And that is exactly what the Judische Museum in Berlin built by Daniel Libeskind does. The large grey building, made out of concrete and clad in zinc sheeting, commemorates the numerous lives lost in the holocaust. ‘How long would it take to recite the names of the 6 million people that died?’ was a question Libeskind asked himself when he tried to figure out how to communicate the scale of this genocide in the museum. Instead of portraying the dead he decided to portrey the emptiness left in German society by murdering so many jews. The building is for the most part empty and is built around three axes.
The three axes symbolize the three paths of the jews in Germany in the first half of the twentieth centruy. The longest axe symbolises ‘continuity in German history’ The two smaller axes cut through the long axe and represent ‘exile’ and ‘holocaust’. Exile and Holocaust cut through the lives of millions of jews during the second world war. The emptiness or voids represent all the empty spaces left by the more than 6 million people who have been murdered during the nazi regime. You enter the museum via a staircase where a searchlight creeps over the walls and brings you underground into the darkness.
The long axe ‘coninuity’ ends in a long upwards staircase ending at a white wall. The axe, ‘exile’ runs upwards and ends in de ‘Garden of Exile’, a forest of tall slanting concrete pillars out of which trees grow.
The axe ‘Holocaust’ abruptly ends in the holocaust tower. When stepping into the Holocaust unlit, unheated tower, with the heavy door closing behind you, a feeling of loneliness falls over you. It feels as if you are standing in a dark deep cold pit, left alone, while the steep walls take away all hope of getting out. You hear almost nothing, just some far away echo of a world outside.
The ‘Memory Void’ is also an impressive place. Walking towards it you hear the strange harsh sharp noises of people walking over the 10.000 in metal cut-out faces strewn accross the floor. You are invited to walk over de metal sculpture, but when doing so you feel a kind of shame. You are not supposed to walk over other people. The masks all have an expression of terror, and are remniscant of photographs of piled up murdered bodies in the concentration camps. Most visitors try to tread lightly over the sculpture, but can’t avoid making the harsh loud metal sound that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Libeskind grips you right by the balls with his bold architecture. You walk out numbed by the inhumanity of the nazi regime, and it makes you wonder if something like this can happen again. And then you think of the millions of refugees who are now also fleeing war in their country, and how unwelcome they are in so many Western countries. And you think of the negative discours of right wing parties that becomes more and more acceptable. Slogans that create fear for the ‘other’ and give racists a platform in our society. Yes something so horrible might happen again if we stop paying attention.
In the old part of the museum runs a temporary exhibition about Jerusalem which is also worth visiting. In 2019 the exhibition about Jewish life in the new part will reopen. Now it is closed because of reconstruction.
There is a bar/restaurant in the museum with a huge patio that looks out over the gardens.