An International Day of Remembrance

Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Memorial Day. Memorials throughout Europe honor the memory of individuals who were killed during the Holocaust and serve as a daily reminder to be vigilant.

History and responsibility are very clearly taught here.

Max Oster of Oslo, Norway; born 1884, deported and killed 1 Dec. 1942

Germany and many other European countries pave gold “stumbling blocks” into the sidewalks to draw attention and promote reflection. Engraved with a name, the tiles are placed in front of the person’s previous residence. The last names and birth dates included allow you to speculate about the relationships between the people – often parent and child or husband and wife. It has the arresting effect, in the middle of the day, to make you suddenly imagine the person or persons living at the address in front of you and then see them being taken away.

Family from Bamberg, Germany; deported and killed between 1941-1943
August Klotzbach of Wiesbaden, Germany; arrested for treason in 1935 and survived

Date and/or place of death is often marked as unknown. In those cases, any known information about the person’s deportation is listed. Cities that are listed are mostly in Eastern Europe (as all death camps were purposely located outside of Germany): Auschwitz, Poland and Riga, Latvia being among some of the most common.

Munich is apparently the only German city that doesn’t use the gold blocks, as they feel it’s disrespectful to have names of the deceased underfoot.

Frankfurt’s Holocaust Memorial Wall

In Frankfurt, a memorial wall also stretches around the old Jewish cemetery. Similar to the gold street bricks, small plaques jutting out display the names and fates of former Frankfurt residents who perished during this dark period of history, including Anne Frank. Visitors pay respects to those lost by placing stones on the protruding plaques that stretch on for rows upon rows upon rows.

Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

For more on how Berlin remembers victims of the Holocaust and the National Socialist regime, see Berlin Remembers.

Neologe Synagogue in Brașov, Romania
Old New Synagogue in Prague – oldest active synagogue in Europe
Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary – largest in Europe
Memorial in the Dohány Synagogue courtyard

Today, the oldest still-active synagogue in Europe is in Prague, Czech Republic and the largest synagogue in Europe is located in Budapest, Hungary. We happened to visit Budapest during Rosh Hashanah and saw many families on their way to services both at the Dohány Street Synagogue and a smaller synagogue in the same area.


Interestingly, the relatively new Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation currently stands as a hotly contested source of criticism in Budapest. Intended to memorialize Holocaust victims, its use of symbols is intended to misconstrue history, according to daily peaceful protestors. Specifically, they take issue with the representation of Hungary as an angel being attacked by the German eagle. Protesters demand that Hungary not deny the complicity its government and some of its citizens took with the Third Reich during the Holocaust. Their goal is to replace what they consider a gross misrepresentation of history with a more fitting memorial.

Budapest memorial in question
Protesters’ issues explained
Call to the Prime Minister: “Mr. Oban, Tear Down Your Monument!”
Pictures, stories, and artifacts in front of the monument
Stones, candles, and plants honor lost lives

Both the monument itself and the surrounding controversy serve as an important reminder that how we portray history becomes how we remember it.

Never again.

Budapest: Memorial to people lined up and shot into the Danube 1944-45

Sounds of Silence

Silence comes from many sources, as darkness comes in many shades. Silence from those whose lives were taken or voices silenced. Silence through technology that brings people together by keeping them apart. Silence from commercialism that values things more than people. Silence from fear that has sparked new life to nationalism all over the world. Our world becomes ever smaller and ever darker.

And so on the darkest day of the year, listening to the sounds of silence, let’s remember that when all the evils from Pandora’s box were released, all that remained was hope. People may be the cause of these problems, but people are also surely the solution.


The Sound Of Silence
by Paul Simon

(Click here for my new favorite version of this song by Disturbed.)

Frankfurt Holocaust Memorial Wall
Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall in Frankfurt

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Brussels cobblestone street

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

Dublin pub
Church behind McD’s and money exchange in Vienna

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

Watching the light show through camera phones in Frankfurt (German Reunification Day)
Paris subway station

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Downtown Dresden
“Welcome culture” for Syrian refugees caricature in Frankfurt

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Frankfurt Red Light District
Red Light District in Amsterdam
Tourist season in Amsterdam

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

Panier district of Marseille
Revolution mural in Leipzig
Graffitti-allowed wall in Prague

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

Signs of globalization in Bucharest
Political palindromes in a London underground station
Political palindromes in a London underground station

And tenement halls

Housing in Bucharest

And whispered in the sounds of silence”

Berlin Remembers

Memorials of Past Darkness for a Brighter Future

Flowers and candles outside the American Embassy in support of Orlando victims
Flowers, candles, and gay pride flags outside the American Embassy in support of the Orlando victims

Beneath a thin layer of grit and a heavy mound of history, Berlin thrives today as a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital. A young city that was rebuilt after its destruction in WWII, divided for around 40 years into communist East and capitalist West, it was reunited 25 years ago as the capital of the unified Federal Republic of Germany.

Among its busy streets, funky cafes, and modern office buildings, Berlin seeks to acknowledge the most recent periods of Germany’s past and to educate the public for a better future.

Berlin remembers…


Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe


Roma and Sinti (aka Gypsies),

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism
Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism


Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism
Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism

and politicians who opposed Hitler

Memorial to the Politicians Who Opposed Hitler
Memorial to the Politicians Who Opposed Hitler

who were dehumanized and killed during the Holocaust.

The memorials that stand in place of the many groups of victims embody the idea of loss itself. Stark stone columns, a dark pool surrounded by stone slabs… each memorial is dark, angular, and abstract in its concrete nature, seeming to reflect perhaps not the people themselves but their absence.

Berlin remembers…

Those who died attempting to escape from East to West during the Cold War

Berlin Wall Memorial
Berlin Wall Memorial
Illustration of the defensive layers around the wall
Illustration of the defensive layers near the wall
Preserved section of the Berlin Wall
Preserved section of the Berlin Wall
Recreated escape tunnel
Recreated escape tunnel

A photograph of each of these 136 people, including several children, is displayed in a memorial wall opposite a remaining section of the Berlin Wall, which was built in 1961 to prevent citizens of strictly controlled East Berlin from escaping into West Berlin. The Berlin Underworld Tour explains attempts (some successful) to tunnel under the wall or to make a break for it (mostly attempted by young East German military officers or subway staff) through “Ghost Stations,” or heavily guarded subway stops in East Berlin.

Berlin remembers…

Those who were considered a threat to life in the DDR (East Germany) by the Stasi

Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (Former Stasi Central Investigation Center and Prison)
Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (Former Stasi Central Investigation Center and Prison)
Single cell used in the 1940s
Single cell used in the 1940s
Cells from the 1950s-1980s
Cells used during the 1950s-1980s
"Tiger Cage" outdoor exercise area
“Tiger Cage” outdoor exercise area
Interrogation room
Interrogation room

The central investigation center of the Stasi, formerly a restricted area left conspicuously blank on maps, now serves as a memorial and museum, staffed by many former political prisoners who lead guided tours to educate the public about history and their personal experiences. From the end of WWII to the fall of communism in the late 1980s, anyone who was seen to be counter to the mainstream culture could be rounded up by specially recruited secret police and, through calculated physical and psychological torture, coerced into confessing to crimes against their country. The older and newer sections of the prison remain as they must have looked when in use, a powerful reminder to reflect on who the real threat is and how a way of life should be fought for.

Berlin remembers…

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” – Primo Levi

May we all learn from history and remember what makes us human.