Human Rights in Germany Spring2011

During spring break 2011, students, faculty and staff are visiting Holocaust sites in Germany.

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An important question: Why?

An update from Zohra, a junior pre-law and psychology major with minors in human rights and Latin:

Today was the first of our three days in Berlin. We had our city tour guide back with us today. Our today were focused mostly on the various memorials and Euthanasia sites set up throughout the city.

zohra16.jpg Our first stop was the memorial to the members of Operation Valkur (Valkyrie). This is what the movie with the same name was based upon. We saw the plaza where the firing squad killed the members of this resistance movement. We also saw the statue dedicated to Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise’s character) who not only risked his life but also his family’s. We then drove over to a small euthanasia memorial.

zohra17.jpg Today, euthanasia is defined as assisted suicide; the Nazis used this as a means of cleansing. The Nazi regime considered anybody who was mentally ill, elderly, physically disabled, mentally disabled (i.e. learning disabilities), or homosexual unfit. Those that they deemed unfit were taken to the hospital under the guise of treatment, but were then killed by gas. This operation, known as “Aktion T4″ occurred from 1939 to 1941, having killed at least 200,000 men, women, and children. Currently this memorial consists of outdoor information boards and a sculpture (see picture); a memorial/museum is in the works at the same site.

zohra18.jpg After visiting these memorials we went to the Topography of Terror Museum. This museum is phenomenally detailed and was once outdoors under the remainder of the Berlin Wall. Today the Berlin Wall is gated off (tourists were coming and knocking out self-made souvenirs) and the exhibit, now much more detailed and updated, is enclosed in a building bordering the remains. I found a graffitied remark that sums up my feelings about the tragic events that took place in Europe. I’m sure that this question will remain with all of us throughout the trip.

zohra19.jpg A look into this exhibit drastically raised my high blood pressure: as I dove deeper and deeper into the exhibit, my disgust and anger rose as well. A picture that touched many of us was the one you see to the right, of the Gestapo cutting the beard of an arrested Jew. Throughout the exhibit details of the Holocaust were portrayed for each of the affected groups and countries. It also gave details about the workings of the Nazi regime and its resistance groups. I (internally) cheered for the resistance groups and the survivors while despised the disgusting Nazi regime even more so than before.

zohra21.jpg On our way to the Deutsches Historical Museum, we saw a replica of Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was operated by the U.S. Army in West Berlin as a station for passage through the Berlin Wall. The actual checkpoint no longer exists, so it was re-created for all, especially tourists. In fact, souvenir shops surround it on both sides! Finally at the Deutsches Historical Museum, we went to our particular years; the museum covers the history of all of Germany and is divided by its eras. In our particular section we were able to see Nazi Germany pre-, during, and post-World War II.

zohra23.jpg This museum’s artifacts were fantastic: we were even able to see the different Nazi uniforms worn by its officers. Throughout the museum there was all sorts of propaganda used by the Nazis to promote the “supreme Aryan race.” This museum served as great background for our next visit for the day: Haus der Wannsee Konferenz. An ardent supporter of Hitler sold the Wannsee House to the Nazis; the House is extravagant, needless to say. The gorgeous backdrop and house are marred by the evils that took root here. Even the trees seemed ugly: they seemed to reflect the ugliness that Hitler and his SS officials had schemed inside the Wannsee House. It was an experience to walk through this plush house while looking at the bureaucratic artifacts of the Nazi regime.

Today was a very busy day and we’ll continue to have a busy week.

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