Monday, May 4, 2009

Laughter and Tears in Berlin

Yesterday I had a short tour of Berlin on the back of a motorcycle, it was a lot of fun and very interesting. We went by the most touristic places and I got a history of Berlin from someone who has lived here for 15 years.

The Berlin Wall:

The Reichstag (site of the infamous Reichstag fire which propelled the Nazi party into majority and signaled the decline of the country into the insanity that followed.)

Then, without warning, we were at the "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" (actual title.)

The memorial is very powerful. There is the impression of single graves, as each stone if the size of a single person, and also a hints of mausoleums, barracks, skyscrapers and mass graves.

Because of it's natural maze like quality children use it to play hide and seek and you can hear them laughing in the distance as they run back and forth. My guide told me there are guards that tell people not to play here because it is a memorial.

"But I think it's good that they play. It's more...." Then he turned away from me, saying softly, "It was so stupid." When he turned back his eyes were full of tears and he couldn't speak. We stood quietly in the middles of the "graves" and I let the feelings wash over me, feelings I'd been holding back without realizing.

I cried for my grandparents, for family I never met because they died in camps, for six million murdered jews, gypsies and unwanted people, for a Germany that has to live with the guilt of this terrible crime, for pogroms against people all over the world that are part of all our shared history, because these things are still happening, and because the guilt of the holocaust is used by the Isreali government to perpetrate it's own crimes against it's own "unwanted" people.

We were there for awhile.

And children played and laughed and lovers kissed and people posed and took pictures and life continued as it does, inside and outside of the memorial.


My grandparents are from the Netherlands, both were born there, as was my father. During the war my grandfather was in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Germany. He has always told us stories of his time in the war, both in and out of the camp. Though quite awful there have been no stories of death, he never spoke of anyone being shot, or gassed, or directly killed. The worst thing he said was that it was his job to pick up the pieces of bodies (heads and arms mostly) which had fallen off the corpses on their way to the mass graves.

A British reporter who was there while the camp was liberated said of the experience, "This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life."


My grandfather has been back to Belsen, where he donated some very small watercolor paintings he did while in the camp. He told the museum that they could reprint his paintings and sell them as postcards if the proceeds went to orphans of Palestinian children killed by the Isreali government.


We laugh, we cry, we live. We play.


  1. Only recently have I heard anything about my Dutch grandparent's experiences in the war. Apparently my grandfather and his brother's were in France helping the resistance. And his sister and her husband hid two Australian pilots in their barn for months until the Netherlands were liberated. I wish those had been exceptional times.

  2. Well, now I think I might cry too. Thanks for sharing your photos and thoughts.

  3. Kim,

    A beautiful post.

    I made it through Berlin without tears -- even managed to take in the Topography of Terror, where you can read formal, cheerful letters between the SS and their suppliers about the performance of the gas ovens used in the camps. But the monument you saw hadn't been built yet, and it surely would have done me in.

    What finally got me was an exhibit back in Munich, where I lived for several years, where you could see slacks made of human hair and lamp shades made of, yes, made of that.


  4. What a beautiful experience. Thank you for sharing this day, the unique outlook for your guide, and your own thoughts and family history. The two must important things to take from these horrible events is not to forget and not to repeat. When humanity can learn that, in all things great and small, we may have a chance at peace.

  5. Your grand father is a saint.

  6. these photos and words brought tears. i'm enjoying your blogs from germany, albeit rather intense.

  7. What a great post. My husband and I were at the memorial a few years ago, and it had an incredible impact. Not to mention it makes for great photos! The museum underneath I'll never forget: personal letters from victims were projected onto the ground, and you learned more about the actual families. Too much at times. Thanks for sharing your personal story.