Some Final Thoughts on the 2017 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Zlevor)

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

By Annie Zlevor

Throughout this trip, I encountered many difficult questions that I have been struggling to answer. After three weeks of exploring Berlin, meeting with local activists, visiting museums, and attending walking tours, I find myself only a little closer to understanding their answers. More often than not, my experiences have left me with new questions, wishing I could spend more time in Berlin. On my final day in the city, I would like to consider these questions and reflect on how my recent experiences have allowed me to more critically examine them. I hope to apply what I have learned in the course and continue furthering my understanding of identities, forms of oppression, and memorials.

First, I want to consider our navigation of identities and subjectivities. How do we see ourselves and acknowledge how others see us? This question has helped me reflect more deeply on my own positionality and how society chooses to perceive it. In the spaces I have been welcomed into during this trip, it was important for me to understand how my own experiences exist in relation to the experiences of others. Having a greater awareness of this has better enabled me to listen critically and appreciate the narratives people share. Therefore, I discovered that my primary role ought to be that of a curious listener. This blog serves as an extension of this curiosity and as an ongoing attempt to understand the marginalized communities of Berlin and my role in it.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

After speaking with local activists, I began to question how and when people decide to confront forms of oppression and when they choose to affirm or challenge stereotypes. These questions reminded me of our “Rethinking Masculinities” panel and our discussion with Post-War Generation Black German Women. Spending time with Black and Turkish activists in Berlin has allowed me to better understand how individuals chose to deal with racism and sexism. While each experience is unique to the individual, it was clear that in their navigation of public space, they are never divorced from activism. As Musa Okwonga plainly stated, “You’re Black all the time in Berlin.” And although it is the Afro-German’s right not be discriminated against and exhibit self-determination, they must to spend their life in opposition to racism. They are not getting paid to spend their time confronting oppression, yet the burden so greatly lies on them.

How people choose to confront different forms of oppression also reminded me of our discussion with Salma Arzouni about their work with Gladt and SAWA. I felt that Salma consciously and efficiently navigated what needed to be achieved in their own fight against racism and sexism. Although it is exhausting work, it seems as if they effectively prioritize their goals when trying to combat oppression in a community. As someone who works day and night to support queer communities in Berlin, Salma has to carefully decided how to spend their time. They described the sacrifices they had to make in order to achieve their short-term initiatives. For example, instead of spending their time arguing with the local government at the risk of receiving cuts to Gladt’s government funding, Salma decided to temporarily halt a particular kind of political activism. For the sake of Gladt, Salma now chooses to spend that time helping queer people secure a permanent place to live. While this achievement might not seem monumental to some, it is life-changing for those people who now have a place to sleep at night.

Memorial in Schöneberg (Mills)

Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]

Additionally, after visiting many museums and memorials, I hope to gain a greater understanding of how certain histories have been told. I personally need to take more time to consider who writes these stories. More specifically, I want to understand the implications for those who speak for themselves and those who are being spoken for. Also, it was important for me to learn more about what groups of people were involved in the creation of Jewish memorials. I was curious if Jewish-Germans often gave input on their construction and who decided what to include in it. As Sabine Offe writes in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “We do not know whether individuals, confronted with the obligation to remember, do indeed remember what they are supposed to” (79). However, while some forms of remembrance can be more accurate than others, figuring out a way to accurately commemorate an event such as the Holocaust is beyond complicated and nearly impossible to accomplish. As a result, I am reminded of the importance of looking at historical sites more critically. This causes me to further question how we decide to honor a community that is not monolithic. For instance, I hope to better understand how a memorial can erase the individual experiences of a population. As R. Ruth Linden describes in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” a generalized representation of a group of people “fails to be accountable to lives that are actually lived: situated in bodies with limited means of making sense of…world-historic events in which they participate as…cultural subjects” (27). As a result, this adds another layer to the complexities of memorials and how people choose to represent communities. I hope that we more often attempt to honor the experiences of individuals since it can be easy to erase these differences when trying to honor an entire group.

Unlike most of the Jewish memorials, there were two important instances during our trip where I noticed groups of people deliberately telling their own story: the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (FHXB) Museum and the Roma and Sinti Historical Walking Tour. The FHXB Museum exhibit was a collaborative piece that the local community came together to create. They directly told the history of the district where generations of their own families grew up. I felt this participatory exhibit was representative of strong community relationships and also much more effective in the telling the histories they chose to portray. Additionally, the Roma and Sinti walking tour did much of the same work. The Roma high school students who led the tour self-organized and researched all the material presented. Further, when I asked the students what their parents thought about the tours they were giving, they responded, smiling: “Our families are very proud.” The energy and passion the students exhibited on the tour I feel could have been easily lost if non-Roma and Sinti people led it.

