Archive for the ‘Resisting Oppression’ Category

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Those Who Resisted….But More Importantly Those Who Survived

June 23, 2010

Throughout the trip I think too often I focused upon those who suffered and died.  After going through the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt, resistance for some Germans and Jews were made real.  It is easy to look at pictures in museums or read information from books, but experiencing the actual place where Jews worked and hid really made an impact on me—it gave true meaning to resistance during this time.  As I walked through the museum, actual brushes that the factory made were present; real passports and photographs were presented.  But it was a big picture of Otto Weidt himself and his staff that pulled me into the exhibit.  The very place I was standing was where most of these workers walked and stood.  Looking closer at the picture, you can actually see a few smiles here and there, which I scarcely have seen of Jews at this time in history.  Smiles must be a sign of some happiness.

Otto Weidt and his staff

Otto Weidt treated his employees as though they were irreplaceable and did everything in his power to save his workers.  He even went so far as to falsify documents and personally went to concentration camps to get them!  As tensions rose in Germany, Weidt went a step further and hid an entire family behind a closet.  Looking within the space the family lived in, it was an eerie feeling to know that a group of people were forced to live in such a confined space, fearing for their life every second of every day, in order to survive.

Actual Room Where Weidt Hid a Family in his Shop

Hiding and working in the shop was a tool for resistance.  As a German, Weidt resisted by doing all he could to save as many Jews as he could—especially those most vulnerable like the deaf and blind.  He put his life on the line for doing what was right.  I honestly wonder how so many Germans turned the other way or ignored all the atrocities that were going on?  Sure, the Nazis threatened anyone who defied their authority but living with the guilt that you did nothing is almost worse.  The Jews that worked and hid in the shop was a clear act of resistance as well.  They did not except their fate that the Nazis had planned out for them.  They needed to survive—survival was the ultimate resistance that I think a Jew could accomplish.

This particular exhibit is different than the rest in that it was developed out of a student project.  I really love that German students started this and developed it into what it is today; I wish more things like this were done in the United States to commemorate American Indians, slaves, and Americans who helped to resist and survived.  Methods of resistance in U.S. history are a rare story told throughout our education.  These stories could be used as a tool to help educate and facilitate understanding for the American community.  It would widen the scope of American history for the slaves and American Indians and turn the focus of victimization to resistance and survival.

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Silence & Noise

June 16, 2010

While in Berlin, I attempted to listen to one of my awesomely created radio stations via Pandora.  However, an apologetic message flashed across the screen proclaiming that free radio streaming by way of Pandora was not an available option to the people of Germany.

Silence.

Though my privileged experience of Pandora’s joys, and the subsequent denial of such advantage was not even an notable comparison of repression in the GDR or Nazi Germany, it did spark a stream of consciousness that, thankfully, I was able to connect to resistance movements within the GDR.

Silence.

A community of subjects who complacently cooperate and offer obedience to a repressive regime, allow for the continuation of such a power.  Power assumed by governments can be seen as continuously rising from within the population, and that the psychological cooperation of the people is possibly more important to a government than authority assumed through force.

Cooperation is just as deadly and oppressive as force

If a government is based upon consent, authority, and obedience, the GDR was an example of a government containing similar holes to that of a worn, used, and abused bed sheet.  Many of the GDR’s citizens realized, as did the government, that the regime’s power lacked authority and cooperation.   Every government continues through the people’s consent.  Authority may come, however, from the people’s unwillingness to pay the price for the refusal of consent – torture, spying, or death.  The non-violent resistance movements found during the time of the GDR were amazing examples of how civil disobedience and non-compliance can have profound effects on political powers.  The people who endured this movement, realized the command that organization and resistance will have if continued.  They also recognized that, as Gandhi would praise, that the means and path to freedom are equal to the end.  As the means, so the end – in other words – a violent revolution would have created a mirroring conclusion.  Non-violent revolution granted the people of the GDR the opportunity to exist in the society they chose to offer their consent to.

Most importantly, the people endured and refused to remain Silent.

Noise.

Non-violent protests in East Berlin

The resistance movements succeeded by controlling the GDR’s power.  They organized in churches, creatively spread revolutionary rhetoric through art and the spoken and written word, and more importantly maintained their disobedience while facing the repression of torturous Stasi, and the fear of exposure by loved ones.

Zionskirche - Site of Resistance Organziation

The people resisting the SED succeeded because they continued with an organized resistance, engaging in a strategy of action that was persistent against repression, and by understanding that without the widespread psychological support, the regime could not subsist.

They did not remain Silent.

They created Noise.

WIR SIND EIN VOLK.

The open air exhibit in Alexander Platz marking the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, “Peaceful Revolution 1989/90” was powerful in commemorating and displaying the successful result of a long-endured peaceful resistance against the GDR & SED.  The exhibit displayed the importance of art – whether it be brush strokes of color, dramatic interpretations of actors, or the spoken or written word – is its ability to motivate and move the masses related to the resistance.  It also became its own work of art in displaying the impact that non-violent resistance can have when it is organized and refuses to submit to the force and power of fear.

“We have to think about the question of power and how power can be controlled.” Marianne Birthler (Initiative Peace and Human Rights)

The resistance movements of the GDR did not remain silent in terms of obedience and cooperation.  Instead, they used the conduit of understanding their own power, and used it to create their own even more powerful wall against the SED’s repression.

And their Noise prevailed.

Non-Violent Revolution: November 4, 1989
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Resistance!

June 8, 2010

Having recently seen the movie Valkyrie, I was very intrigued by the idea of German resistance prior to my arrival in Berlin as it is not something that I have ever really known much about.  Though all assassination attempts on Hitler failed, it is interesting to know that there were a total of 17 known plots between 1939 – 1945 indicating resistance was not only present in Germany during World War II but also much more active than most people may realize.  Having a long-time interest in non-violent political movements, he bulk of my knowledge related to resistance comes from the perspective of non-violence so I’ve been very interested to take some time and study other variations of resistance, including dramatic and violent resistance as has taken place in Germany.

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a guided tour of the permanent exhibition Resistance to National Socialism; it was incredibly interesting and emotionally inspiring, however, all of the information and documentation was in German so I found the following website to be helpful in gathering some additional information related to this historical center as well as German resistance in general: http://www.gdw-berlin.de/themen/bereiche-e.php.  I also found the readings from this course which are related to resistance to be helpful in understanding more fully the monolith theory related to violent resistance as we see in German history during both WWII and throughout the era of the Cold War.

Another interesting part of our trip which included the various roles of German resistance through the years was the Friedliche Revolution 1989/90 (or Peaceful Revolution 1989/1990) exhibit located in the heart of Alexanderplatz installed to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  We were lucky to have the opportunity to visit this as it is only open for a very brief time from May through October 2010.  From peace and environmental movements to the mass protest leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, this exhibit was exceptional.  For more details (which I needed once we got home as the day we visited the outdoor gallery, it was cold and rainy which made it a little difficult for me to take everything in) I found a great website with more info on this commemorative gallery honoring peaceful revolution: http://revolution89.de/?PID=static,Index_en.