More of an exhibition than a museum, this place offers an eye-opening journey of the persecution of the Jewish people before and during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust Memorial itself, actually called Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (but called the Holocaust Memorial for short), was built to commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It officially opened in May 2005, and you can read more about it here. (Hint – definitely a must do while in Berlin!)
While my boyfriend and I had managed to visit the memorial on our first visit to Berlin, we hadn’t been able to visit the exhibition. We decided we had to make sure we visited it on our second trip to Berlin, and thus found ourselves queueing to enter the underground exhibition on a, thankfully, sunny day.
Entry to the museum is free, and we had a short wait before entering as you have to have your bag and self scanned – like at the airport, except the scanning guys were really friendly. Once in, you can drop off your coat and bag, again for free, leaving you to wander the exhibitions without lugging all your stuff round.
As the museum is part of the Holocaust Memorial, which is dedicated to the murdered Jews, it naturally focuses on the Jewish journey through the Holocaust. The first part of the museum starts right at the beginning, much earlier than I imagined it had, and continues through to how they ended up being transported to concentration camps. The information flows nicely, and the only annoying thing was the inconsiderate people who stood in front of the plaques when everyone is trying to read them.
In the next room, there are excerpts of letters on the floor. The grey walls surrounding the room had the number of people murdered from each country in the Holocaust – again, it was eye-opening to see just how many countries were involved and had victims. I was so naive to think it was just those in Germany and the surrounding countries who were at risk, when in fact many countries across Europe had such losses.
As we moved on, the next room had large pillars hanging from the ceiling, like an inverted version of the columns above ground. On the each pillar was a story of an entire family and their experience during the Holocaust. Details of their lives before the Holocaust and the fate of each member of the family were accompanied by pictures of them. This really gave a personal touch to the whole exhibition. To read personal letters, just as I might write to my parents, and to see family photos that we all enjoy, really brought the entire thing to real life. These people, whose names I now know, whose stories I now know and whose fate I know now – they were victims of the Holocaust. To be able to have a face and a life story makes the Holocaust seem so much more real, instead of just something that happened at some point in history.
As we moved on, we were greeted with a dark room with benches in the middle. As we took a seat, we saw the huge screen on the wall with a name and dates on it. A voice spoke in German, and I was only able to catch a few words before the story was told in English. My fidget of a boyfriend got up and read the information board, which said that there are thousands of stories in the database, each told in this room. You could probably sit in there for days, maybe even weeks, and not hear what happened to each person.
The penultimate room focussed on the concentration camps – the locations, which spread further than I had imagined, the conditions and again, the stories of victims there. There are six one-person booths around the edge with a phone and six camp names on the wall. Push the name of a camp, hear a story from someone at that camp. All were awful, but one that sticks in my mind is that of a mother who was taken with her two sons and elderly mother to a camp. When being split into two lines, the youngest boy was sent one way and the mother and grandmother another way. The eldest son was borderline as to which queue he should be in, but the mother thought to save him from the horrors she was sure to encounter, she could tell the soldier he was younger. Then she asked that her mother be sent with the children, thinking that her mother would be saved from the hard labour and could also keep an eye on her children. It was only later that she found out that the other line was directed straight to the gas chambers. As she (well, the actress) tells the story, she explains how she wanted to save them the horrors of living in the camp, and it’s up to you to decide in which way they were saved.
As we made our way into the last room, we were feeling very sombre. The exhibition is an honest look at the victims of the camp, and gives it a really personal feel. Yet as we moved to the next room, we were greeted with photos of memorials all over the world. There are also computers where you can search the names of people who were victims of the Holocaust. This isn’t a place that you’re going to laugh about, or tell people is loads of fun. Yet they managed to end the exhibition with a lighter note, in that although this happened, people are making the effort to remember it.
Although the Holocaust Memorial Museum is an eye-opening experience, I would definitely recommend it. I can’t believe they offer it for free too!
- Visit on a sunny day – it is inside but you may have to queue outside
- You can visit the Holocaust Memorial in the same day – you do have to pass through to get to the museum
- It’s free! Great for a budget 🙂