stripped of their spaces in this world, whether it was home or in exile, nothing felt “normal.”
Jesse Crane is a pending Colorado College graduate from Bethesda, MD. Jesse graduated in May, but as a transfer student, she was required to do one more credit in order to fulfill her Sociology degree requirements. She saw Berlin as the perfect opportunity to take an amazing final college course and study abroad. Like many CC students, Jesse loves being outdoors—whether it may be skiing, hiking, or taking her dog for a walk. On the weekends, she spends her time practicing yoga and cuddling with her dog Lily. While Jesse loves things like reading, chai tea, and playing cards, waking up early and jogging are things that you will probably not see Jesse doing often. Jesse is grateful and excited to have the opportunity to take one final class abroad at Colorado College and can’t wait to share her experiences with everyone.