Roma and Sinti Memorial (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

Lastly, after three weeks of listening to and engaging with marginalized people in Berlin, I am left wondering how I can take what I have learned out into the world. Firstly, I hope to do this by recognizing the importance of going beyond academic work. While reading and discussing articles and books are beneficial in developing a basic understand of the material, the practical application of Feminist and Gender Studies outside the classroom is a hard-fought war. By spending time both inside and outside the classroom, I feel as if I can most effectively support marginalized communities and become more consciously aware of their situation. As Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti describe in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” if people understand the complexities of human relationships, this subsequently “drives them toward solidarity with outcasts and emboldens them to a collective struggle against the oppressors” (89). I feel my future goal must be to join this collective struggle. By knowing my place and understanding my own identity in relation to others, I feel as if I can do this and support marginalized groups in their fight against forms of oppression.

Cheers

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

2017 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Click here to view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see even more pictures and videos!

#FemGeniusesInBerlin 2017: Our First Two Days” by Hailey Corkery
Taking Down The Wall of Religious Intolerance: Jewish History in Berlin” by Olivia Calvi
Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni: Representation in Political Social Work” by Nora Holmes
The Anne Frank Museum and It’s Place in Contemporary Germany” by Liza Bering
The Told and Untold Stories of Berlin: A Walk-Through History” by Talia Silverstein
Navigating White Spaces: An Intersectional Analysis of Activist Work by Men of Color” by Ryan Garcia
Africa in Wedding: Germany’s Colonial Past” by Jannet Gutierrez
A Young Jew’s First Week in Berlin” by Nikki Mills
A Permanent Home for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s History: The FHXB Museum” by Annie Zlevor
The Porajmos: The Hidden Narratives of the Roma and Sinti” by Hailey Corkery
Writing Ourselves into the Discourse: The Legacies of Audre Lorde and May Ayim” by Nikki Mills
A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins” by Olivia Calvi
‘Nobody Flees Without a Reason’: A Walk Through Berlin’s Queer History” by Ryan Garcia
Memorialization: The Past in the Present and Why it is Important Today” by Liza Bering
ADNB des TBB: Intersectionality and Empowerment in Anti-Discrimination Support Work” by Nora Holmes
Mauerpark: Graffiti as Art” by Jannet Gutierrez

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here


Annie Zlevor Blog PhotoAnnie Zlevor is a rising junior from the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. She is an Organismal Biology & Ecology major and a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. Annie is also a pre-medicine student, and hopes to attend medical school. In her free time, Annie enjoys eating Lebanese food, going fishing with her family, and taking lots of naps. Currently, you can find her spending some time outside the lab learning about Berlin’s hidden histories. She is excited to be exploring Germany for the first time and hopes you enjoy reading about her experiences.

A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins

Jannet Gutierrez and Olivia at “I Amsterdam” [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

By Olivia Calvi

Having spent two weeks in Berlin really delving into the hidden histories of the city, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the voices we were hearing. Our class has been fortunate to meet some of the people who hold those quiet narratives, the narratives that some people never get the chance to hear. But being in Berlin has really called my attention to the voices we are not hearing. When someone thinks of Germany, they have learned to think of the Holocaust. Within each memorial lies the narrative of the collective memory that the Germans share in commemoration of the lives that were lost. I heard continuously about the guilt that the Germans experience, but it was not until I visited Amsterdam this weekend that I really felt like I had heard the individual voices of those afraid to speak for themselves. Perhaps at the time, I just wasn’t listening closely enough.

My day started very early in the morning, 4 am to be exact, as my classmate Jannet and I rushed towards Hauptbahnhof Central Station, worrying we would miss our train to the airport. Our train had, in fact, been delayed. From there, we got lost, we missed train stops, we endlessly and obliviously walked in the wrong direction, and we had to ask people for help. Through all of the chaos, I could not help but think of how excited I was to explore a new place—a new culture. Once in Amsterdam, we did some classic tourist things, like take a picture in front of the “I Amsterdam” sign, but we also indulged in local cuisine by eating Stroopwaffels—a yummy waffle dessert that everyone should try. Still, in the back of my head, I knew I was blogging about this weekend, and I kept thinking I had to do something that would have strong connections to our coursework. As it turned out, the locations I intentionally sought out were where I found the narratives I had been seeking.

