Saturday, 28 January 2012

Berlin, Germany: Places of Remembrance

Jews are no longer allowed to work as independent craftsmen November 12, 1938

January 27th is recognized around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, 67 years ago, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by Soviet Troops. From 1942 to 1944, trains from all over Nazi-occupied Europe drove millions of Jews, Roma, Sinti, Poles and other religious and political opponents to the their imprisonment and eventual death

One area in Berlin was especially devastated by the Holocaust. Before Hitler came to power the small Bavarian Quarter in Schöneberg was home to more than 16,000 Jews. In the 1920's this area was known as the "Jewish Switzerland" because it was home to many doctors, lawyers and intellectuals, including Albert Einstein. By 1944, 6,000 of these men and women met their death after their deportation to concentration camps. 

The destruction of so many lives did not happen overnight, starting years earlier with their persecution. Jewish citizens living in Nazi-occupied Europe were subject to gradual and systematic loss of rights and limitations on their movement. During 1933 to 1945 Jewish people were denied the most basic of privileges from owning pets to taking public transportation

Drivers licenses or automobile registration belonging to Jews are void and must be returned. Dec. 3, 1938.

In 1993 two artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, designed a public exhibit called Places of Remembrance in the Bavarian Quarter: exclusion and disenfranchisement, expulsion, deportation and murder of Berlin Jews in the years 1933 to 1945. The exhibit is a decentralized memorial of 80 signs mounted on lamp post throughout the district. Each sign is two sided, on one side there is a colorful illustration and on the other, is an excerpt of anti-Semitic ordinance written in black and white text.

To avoid criticism in connection with the 1936 Olympic Games, signs with harsh language toward Jewish people were momentarily removed.

The memorial shed light on the daily humiliations endured by the Jewish citizens of the Bavarian Quarter and beyond from 1933-1945. These law enabled the disenfranchisement and persecution of the Jews and invaded every part of their life. Some of the laws on display in the exhibit are:

  • Beginning on April 1, 1933 local insurance companies no longer cover treatments by Jewish doctors. March 31, 1933 
  • Jewish actors and actresses are not longer allowed to perform. March 4, 1934  
  • Jew are no longer allowed to obtain a Ph. D April 15, 1937
  • Jewish doctors may no longer practice July 25, 1938 
  • Jewish children are expelled from public schools. November 15, 1938
  • Jews are not allowed to use any of the public pools. December 3, 1938
  • All male Jews have to add "Israel" to their first name and all female Jews have to add "Sara." August, 17, 1938
  • Jews in Berlin are only allowed to buy food between  four and five o'clock in the afternoon July 4, 1940  
  • All Jews over the age of 6 have to wear the yellow star reading "Jew." September 1, 1941
  • Jews are not allowed to use public transportation during rush hour and any other time the volume of traffic was high. They are only allowed to sit down if no other passenger is still standing. September 18, 1941
  • Jews are no longer allowed to buy newspapers and magazines. February 17, 1942 
  • Jews are not allowed to keep pets. May 15, 1942

The German Rail (Deutche Reichsbahn) was used for the first mass deportation of Berlin Jews
October 18, 1941
First trains of deportees went directly into the extermination camp Auschwitz.
July 11, 1942

One can almost walk throughout the Bavarian Quarter and not notice these signs. They serve as a subtle reminder of  this area's dark past. The signs creep into your view the same way the laws crept into the lives of the people most effected by them. I think it also very telling that no translation is provided on the sign itself. It is as if the sign is for Germans and citizens of Germany alone. A message to never allow this to happen again in this country or to its citizens.

More about the exhibit and the artists can be found here.

What do you think of the exhibit? It has faced criticisms for being too subtle? Do you agree?


  1. This is a fantastic and extremely informative post. A lot of the rules somehow remind me of the ones at the Cambodian prison in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge regime. Bone chilling how humans can do such things to each other!

    1. It's interesting that the more Berliners I talk to U see that some have no idea this exhibit exist. But I'm glad I have shared something with them about their city.
      While writing the post I was crying my eyes out. I took the pictures and couldnt process it while I was out because the words didn't really stick because I was reading them through a fog of mistranslation. Seeing this words in black and white, and understanding the meaning really shook me.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this post!! Man's humanity to man simply boggles the mind. Are you hearing any negative comments from German citizens about the Germany/Greece debt issue?

  3. It is interesting how Germany does not sharing its dark past. Meanwhile, Japan does every thing it can to hide theirs.

    I agree with Oneika on this being an informative post.

  4. This is a reminder to all of us, about happens when people sit back, and do nothing. On the surface, the slow stripping of the Jewish peoples rights, appeared to be nothing. In the end, the world witnessed how brutal humans can be. The sad part, is oppression continues in multiple forms, all over the world. Thank you, for adding a different dimension, to what I know, about this horrible period in history.

    To add another element to this period, I would like to recommend Esi Edugyan's novel Half Blood Blues. I just finished it last week and it will stay with me for quiet some time. Edugyan is a Canadian author, who won the Giller Award and was a Finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. The novel is set in Paris and Berlin between 1939 and 1940. She focuses on a group of black jazz musicians trying to survive. I learned by reading this novel, that blacks were sent to concentration camps. I never knew that! As a result of being exposed to this story, I have the following books on my list: Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, African and African Americans in the Nazi Era by Clarence Lusane, Routledge, 2003 and Destined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany, Hans J Massaquoi, Harper Collins, 1999.

    This is the first time I've come to your blog. A comment was made by a reader on The Clutch Magazine online. I look forward to returning!


    1. Thanks for sharing those books. I really need to check them out. I have been meaning to write also about the black children who were seperated from their mothers after the war. Black American soldiers came here and had relationships with Germans and had babies. There was an effort made by both the American and German government to remove these children from their homes and mothers and place them in black families stateside. The lives of these children have been document and subject of great debate.

      There is so much black history in Germany. And even history of Germans in black countries. I was shocked to find out about Jamaican Germans and how they were enslaved by British colonist in Jamaica. The world and it's history is ....:/

  5. I checked out the exhibit. I have one word to describe it, chilling. The words that are written are not subtle. The message is very clear. I also think that is an interesting mixture between art and social justice.

    Again, thank you for such an informative post.