Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Weekend Trips (Part Two)

In every German city there is a least one Holocaust memorial. Some memorials fill up city blocks, like Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Others are so small you might just miss them. But wherever you go in Germany--and, more often than not, in any European metropolis--you will find a sliver of remembrance for those who died in the Holocaust.

The German school system has done a wonderful job of integrating these memorials into their secondary education program. Two weekends ago I was able to witness how this is done.

On Saturday, July 12, I travelled with a group of student teachers at the University of Heidelberg to Frankfurt-am-Main for a tour of Holocaust memorials. In all, we visited about the ten individual monuments, memorials, and parks throughout the city that mark the persecution and marginalization of Jews, Sinti and Roma, and political dissidents in the Third Reich.

Although these places of remembrance conjure up feelings of loss and contrition, their presence in crowded plazas and bustling streets disrupts the monotony of everyday living, reminding all who pass--if only for a moment--that there is hope for a better future when we remember the past. Hitler's regime of hate was strong, but I believe the regime of tolerance is much stronger as long as we don't forget those who we have lost.

This is the Frankfurter Römer, or the city hall of Frankfurt. During the Third Reich Hitler would stand on the second-floor terrace and greet cheering crowds of supporters.

In front of the city hall is a sloping plaza known as the Rathausplatz. It was here that students burned the books of Jewish authors and intellectuals, as well as the works of other "undesirables", on May 10th, 1933.

This plaque honors Frankfurt's Sinti and Roma families who were persecuted and killed in the 1930s and early 1940s. Unlike most memorials in Germany, which are normally victim-focused, this one names two perpetrators of the Nazi program against so-called Zigeuner (gypsies): Robert Ritter and Eva Justin, who both "identified" the racial characteristics that distinguished Sinti and Roma from true Aryans. 

This memorial, the first of its kind in Frankfurt, was built in the 1960s. At the base are the names of Nazi ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination sites. Not accounted for are the innumerable locations of mass shootings in Eastern Europe.

The entrance to a Jewish cemetery which was destroyed in the Third Reich but later restored after the war

 Eight rows of rectangle prisms snake around the perimeter of the Jewish cemetery. On each box is the name of a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. The number of prisms surpasses five thousand, only a fraction of the lives lost in WWII.

In the Middle Ages, this was the site of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt. When the ghetto was destroyed, this plaza became the Jewish market. The Nazis later renamed this area in order to rid itself of its Jewish past. Today, sycamore trees shade a tomb-like monument in the center of the park. 

This is the IG Farben building at the Goethe University of Frankfurt. During World War II, IG Farben, a German chemical company, administered the production of Zyklon B, the poisonous substance used in Nazi gas chambers. After the war, this building was commandeered by the American military and became the main bureaucratic office of the Marshall Plan. The building now belongs to the University. 

The colorful figures on the front lawn are plastic statues of the University's namesake, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

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