Grey block after grey block after grey block. That’s what the memorial was. Grey blocks of varying sizes in what seemed to be endless rows. There were no names of the victims, no inscriptions of what this stood for, just nothing but grey blocks.
We couldn’t work out what the blocks signified or why they were chosen to memorialise the victims. It’s only after my return to London, after a bit of research that I discovered that the design is intended to be a unique and radical approach to creating a memorial.
Although many may not be able to identify the symbolism of the blocks, we do know what they memorialise. So I did find a bit disrespectful when kids were playing tag between the blocks or adults were sitting and standing on the blocks and even taking selfies with the blocks. Young children can be excused for this behaviour as they may not understand the significance of these blocks, but it’s the adults who should be ashamed. Is this really acceptable behaviour? Would you sit or stand on or take a selfie with a stranger’s gravestone? Because in my opinion, it’s pretty much the same thing.
Below the memorial, there is an underground information centre. In the first section there is a long timeline detailing the National Socialist terror policy between 1933 and 1945. At the end of this section, there are large portraits of a few of the victims. They are no longer just a number, there are now six faces to represent the six million victims. These six faces are representative of all the Jewish victims: men, women, children and the elderly. Looking into these faces (especially the children’s), it is difficult and very upsetting to imagine what they experienced.
The rest of the exhibition is divided into four main rooms: Room of Dimensions, Room of Families, Room of Names and Room of Sites.
Seeing the faces of the persecuted was heart wrenching, but words, words have so much power. In the Room of Dimensions, you are able to read quotations from the memoirs of those that were persecuted. Reading these was very upsetting to the point that I wanted to cry and my heart physically hurt. I forced myself to read every quote in the room, but when I came to the Room of Families, there was just too much. Too many of victims, too many stories of pain and anguish, too many lives gone and for what?
The whole time I was there, I had tears in my eyes and I felt physically sick – sick to my stomach. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like this, something that invoked such strong emotions of pain and anger and I fully embraced these feelings. I embraced these feelings because I felt like that was the only way I could show my respect and solidarity to the poor people who had lived through this. I didn’t shy away from the distressing feelings I encountered because those feelings are not even a fraction of the pain that these people had endured.
We live in a world where ignorance is bliss. Where we fret about our own problems while there is so much injustice, suffering and bloodshed occurring all over the world, many that we are not even aware of. We hear about the select few tragedies that the media deems to share with us and we sympathise for a bit. We donate money to charity, campaign on social media or send a prayer or two to heaven. These are all beautiful things, but then after a while we forget. The tragedy and suffering is just a distant memory as we go back to our lives and our problems.
I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to be blissful in my ignorance. It may be cliche to say, but I do want to make a positive difference in this world. I’m not completely sure how yet, but I’m working on it.