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Recognition, Remembrance, and Representation of Life

June 23, 2010

When I first approached the idea of coming to terms with the past, I wanted to use my experiences in Berlin as comparisons and critical analysis to the United States’ attempts at remembrance.   However, what I did instead was simply appreciate the memory of society in Berlin’s specific memorials and the symbolization of life in all aspects.  Recognizing historical tragedies require public discourse to come to remembrance, but representing life in these memorials is just as important.  To clarify, I feel that memorials need to connect to life, individuals, and history.  They cannot simply become erections that serve as political duties, nor should they serve as commercial or trivial attempts to acknowledge while deferring to discount and forget simultaneously.

Not only was I impressed, I feel Germany’s conscious challenges of coming to terms with the past of Nazi Germany and the GDR should be models for other societies in acknowledging their past, present, and facing the future they will build.   Attempting to analyze, digest and learning to live with the past, in particular the Holocaust, the people of Germany have erected memorials and museums dedicated to coming to terms with the past.  Specifically, the emergence of Vergangenheitsbewältigung and dealing with the atrocities committed during the Third Reich, when Adolf Hitler was in power, has permeated the life in Berlin.  The memories of the GDR and Nazi Germany are found in every corner of the city, and the German people’s attempt to analyze and come to terms with the past is commendable.

Recognizing the importance of life is imperative to remembrance.  How life is remember and represented is also essential to creating a memory that helps society come to terms with the past.  What I found to be particularly powerful in the memorials was the personalization of the history of Germany.  By simply showing numbers of people killed, where, when, how, or why, there is a sense of disconnect.  To really be effective in coming to terms, I feel there needs to be a personal connection.  The stories of families and individuals displayed in the museums and memorials were effective, in my eyes, at creating a deeper connection to the history and its recognition and remembrance.

The representation of life throughout Berlin was especially powerful to me.  It not only signified a seemingly successful shot at recognition and remembrance of the past, but signifies solidarity at showing a greater respect for life through the people of Germany.  From the trees growing from concrete structures in the Garden of Exile, to the flowers flourishing next to the killing grounds of Sauchenhausen, life is powerfully recognized and represented.

And life does not exist simply in the memorials erected.  It exists in the art saturating Berlin’s city streets and the lives and education of the people of Germany.  Life is an important concept in remembering the past, but it is important in our society today, as well as the future we are moving towards.  It is true, genocide still exists in our world and fear can result in the cooperation and obedience of terroristic regimes.  Women, children, and families are killed by state operations, and torture eerily similar to the chamber found in the basement halls of Hohenschönhausen is used by our very country.

By recognizing, remembering, and representing life, memorials of past atrocities allow people to develop their own understanding, and just might open their eyes to events chillingly comparable to life as it is today, and the conditions of life that are being created by similar event.  These are the important aspects to take from a memorial of historical atrocities, and not the model-posed pictures of you in front of a chimney where people’s bodies were spread as ashes through the air.

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