Our first stop for these narratives was, of course, the Anne Frank House. Our class had been to the Anne Frank Museum in Berlin, and I wanted to be able to compare the two. However, my admittedly poor lack of planning led us to a line that stretched a few blocks, so we had to be content with just seeing the outside. By this point, Jannet and I had met up with one of her friends who had visited the museum before and was able to tell us some of what she remembered. She pointed out the nearby church tower, and told us Anne would write about the bells she could hear from down the street. She told us about a tree in the backyard that Anne could see from the window where she was hiding. A couple of years ago, the tree was found to be dying and was cut down. This was very controversial, because the tree played a huge part in Anne’s narrative.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

Without going inside, I could be sure that the museum does a very good job of accurately sharing her story, but what I couldn’t be sure about is if there are other narratives being shared. For example, we went to the museum in Berlin, we discussed whether or not memories of Anne’s story, while incredibly significant, had the power to overshadow the stories of other Holocaust victims and survivors. Our stop this weekend at the Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam made me feel as though that were true. The museum exhibit was comprised of objects and artifacts, as well as twelve interviews with Jews covering history in Amsterdam from the 1900s to present day. One of these interviews shared the stories of Jewish women whose parents died in the Holocaust. One woman described growing up as a Jewish youth in isolation, because there really were none of her people left: “We all experienced Judaism growing up, but we all experienced it in different ways.”

This quote called me back to the conversation we had just a day prior during our panel with Black German women of the Post-War generation. Then, we had the chance to speak with Marion Kraft, author “Coming in From the Cold: The Black German Experience, Past and Present.” Here, Kraft writes that in post-war Germany, “many mothers were ‘convinced’ by German authorities to have their children adopted by African-American families.” Our conversation led the panel of women to tell us how they and their friends experienced this separation of family and isolation first hand. None of them could answer the question of how the adoption process impacted the lives of Black German children, because no one narrative would be the same. The Jewish Museum was a reminder that we should not think of the world in generalizations, because that is how individual voices are forgotten.

Another of these interviews was of a Jewish man who appeared to be in his mid-70s. He spoke of how when he returned from the camps, nothing was left in Amsterdam to remind him of his home. He would go to flea markets each week, hoping to find a book from a familiar time or a photo of his father. Every week he returned to the market because his sole hope was that he could somehow be reconnected to his family. The sad fact is it took a lot for me to find this museum and hear this man’s story. I had to actively seek out these narratives, because they are held at the margins. In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden questions the validity of the way the Holocaust seems to be remembered in Germany by calling on people to look to the margins. More specifically, Linden questions “how our understanding of who the women of the Holocaust were, and how they lived, has been misshaped by fixing our gaze on the vortices of power and destruction, away from the margins.” It seemed to me that so much of the collective memory in Berlin focuses on those Germans who feel guilty for what their ancestors have done. Linden is right that many people don’t act as though we want to hear the stories of the marginalized—instead collective memory provides a space for the voice of the oppressed individual to be ignored.

The Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

Linden is not the only one who thinks women have been left out of the Holocaust narrative. Some writing on a wall in the Museum referenced three Jewish women who had a huge impact on emancipation for Jews in Amsterdam before the war. I sat down to hear the interview as I did all the rest, expecting to hear more about the accomplishments and successes of these women—to hear their stories. Instead, the interview was of a white man. I then clicked on the photos and documents section in hopes these women would be talked about. Only two of these women were pictured. The other four photographs were of white men. One of the women we spoke with during the aforementioned panel was activist and co-founder of ADEFRA, Jasmin Eding. In “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” Eding describes the purpose of her organization: “We are working on our vision to make ADEFRA a place for empowerment for women and their children, a place of comfort, a place to learn and grow, a place to heal.” ADEFRA and Linden aim to achieve what, in my opinion, the Jewish History Museum could not accomplish: substantial and intentional representation of women, of those who identify as LGBTQ, of Sinti and Roma—persecuted groups at the margins of the Holocaust.

During the panel, I asked, “Do people in Berlin feel as though they need to put all of their energy into one minority movement, or do they spread their energy around?” I know tensions about dispersing energies exist in the U.S., because of the fear that nothing will ever get done. I wanted to know how these conversations were being handled in Germany. One of our guests, Judy Gummich, responded that “it needs to be a balance of both.” She went on to say that people are so focused on their own interests, they forget about the interconnectedness that exists between minority groups. When people are only focused on the larger picture and getting things done, they forget to listen to the individuals who need their voices to be heard in order to heal. They forget it is in their own interest to help each other in their fight towards justice and equality for all. The larger narratives of collective memory and of the oppressor distract from the individual stories that have the power to change perspectives—those are the narratives that we need to seek out because they are so easily forgotten.


Olivia Calvi is a rising sophomore from Los Angeles, CA. She is double-majoring in Religion and Classics at Colorado College, and hopes to also attain a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. After college she plans on attending Seminary to eventually find herself in a career as a military or prison chaplain. She wholeheartedly believes in the Denver Airport conspiracy theory and has recently made the discovery that she is terrible at navigating public transportation.