A Memorable Place In Berlin, a place of deep emotion...


May 19, 2002|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

In Berlin, a place of deep emotion

By Sibylle Ehrlich


My daughter Marion and I flew to Berlin on Sept. 6 for the opening of the Jewish Museum. Two years ago, I had donated many letters, documents, photos and objects to the museum that I felt were of historical value.

My husband, a Holocaust survivor, had lived "underground" in Berlin after his family had been deported to Auschwitz. Of particular interest to the museum was a leather briefcase he took with him as he crawled across the Swiss border at night; in it he had taken, among other things, a poetry book belonging to his mother, her silk scarf and a place setting of the family silver. Before the museum's opening, its newsletter had already included an article about the briefcase.

Sept. 10 was the museum opening for donors and lenders. The long lines moved slowly because every visitor had to go through a metal detector. (Outside, security was tight; there were police and even a tank.)

We were anxious to see how the angular, unconventional architecture of the building would lend itself to exhibitions depicting and explaining the history of Jews in Germany.

The building is defined by three axes: The main axis houses the displays; another leads to the "Garden of Exile," a frightening space meant to impart the feeling of an exile's disoriented view of the world; and the third is a dead end leading to the building's black, empty Holocaust Tower.

Because the museum focuses on Jewish history and achievements, the Holocaust is not portrayed; instead, dark, vacant areas, called Voids, symbolize lost contributions.

We rushed through the exhibits depicting Jews in the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment and up to the Nazi Era. Not far from a display of Jewish schools and school children, in an angular space, we found my husband's briefcase with its original contents. (We also saw later that the briefcase was used in most of the museum's brochures.)

After a reception and speeches by the mayor of Berlin and the museum's director, we returned to spend more time seeing the exhibits.

The continuing story of anti-Semitism tells of the dangers of bigotry and intolerance, reaching its climax with the Holo-caust. With this in mind, the museum is also a center for learning for people of all ages.

We returned to our hotel moved by what we had seen, and hopeful for the future. The next day was Sept. 11.

Sibylle Ehrlich lives in Towson.

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