The Sinister Way Germany's Recollection of the Holocaust Impacts Its Approach to Muslim Immigration
If you've spent any amount of time walking around the downtown area of any German city, you've likely noticed a memorial commemorating the Holocaust. Perhaps the most notable of these memorials is the field of 2,711 gray concrete stones near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Officially, this grim display is called the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.”
It looks like a cemetery. It's supposed to be the most solemn of places. Walking past it several times over the years, I've seen children running between the rows of stones, grinning tourists taking selfies, teenagers making out. I haven't seen much in the way of solemnity. Oh, and there's a good deal of littering.
But that's not the main reason why the place rubs me the wrong way. It draws the wrong kind of attention to itself – namely, attention to its design, and thus to its designer – and thereby draw attention away from the people who are supposedly being memorialized. Look this thing up online and you'll read that architect Peter Eisenman intended for the stones “to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere” and thus “represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” This isn't a tribute to the dead of the Shoah; it's a show-offy piece of self-conscious postmodern cleverness that's all about itself.
The same goes for Berlin's massive, imposing Jewish Museum, which I visited not long after it opened in 2001. The first thing I saw upon entering the museum was a large sign featuring the name of its architect, Daniel Libeskind. Indeed, I see online that now, at least, it's officially known as “The Libeskind Building.”
The brochure I was handed when I visited “The Libeskind Building” was rife with pretentious jargon about its design. I don't have the brochure anymore, but the description on the museum's website will give you an idea: “The building zigzags with its titanium-zinc façade and features underground axes, angled walls, and bare concrete 'voids' without heat or air-conditioning....The building allows for many interpretations. For some people it brings to mind a broken Star of David; for others it is a bolt of lightning. Many people are left with a feeling of insecurity or disorientation.”
My own feeling, during my visit, was one of revulsion. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, yet when I left the museum, the only name in my mind was that of Daniel Libeskind. The one thing that seemed to me to be a fitting – and genuinely moving – memorial was a modest display of items belonging to Holocaust victims: a pair of eyeglasses, baby shoes, a shawl.