Robert Hampton

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5th June 2012

The Elephant in the Room
Posted by at 10.30am | 3 responses | Gay, Out and About

I’ve spent the past few days in Berlin with my friend Andrew. Wonderful Berlin. Beautiful, exciting, cosmopolitan Berlin. There are numerous pictures and blog posts to follow in the coming days.

Most of our first full day in Berlin was spent doing some historical sightseeing. This city was at the centre of world events for much of the 20th century, and the lingering after-effects are there to see all around. In a later blog post I’ll talk about what I saw of the remains of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War era.

First though, I need to acknowledge what I saw and learned about the darkest chapter in Germany’s history – namely, those twelve years from 1933 to 1945 when the country descended into tyranny, terror and unspeakable evil, culminating in the most destructive war in the world’s history, and the attempted extermination of a race of people.

Near the Brandenburg Gate is the city’s Holocaust Memorial. Its to-the-point official name Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), leaves no doubt as to its purpose.

Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas

The memorial consists of 2,711 concrete pillars of varying heights, arranged in a grid with gaps between that people can walk through. The ground is on a slope – at the edge of the memorial the pillars are at waist height, while in the centre the stones tower overhead. This leads to feelings of disorientation and unease – an effect I’m sure is intended.

Through the gaps in the pillars, I saw a couple in tears, holding each other for comfort. I passed a small group of people with what sounded like American accents, holding hands in a circle and whispering a prayer, perhaps for some relative whose life was cruelly extinguished.

Six million people. That’s more than the entire population of Scotland.

Across the road, in one corner of the vast Tiergarten park, is a smaller, simpler memorial. This one is for the gay victims of Nazi persecution. Look inside the small window and you can see a continuously-looping film showing various same-sex couples kissing.

Berlin Gay Memorial Berlin Gay Memorial

Elsewhere in the city, near Checkpoint Charlie, is Topography of Terror, located in the foundations of the former SS headquarters, which was demolished after the war. Now, the sunken gardens serve as an exhibition, with pictures, audio and visual exhibits describing the brutal regime.

Topography of Terror Topography of Terror

I came away from the memorials feeling humbled. I had received a vivid reminder of the ability of human beings to inflict suffering on other human beings. Hopefully the lessons of history have been learned, and there will be no future barbarity that requires a memorial of this scale.

I also feel more disappointed than ever at some British people’s attitudes toward German people. I’m talking specifically about the morons who think it’s HILARIOUS to goose step around doing Hitler salutes. The little Englanders who bring up World War II every time the European Union is discussed. The football fans who delight in “two world wars and one world cup” chants whenever England play Germany at football (fun fact: most German football fans couldn’t give a toss: they consider The Netherlands to be their rivals).

It’s disrespectful to the victims to joke in this way. And it’s also disrespectful for the current generation of Germans, who should not be expected to share the guilt for events that happened years before they were born. They look back with revulsion and horror at this time in their history, but they have also moved on. So should we.

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3 Responses
  1. Comment by Steve
    6th June 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I have just read your blog on your visit to Berlin.

    The figure of six million that you quote is only the official estimate of the number of Jews murdered during the Third Reich.

    If you’re going to write a piece on Nazi victims, why not include ALL the victims? You should include all the gay people, disabled people, political and religious opponents, Russians, Poles and many others. I think you’ll find that although it is obviously impossible to give accurate numbers, estimates give the numbers as somewhere between 11 and 17 million people.

  2. Comment by Robert Hampton
    6th June 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I’m aware of that. I mentioned the six million specifically in conjunction with the Jewish memorial.

  3. Comment by Steve
    7th June 2012 at 12:44 am

    It would perhaps have been a good idea then to give the full number. The majority of people have no idea that so many were murdered.
    If you ask, they will quote the figure of 6 million and think that that covers everyone or that only Jewish people were murdered.
    I do not seek to lessen the loss to the Jewish people, but only to try to ensure that the other 5 to 11 million victims do not get forgotten. True, they were the largest single group, but only a third to a half of the total.
    There were of course, many many millions more killed in battle on all sides.
    We owe it to ALL of them to remember them and try to ensure that such a thing can never happen again, anywhere in the world.