The Need to Remember: Germany Deals With its Dark Past
Winter is fast approaching in Berlin. The last remaining leaves fall on crowds of people flocking to these monuments. Braving the biting cold and silently gazing on pictures and words engraved on the ground and on walls. Perhaps more biting are the memories associated with them. They are memories of Germany’s cold and dark past. And they are here serving as reminder that events like these should never happen again.
There’s this certain feeling that the past is not so far away in Berlin. Somehow it can just be found with one peek on holes in between slabs of cold concrete walls in Bernauer Strasse. People line up, especially the younger ones who missed the era of division, and try hard to see what’s inside this giant box of memories. Or what was once there that is now gone.
Meanwhile, swarms of warm feet slowly waltz along spaces between back-lighted letters of victims on the floor inside this dark room under the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate. Silent tears fall on faces of visitors as they read every line. These words were part of letters, diary entries and farewell notes written by victims before they were murdered by Nazis.
On one of the boxes are these words of despair and resignation to life: “Dear father, I am saying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won’t let us and we will die. I am so scared of this death because small children were thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.”
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside Berlin saw some 30,000 inmates held inside its walls who died from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, pneumonia, etc. due to the poor living conditions. A breeze of chilly autumn wind blows on every corner of this triangular shaped prison. It was used as a labour camp, said a tour guide; prisoners were forced to work in brick factories to serve the needs of the Nazis. Now, some red bricks are displayed inside the museum as a silent witness to this camp’s brutal past.
A myriad of buildings make up another enormous complex housing millions and millions of records on paper where lives of people were closely monitored, classified and kept on index cards. The archives of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police, reveal humanity stripped down to its barest, where a person doesn’t need a name, just letters and numbers. It is nowhere near being a monument, nor anyone wants to celebrate this place but it is a reminder of the evil of men in power.
From the Berlin wall memorial to the enormous obelisks in former concentration camps, Germany is trying to make its efforts known to all – the country is paying a high price for the horrors of its past. “People want their dignity back. One of the first things that we should do after a genocide, sometimes more important than food, is to put up monuments, for everyone to remember.” says Tom Koenigs, a member of the German parliament. “Truth must be found, justice served and the victim’s honor regained.”