Ian Farrell traces the city’s creative responses to the tragedy of the holocaust…
The dark years of 1933–1945 seep strongly through the surface cracks of the modern metropolis, not only in the shape of bullet-strafed walls and bombed-out spaces, but also the manifold sculptures and artworks that dot the streets, neighbourhoods and parks.
Several of these memorials – the imposing, abstract monoliths of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, for example, or Käthe Kollwitz’s poignant sculpture of a grieving war mother at the Neue Wache – are well-known tourist hotspots. But many others are smaller and less obvious; often created by artists, their humility and ability to surprise can be just as potent, drawing us in quietly yet finding new ways to help us “never forget”.
Given that Jews were by far the largest group to suffer from Nazi persecution, it’s no surprise that the largest concentration of artful memorials lies just north of Alexanderplatz, in the area once known as the Scheunenviertel, or “barn district”. Eastern European Jews were permitted to settle here from the 18th Century onwards, and their population had swelled to some 170,000 by the time the “brown menace” arrived in the 1930s.
While many fled shortly after Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, thousands were murdered during the latter part of the war. It would be easy to view the escapees as “lucky”, but their lives were still in many ways destroyed by the Nazi regime, a fact alluded to by Karl Biedermann and Eva Butzmann’s bronze sculpture Der verlassene Raum (The Deserted Room).
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