After lunch we walked to the Jewish cemetery where we visited the grave of Moses Mendelssohn and the memorial to the women who had been interned in the German concentration camp north of Berlin, Ravensbruck. On our walk to the last stop of the day, the Old Neue Synagogue, <olaf called our attention to several engraved brass plaques amidst the cobblestones of the sidewalks on which we were walking. These, we were told, were part of the Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones) project of a German artist and sculptor, Gunter Deming. Since 1989 he has placed these stones, at the request of family or friends, to memorialize victims of National Socialism, primarily Jews. Each stone bears the year of birth and the deportation and fate of the person. The stones are then laid before the building where the individual or family lived. In light of our discussion yesterday of traditional versus modern memorials, Olaf asked us whether or not we thought these were an appropriate memorial and there were varying perspectives.
We continued on to the Old Neue Synagogue which was built over a six year period and consecrated in 1866. The beautiful Moorish building style and the large Schwedler Dome of gold, shaped the silhouette of Central Berlin, and was a symbol visible to all of the self-confidence of the Jewish community. During Kristallnacht, in November of 1938, most of Berlin’s 14 synagogues were burned, but Wilhelm Kratzfeld, the Berlin police officer responsible for the district, was able to preserve the synagogue from major damage by chasing away the arsonists and calling the fire department. The synagogue was able to resume services in April of 1939 and the last services took place in March of 1940 at which time the synagogue became a storage place for documents and records. Allied bombs severely damaged the synagogue in 1943 and in 1958 the main synagogue was blasted in what was then East Berlin. In 1988 a seven year reconstruction project was undertaken and the synagogue opened as a museum in 1995.
Upon returning to the hotel, the students were asked to consider the various sites of today and to reflect upon some aspect of a memorial that had impacted them. The goal of this trip is to complicate students' thinking and their observations reflected that goal. Camille noted that she was impressed with the synagogue and the fact that instead of fully remodeling the synagogue, the community "took the damage with pride" leaving it unfinished. Caitlin stated that the book burning memorial left the greatest impact on her because of the fact that the Nazis would choose to destroy knowledge, simply because of whom it came from.