It was an early morning for us today as we began what was no doubt the hardest day for many of us. Our bus took us to the plaza of Humboldt University. Otherwise known as the Bebelplatz, this was the site where the Nazis began their crusade against the Jewish people and the academic community by burning books. In a chilling foretelling of the future we heard the quote from Heinrich Heine, who wrote in his 1820–1821 play Almansor the famous admonition, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen”: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”
Our next stop was the Bavarian Quarter of Berlin. At one time, it was the prominent Jewish neighborhood. After the end of the war, the neighborhood stayed in disarray until the unification of Berlin. Today it is a vibrant gentrified neighborhood where a new generation of local Jews has moved. Throughout the streets are signs that stand as a reminder of the many Nuremberg Laws that defiled and degraded the Jews. There is no escaping from these signs and they are a constant reminder of what happened so many years ago.
As we continued we drove to Wannsee, a beautiful suburban area of Berlin. The buildings and homes are idyllic and stand in stark contrast to what took place. As 14 men sat around a table in this beautiful home, they thought up what would ultimately be deemed the final solution. Our students took in the museum as best as they could, but nothing can truly help one to understand.
We next went to Gleis 17, the outermost track where the Jews of Berlin were sent off to death camps. Together as a community, we commemorated this moment with words of Kaddish and the lighting of memorial candles. It wasn’t easy, but it was important.
After a quick break for lunch, we headed to a transportation site where the kindertransport took place. This was one of the places where 10K children were sent to live their lives in England while their parents remained in Germany – unsure of what their future would hold.
Our afternoon closed with a disorienting experience at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial is right in the middle of Berlin, and it stands as a reminder for all who see it that we can not let this ever happen again. Across the street we walked to see the memorial of the LGBT community who also lost their lives in the Shoah.
Tonight we closed our evening with an engaging conversation about what are we taking back with us. As we have begun to process these last few days, we’re not really sure yet what the answer is, but we know that we can’t turn away from the discomfort we may feel. Instead, we must lean into and engage with the challenges that are ahead of us.
Auf Wiedersehen or something like that
Rabbi Greg, Jessica, and Dan