A part of my morning to commute to class includes walking past the foundation of a synagogue that has since been memorialized. Additionally, on a street pole about 30 feet from the memorial is a sign that points to Gurs, France, that commemorates the 1027-kilometer (638-mile) march Jewish citizens in Freiburg had to endure when the Germans forced them to this interment camp. The destruction of the synagogue itself occurred during Kristallnacht in 1938.
As to avoid this post from becoming a history lesson, I will instead write about the treatment of this monument in my short time of being here. Through talking to other Freiburg natives and students, I gathered some information that struck me as odd. In recent years, apparently, parents would let children and dogs play in the water that sits in the memorial with out reprimand. In an article about the inauguration of this memorial, an author of Polish-Jewish descent shares my confused feeling when he saw people wading and essentially partying in the water where a once sacred place of worship stood. From what a few students have told me was that the Jewish community saw this as disrespectful and the local government has since taken action to prevent dogs from drinking the water and children treating it as a pool. In the same article, the author remarks how the children in the waters were not jewish and how he started to dance uncomfortably to bring attention to the disrespect these parents were placing on this memorial. Even though these measures were taken I am still surprised to see trash sometimes in there and people dipping their feet in on a warm day. However, it is clear that the religious community still cares about the memorial as there are sometime flowers that lay on the boarder of the pool.
This disrespect was not an isolated experience however. On a field trip to Berlin, a group of students and myself were on a guided historical tour through the city, which was rich in World War II accounts. Our tour eventually brought us to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe where I noticed a similar treatment being given to this memorial as the Old Synagogue in Freiburg. Walking through leads one to feel isolated and suddenly in the middle of the concrete maze. As we were taking all of these emotions the memorial instills in visitors, there were children running around playing hide-and-seek, adults taking selfies posing with a hand gestured peace sign and other people climbing on top of the concrete structures. One artist has expressed his disapproval of the treatment this memorial has received, photoshopping posing patrons in actual photos of deceased Jewish people citing that this is essentially what they are doing to their memory.
Both of these experiences have left me with a feeling confusion and shock. A country that was at the heart of the deadliest mass genocide are not respecting the monuments to those who were brutally murdered. Generations were decimated and people dance on their memories. These actions offer a prime example of moral licensing, which is defined through the acts of people who believe they can act immorally simply because they performed a moral good beforehand. In these cases, patrons believe they are doing good by visiting these memorial and through visiting they are allowed to treat this these places however they please. Education of the uncomfortable past should be promoted as to not discredit the memories of people like the Jews of Europe which I have witnessed.
Old Synagogue link: https://forward.com/opinion/386824/they-built-a-public-pool-over-the-site-of-kristallnacht-so-i-danced-in-it/
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe link: https://www.demilked.com/holocaust-memorial-selfies-yolocaust-shahak-shapira/