Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 4 - Berlin to Prague

Our busy day began late due to a traffic jam in Berlin due to the NATO meeting held here this morning. We visited the Jewish Museum of Berlin, which was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.

To view pictures of the museum and its architecture, click here.

Shalmi spoke to us about a theme of Liebeskind involving "voids"--a term that signifies the absence of something that once was present. To Liebeskind, his architecture in this museum shows the absence of Jews in Europe after the Holocaust. Shalmi again spoke of the one-sided love affair and the love that Jews felt for Germany before the Holocaust. He said that Germany,as does a former lover, jilted the Jews, and dumped them, completely rejecting the one-sided love the Jews felt for their country. For Shalmi, this museum poses one question - does Germany miss the presence of Jewish culture in German society? Is there lack of presence felt as a void by modern German society?

We looked extensively at the history of antisemitism in Europe. Two statues personify the Church, Ecclesia, and the Judaism, Synagogue. These depictions illustrate the antisemitism through the blindfolded Synagogue holding a broken lance.

One of the exhibits within the Jewish Museum is called "Fallen Leaves." The video above shows us walking on the steel faces which represent Jews whose lives were lost during the Holocaust.

After our four hour train ride from Berlin to Prague, we ate dinner at a beautiful, Czech restaurant with traditional Czech entertainment.

Theresa says . . .

Today we visited the Jewish Museum and one exhibit really stood out to me. The exhibit “Fallen Leaves” was really different, but it had so much meaning behind it. In one of the “voids” of the museum was a dark hallway with thousands of steel faces carved out that covered the floor. At first I didn't realize what they were until Mr. Barmore told us to walk on them. I went reluctantly and felt really uncomfortable walking on faces that symbolized Jews who died in the Holocaust. The noise was also so loud which made the experience even more eerie. The more I thought about it, the exhibit being called “Fallen Leaves” almost made the exhibit seem unimportant. As we all know, leaves fall every year, and it's a natural thing that we almost look forward to. With an exhibit signifying the Jews who died in the Holocaust being called “Fallen Leaves,” it makes the Holocaust seem like a natural thing that happens a lot. It is the total opposite. The exhibit made me feel uncomfortable but it also evoked so many emotions that I didn't know I could get out of one single exhibit.

Kassandra says . . .

While in the Jewish Museum, our group visited the exhibit “Fallen Leaves.” This being one of the “Voids” really created a lot of emotion for me. Right when we had walked into the room, which was basically a hallway with steel faces covering the ground, I got hit with a feeling of sadness and guilt. I had these two emotions because of the opportunity of being able to walk across the hall. When everyone was walking you can hear the loud clinging sounds of the steel. But to me, it was something different. When walking across with the others, I was trying to be so careful as to not step hard on these faces. As I continued walking slowly, I could hear the loud clinging sounds getting louder, but to me, that sound wasn't just metal being stepped on. To me, it was the sound of peoples' cries and screams of being tortured, and their spirits stepped upon. Because of this feeling of disrespect and guilt, I began to get very emotional, just about at the verge of tears. It was and still is amazing to me how one simple exhibit or memory can touch someone so much!

Nick says . . .

Today, in the Jewish History Museum, we found ourselves confronted with an art exhibition representing a void -- a void that supposedly represented the hole in German society created by the vast numbers of Jews lost during Hitler's reign. Previously, when speaking of the ardent Jewish desire to assimilate into German society throughout history, Shalmi remarked that the relationship between Germany and the Jewish community was like an unrequited love. During the Holocaust, it was as if Germania, the female symbol of Germany, sadistically attempted to end the relationship forever.

Following the Holocaust, one needs to look at Germania and her feelings: did she feel satisfaction that the removal of the Jews [in their one-sided love affair] had nearly been accomplished? Or did she truly feel a void in her life by the loss of her lover?
It is a vital question when evaluating the modern, "new" Germany: are the "missed" Jews really missed by Lady Germania? Does she truly feel guilty for her cruel deeds? Or is she simply putting on a facade of guilt in an attempt to make herself appear more kind in the eyes of others? All are questions that can apply to Germany today, but only time will reveal the true sentiments of Lady Germania.


  1. ... And what does Sammy say?

  2. The Fallen Leaves is definitely an emotional experience because, unlike other memorials, you are an active participant. Without your footsteps creating the effect that Kasandra spoke of, the memorial is just a hallway full of steel faces. This why I think it has such a profound effect on some people. I have spoken to participants from prior trips who have experienced the same feeling of guilt because,”it was the sound of peoples' spirits being stepped upon,” who felt so strongly that they couldn’t stand upon the faces. They chose instead to stand on the sidelines and experience the memorial in a different way. Each person reacts to this memorial differently which, in my opinion, makes it all the more interesting when put up for discussion.

    Enjoy Prague! It is the most beautiful city in the world!

    Meredith McCann

  3. The Jewish Museum looks very interesting and makes me wonder what is inside the building. I'm sure there is tons of great artifacts. Its looks like such a learning experience. You guys are so privileged to see something like this! And that restaurant looks even more amazing, It looks like you guys had a lot of fun. I wish i could've joined!

  4. Again such contrasting images..The clanking of the steel faces in the museum (which I was so glad you posted a video of...I wanted to try to experience that sound) and the funny , happy music during meal time. Along with the seriousness of this trip I'm glad you're able to see the cultures of present day Prague. It was Fantastic to see everyone and hear your comments while Skyping tonight!!

