We began our day on the bus to the Bavarian Quarter with Shalmi framing our day with the question: "Where do these people, the Nazi perpetrators, come from?" The Nazis came into power through a democratic election, and a consistent part of their ideology included racism based on faulty but, accepted scientific theory. The Nazi ideology included the belief that the Jews were not only inferior, but were also destructive to the German race. Pardoxically, inherent in this ideology, Nazis needed to eliminate the Jews but had no idea in 1933 what that meant. At that time in history, the entire world was "pre-Auschwitz," meaning that this milestone in Western civilization had not yet occurred. The Nazis were then part of the Judeo-Christian belief "Thou shalt not kill." The Nazis couldn't simply say "let's kill all the Jews" in 1933 because the population wouldn't accept it. However, the Nazi perpetrators could initiate decrees that were small actions against the Jews. These more subtle actions would be accepted by observers, or bystanders.
We get off the bus at the Bavarian Quarter to view the memorial there that consists of 80 signs with pictures on one side, and anti-Jewish decrees on the other. In this part of Berlin, lived around 6,000 Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. Here we discussed that some of these laws came from the top down--such as "Jews can't use public telephone booths"--and some came from the people of the community--such as "No Jews are allowed to sing in choirs." It is important to reliaze that the Nazis set some laws in place, but community members in Germany also made their own anti-Jewish rules. This memorial pulls us into a discussion, because unlike traditional memorials, this one interacts with the people of the community. For instance, Shalmi spoke of a man who works in the neighborhood who, even though he is a Turk, still feels guilty when groups are looking at the signs as he walks by.
Our next stop is the Grunewald Train Station, the site where many of the 55,000 Jews of Berlin were deported to camps that included Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, where we will be going in a few days. This memorial shows the dates of deportation, the number of Jews deported, and the camp to which they were sent. Here Shalmi explained another part of the bureaucracy that made this happen. The memorial itself was commissioned by an important part of this bureacracy: the German railroad.
Another part of the Nazi bureaucracy established the definition of who was a Jew. Most Jews in Berlin were assimilated into society. People who didn't identify as Jews were suddenly defined by the Nazis as Jewish simply because one of their grandparents was Jewish. People might have converted, or their parents might have converted to Christianity, but by the Nazi definition, they were still considered Jews. Bureaucrats working in offices, who may or may not have been Nazis, made lists of Jewish people by looking at registration records of Jewish communities. Famous, prominent Jewish people were sent to Theresienstadt for awhile, and were not killed right away. In this way, Nazis prevented some of the possible public outcry.
After a stop for lunch, we continued our day at the Wannsee Villa, site of the luncheon meeting(January 1942) that assembled important leaders of the Nazi bureaucracy. At this meeting, known today as the Wannsee Conference, these leaders, who included Heydrich, Eichmann, doctors and a priest, planned the implementation of the horror that had already started: the industrialized killing of Jews. The bureaucratic terminology for the outcome of this meeting was "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question." A tactical strategy of the Nazis was to industrialize the killing of the Jews in order to spare the mental health of the killers. The Einsatzgruppen actions, and the mobile gas vans of Belzec caused nervous breakdowns in the Nazis who committed these atrocities. Therefore, they needed to create factories of death, where eventually the Nazis forced Jews to do the killing, as recorded in testimony of the Sonderkommando of Birkenau.
As we sit there in the room where the Nazi officials put their seal of approval on the process of killing that we would one day refer to as Auschwitz, it is impossible not to be emotional. Yes, we are all "post-Auschwitz" and realize the ramifications of the small steps, and the shifts in the thinking of the Nazi perpetrators, which led to the meeting in this room in January of 1942.
What appears to be truly perplexing was the fact that an SS officer would leave his family in the morning and begin his job of extermination and violence against the Jews that very day. It does not seem possible that one can make sense of the Nazis´ decision to eliminate the Jewish population. At the Wannsee Villa I learned that despite the horrendous crime of the Nazis, what was extremely interesting was the fact that the Nazis were human: they had families, laughed, loved, cried, talked with their friends, and did everything else a human does.
Today at the Bavarian Quarter, Mr. Barmore talked about the gradual alienation that occured between Jews and their Christian friends. We learned about how people in Germany were upset and desperate which allowed Hitler to come to power, but as the decrees started to come out and it was obvious that the municipality was involved in their creation it showed local support for national policy.
While I was walking on the tracks of Grunewald I noticed a deportation date of January 1st. I could not help but think of the countless people who walked there clutching their belongings, comforting their crying children, all while being confused themselves on a day most people plan for the future year. Maybe they had hoped that this year would be the year that the persecution ended and would set them free.
Throughout the day listening to Mr. Barmore, I learned that new laws persecuting the Jews did not impact the average German citizen. Because people were not affected, they had no reason to try and resist these new laws. Nazism made non-Jews feel embarrased to be friends with German Jews which allowed the Nazi government to continue passing minor discrimanatory laws which led later to deportation to camps with no one questioning the goverment´s authority.
Hannah C. says:
At the Bavarian Quarter today we talked about the people who supported the Nazis and the people who were wavering, unwilling to speak up. Influence was a huge tactic during the Holocaust. I know when I was in middle school, if you supported gay marriage, you were automatically deemed to be gay, and because of this many people decided to be against gay marriage so they would not be made fun of.
To all the people who are following our journey and offering thoughtful comments we wanted you to know that each morning we read your comments and it sparks interesting discussions amongst us. We are grateful for your participation in our learning experience and hope you will continue to offer your insights. THANK YOU !!!