Oh today was hard. Really really hard. I knew it was going to be, because I chose to do all the sad on one day and get it over with so that the whole trip wasn’t sad. Of course, it also rained all day today.
So. First thing this morning, I went to a little Anne Frank museum in Berlin. The attic, of course, was in Amsterdam, but Anne was born in Frankfurt am Main. The museum here is tiny but interesting, and shows the parallel timelines of her life and the rise of the Third Reich. In the same courtyard, which I discovered entirely by accident, is Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. Weidt was a German man who had lost part of his sight after World War I. He started a workshop that made brooms and brushes, and most of his employees were either blind or deaf. They were also Jews. Because one of his customers was the Wehrmacht (basically the combined armed forces), he was able to get his business classified as vital to the war effort, which meant the Gestapo took a lot longer to come after his employees. When they did start looking, he bribed the police and falsified documents for employees, as well as hiding a few of them in the back room of the workshop, with a door hidden inside a wardrobe. Eventually many employees were caught and deported, but not until 1943. Weidt saved about 30 people for two years, and then after the war opened an orphanage for survivors. I hadn’t known anything about this man before finding the museum, and I thought it was really quite fascinating.
After that I went to a Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauerstrasse. This was a point where the wall had been built through houses, and for a while, said houses were used as escape points. People just had to walk in one door and out the other. Of course, the police caught that pretty quickly, but Bernauerstrasse continued to be a point of contention. There were markers for four different escape tunnels within one block of each other, including one that got 57 people out in two nights before the police were informed and blocked it. At the memorial site there is also the foundation of a house that was torn down because the wall went through it, with markers showing where the rooms would have been.
Following that, I went back to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Under the monument is an information center/museum with a timeline of the Third Reich’s attacks on Jews, as well as the Roma and Sinti Gypsies and homosexuals, among other groups. This museum was the one that was the worst, I think. There was one room full of letters, postcards, diary entries, etc written by people who were being deported or in ghettos waiting to be. Some were notes from children to their parents, and all of them expressed such fear and pain at not knowing their fate. The next room was the stories of families from various points in Europe, very few of which had even one surviving member. The next room was a constantly moving string of names, with voices in both German and English offering short biographies of the person and whether or not they had survived. There was also a room with several of the death camps listed, with short descriptions and photographs from them. Many of the pictures in the museums had apparently been taken by SS officers as memorabilia, and had been found in photo albums after the liberations. The last room was a compilation of pictures of several memorial places around the world as well as computers with links to the database set up by Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. The database has the name of every known victim, as well as any other information about them. It was really really intense.
After that one, I tried to go to the Topography of Terror, which is the museum about the rise and fall of Hitler and the Third Reich, but I only got about halfway through it. I just couldn’t handle anything else today. So I left and walked around for a while and then I got dinner at the lovely cheap falafel place around the corner from my hostel before coming back to write about my day.
And here’s where it gets really sad. If you don’t want to read things that are sad and make me cry and might make you cry, or make you think, or maybe even make you a little bit mad at me, stop reading. Right now. This falls under categories of things that I think about because of museums like the ones I was in today, and while they are not new thoughts for me, (and hopefully not for you) they are still sad and are still things that I/we don’t talk about much. And I will also apologize once and once only, right now, for however preachy this might get.
End of disclaimer.
So…I understand how war happens. People want power, they want more land, they want more money, sometimes, if they’re really special, countries go to war because they have a hero complex and think they need to save the world from whoever’s doing something wrong right now. I’m not saying I agree with war. As a matter of fact, 99% of the time, I don’t. Not even a little. And before anyone decides to yell at me, yes, I support soldiers. They’re doing a hell of a lot that they really probably don’t have to, but they feel like it’s their duty and I support them in that, even if I don’t like it. I don’t agree with or support war. But I get it. I understand how it happens. What I don’t understand is how it’s possible for one group of people to look at another group (or groups) and say, “You. You’re different from us. That means you don’t deserve rights. You don’t deserve to feel safe in your home, in the city you live in, in your business. You don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t deserve to live. Because you’re different, which means you can’t possibly be a real person. You’re different, so you can’t be human.” And that, right there, is exactly what happened in the Holocaust. The Nazis looked at the Jews, the Gypsies, the gays, the blacks, ANYONE who was NOT LIKE THEM, and dehumanized them. Anyone who was different was somehow less. Less than them, less than human. And because they were not human, somehow it became okay first to ostracize and persecute them, and then to kill them in the streets, arrest them, deport them, kill them in masses. It became okay to put CHILDREN in gas ovens because they weren’t big enough to work. It became okay to separate families, to take possessions from people, to destroy people’s homes, businesses, and lives, because they were different. I just don’t get it. How can one person look at another person and say to them, “You are less than me because you are different”? That’s not how it works. And I hate to say it, but that has not stopped. That sentiment was not and IS not limited to the Nazi Holocaust. Yes, the Nazis took it to new extremes, but that is not a new thought. That is how slavery happened. That is how colonization and empires happened. That is how genocide CONTINUES to happen all over this lovely planet of ours. The same sentiment is behind battles like the one for gay rights. The one for black civil rights. The one for women’s rights. Listen to me, please. People are people. It does not matter whether or not I like you as a person. You might have made me really mad this one time and so I don’t really like you or want to hang out with you, or maybe we don’t really have anything in common to talk about. But that does not mean that you are not a person. That does not mean that you don’t deserve to be happy, or safe. Everyone, no matter who they are, is human. We are not alone. Just because the guy down the street is Muslim does not mean he wants to kill you for being American. The Hispanic lady at the store might actually be a legal immigrant who speaks English, so stop talking about her like she doesn’t understand you. The amazingly feminine gay boy you see on the train every day is looking for love and happiness, just like you. The girl you’re judging for getting an abortion would have been unable to take care of herself or a baby at the age of 14. The girl with the purple hair and 13 piercings and five tattoos just wants to have fun with her life and wants someone to accept that she’s pretty. So just stop. Please. Just let it all go. Every single person in this huge, wonderful, beautiful world is human. Just like you. Just like me. Different is beautiful. Different does not mean less, or more. Different doesn’t mean anything, except for different. And different is fine.