  5. I was soooo disappointed I could not join the skype session tonight due to my job. I feel a void myself because I missed this opportunity. Well at least I have this blog to keep me up to date. The faces exhibit seems very poignant because as you will soon see as you visit the concentration camps, unfortunately it is not so far, if at all, from the physical reality of what occurred.

  6. What an extraordinary experience the Falling Leaves must have been. It was great to see you all last nite!

  7. I didn't really understand the Falling Leaves exhibit when we heard all of you speak about it on Skype. THEN I had the opportunity to watch the video above. Oh my God... I cried watching those of you gingerly walk over the faces. I understood, then, completely. I too heard a different sound (in addition to the loud, nearly offensive clangs in the video).. I felt pain. Hurt. Humiliation. And fear. I am moved to be able to experience this through a video.

    As if that didn't move me enough, the dinner touched a deeper place. It reminded me of a long-ago trip to once-Yugoslavia. It brought back so many memories of that country. One that was of great beauty--all lost to a horrendous civil war.. also with MANY human atrocities...I cried until I laughed watching the "fist pumping" to traditional Czech music. I am honestly thrilled to see the happy, laughing, singing faces. This part has made my day.

    Love and miss you all (ok Frankie the most)... please bring me along further, deeper, into this journey. And THANK YOU all for being there, and allowing US to learn from you.

    Love always,

  8. Wow, what more can be said. While watching the video of the students walking, i to felt the sadness and cries of the lost souls. The remarks of Kasandra's were so similar to my own thoughts , that tears were a natural action. What a bond. On a happier note, you all looked like you were having a good time at dinner. Again Missing You All... ENJOY your journey and be safe.


  9. Technology is AMAZING. To think, you're on the other side of the world and we talked to eachother on Skype. Very cool. Thanks from all of us for staying up late, including you Mrs. T! Your comments and stories taught us all alot. The falling leaves memorial in the video really showed what you were talking about. A picture alone wouldn't have let us experience what you did, with how carefully you walked and the sounds with each step. Loved the Czech restaurant video as well. I felt the culture, and loved seeing the happy, laughing faces as you clapped and fist pumped. What lucky people you are . Learn and have fun! Ashley keep your eye out for relatives in Prague!!

  10. You are all so very fortunate to have Shalmi as your Holocaust Historian. From what I have been reading and watching, he is telling you the true story of how the Holocaust was created, implemented, and celebrated throughout Europe.

    Seeing the Memorial to slain homosexuals reminded me that the Nazis perfected their killing techniques on people who were effectively invisible or unwanted members of a poor and struggling Society -- such as the Gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally ill who had no one to advocate for them -- before tackling "The Jewish Question."

    By ridding Society of these so-called burdens, the Nazis brilliantly and effectively planted the seeds of antisemism that blossomed into the belief that sending a Jew to the Death Camps was an act of Patriotism!

    I applaud you all (especially Frankie) for having the courage to undertake such a difficult journey back in time, and my sincere congratulations to Shalmi on his superb tutelage. I look forward to learning more from all of you.

    Warm regards,

    Betsy Spaeth

    April 15, 2011 4:22 PM

  11. I really like the video feature on the blog - the Falling Leaves video was eerie - just hearing the noise as one walks and knowing every one of those represents someone who died. I did notice the contrast as someone highlighted here of the horror of the Fallen leaves then the video of the party atmosphere ... it reminds me that as a party is happening, somewhere, at the same time, people are suffering. It sounds like an amazing trip with much food for thought.

  12. It is an interesting question to think about whether or not modern German society even notices the absents of Jewish culture. It is sad that a complete culture was almost completely erased from the world because one man's decisions. The suffering that the Jewish population not only in Germany but in all of Europe faced is not comparable to anything else seen in history. It is good that the museum addresses the void of Jewish culture in Germany because future generations will need make sure that Jewish people and their culture can be integrated back into the country. I hope i can one day visit that museum to experience all of the exhibits.

  13. The Fallen Leaves exhibit seems so emotional. Literally walking over the pain and suffering of others and hearing how every single footstep evokes a sound is such a beautiful yet tragic depiction.

    The description of Germany and the Jews being in an unrequited love situation was an excellent way to describe it. The loss of a culture is always damaging to a community and the reintegration of the Jewish culture in Germany would be best.

  14. Watching the video of Fallen Leaves instantly brought me back to the year I went on the Holocaust Study Tour. I'm very proud of all of you for taking part in such an important tour and writing such interesting responses each day.

  15. The video of the Fallen Leaves really makes you sick to your stomach. You are stepping on people's faces and it makes such a loud sound. It looks like the people's faces are all slightly different colors and the walls are plain. I would be in a hurry to walk through there because it seems very scary. Is the room just what is pictured in the video? That room doesn't look that big. It was a great idea for an exhibit because I'm sure it was very powerful to walk over those faces.

    -Dashawn Harden

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  17. The symbolism in the architecture of the Jewish museum was very powerful. Not only did it effectively represent the missing void of Jews and their culture in Germany, but to me, it also seemed to comment on the major lack of assistance to the Jewish people from the world during World War II. Additionally, the Fallen Leaves exhibit was effectual as well. Symbolism seems to be prevalent among most Holocaust exhibits, as it is impossible to truly emphasize the pain and suffering that was faced during that time period.
    -Lauren Lewellyn