22 Elul 5776
by Rosalee Lubell
In July, my friend and I set out to visit Berlin. It was important for me to see this city 70 years after the war. Like so many others I know, I have harbored a deeply rooted hatred for the German people. Just hearing German is enough to unhinge me. I don’t think I can ever let go of what happened to the Jews of Eastern Europe during my lifetime. Yet I had heard so many incredible stories about this city and how it has been rebuilt. Rebuilt to recognize and pay tribute to all the lost souls of Germany. It was time for me to see for myself and to heal.
There are monuments throughout this city reminding us of the horrific systematic killing of “other,” the Romas, the Sentis, the homosexuals, the Soviets and the Jews while the desperate clinging of everyday people to the charismatic authority of the Third Reich also existed at this same time.
The monument that had the biggest effect on me was on my second day when I saw the imposing Memorial to the Murdered Jews, designed by Jewish American architect, Peter Eisenman. It consists of 1172 granite blocks and pillars called “stelae” in different heights and lengths. This vast series of stelae take up approximately the size of two city square blocks. As I was walking around and between these structures, I was touched by the eeriness of silence. A bustling city becomes quiet, revealing the profoundly silent screams of the victims young and old.
In the old Jewish quarter of Berlin, small brass memorial plaques called “Stolpersteine” or Stones of Remembrance have been embedded in the sidewalks. These markers have been placed in front of the last residences of Jewish men and women who died in the camps giving these grave-less victims surrogate “headstones.” The artist who designed and continues to place these stones in the streets is Gunter Demnig. He has been doing this benevolent act for the last 22 years.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was built for the socially marginalized men of society including the deaf, dumb and disabled homosexual and Jewish males. The German mottos for these “useless” young men was death by starvation, and “there is a way to freedom but only through the chimney,” as noted in the exhibition book Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp 1936-1945 – Events and Developments. These prisoners developed early onset osteoporosis because of their lack of nutrition. They were in a living skeleton state. They were consuming 600 calories a day yet doing labor that required 6000 calories. They suffered and starved in silence.
The diaries left behind in Sachsenhausen by these men and the last letters written by parents to their children, displayed in the underground museum of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, told me all I needed to know of the destruction of the souls and minds of these displaced people.
These sites are only a few of what I saw several weeks ago. What they represent of my people has had a sobering effect on me. So how am I to deal with all of this? Have I reached any new conclusions about Germany that help me move forward? The newer generations of Berliners, themselves, have struggled to come to terms with their past history and to embrace the future. They are definitely a welcoming group of people. They give me hope; it is a much happier atmosphere that I saw in today’s Berlin than I had expected. They have endured and overcome their ugly history; the monuments that the citizens have built pay homage and show respect to all the lives that were lost during the war.
And yet I realized after touring Sachsenhausen, that I cannot help but remember the sayings: “Nie Viden,” “ NieVergessen”(Never forgive, never forget.) We MUST remember but we must also seek a higher level of enlightenment and tolerance for others so that we may not hate anymore. We must put aside our differences and live together. We must build community with each other and with all of our neighbors.
In our Mishkan Hanefesh, our prayer book for Yom Kippur, I stop at the prayer for the Six Million and for All Who Died in the Shoah and I pray:
Let there be perfect rest for the souls of the six million
Who died as Jews in the flames of the Shoah.
Let there be perfect rest for the countless millions
Who died because of race, religion or nationality,
Political affiliation or sexual orientation.
Hold them close to You forever.
Seal their souls for everlasting life in the shelter of Your presence,
For You are their eternal home.
Together we say: Amen.