Berlin: The Lessons of History

I’m going to talk about a hard subject now, the one we don’t really want to talk about because the wounds are still fresh. It’s been just over 60 years, after all.

My mom doesn’t feel like visiting Germany no matter what arguments I use. She’s not even supposed to be so rough about it – the Jewish part of our family was affected by Stalin’s repressions and not the Germans. But my grandparents lived through the siege of Leningrad, my grandma telling stories of people cooking leather boots and belts to get some taste in the water, fighting for food cards, how every day on her way to the river with the sled to get water she had to pass a gateway full of human bodies because there weren’t enough resources to bury them all. And how she still can’t stand any food waste. All that, because of one person’s insane ambition.
Now it seems hard to believe. How could a nation of great thinkers, of great intellectuals, great artists come to THAT? In just one generation? How could people forget their historic roots, succumb entirely to the propaganda, leave all human there was in them behind? Unintelligible. Impossible.
I walk down the stairs to the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe near the Tiergarten. A powerful, heartbreaking exhibition, a mixture of blood-cooling personal stories and dry undeniable historic facts. People leave it in tears and sit down on benches by the exit to recover.
And I think: let them cry.
Let them all cry, Europeans, Americans, Asians, Africans, Australians.
Let them remember what happened when people decided that they had a right to judge whether other people deserved to live. When they determined themselves superior. When six million people were eliminated from this earth.
The shivers run through my body, the fists clench, I try to fight angry tears when I listen to the stories, when I see the faces, when I look at the map of Europe, dotted with dozens of concentration and elimination camps. We didn’t really talk about it at school. There was this bad guy with a weird mustache, and he attacked the world, and then he attacked Russia and lost. But when you actually see the scale of that madness…
This is a lesson the people have to learn well to never, ever repeat history. When the human mind detiriorates to the state of a plank, when they believe what the government tells them instead of listening to common sense, when they turn against their neighbors, their friends, when they shoot, torture, murder people in the gas vans like cattle, like inanimate objects, like garbage, throwing their naked bodies into the pit and in batches and covering them with thin layer of earth.
These camps are now in ruins, the graves covered with grass; the memory remains. That country moves on that remembers. The Germans do remember. The Russians do remember the war, but for some reason not the GULAGs, not the millions of innocent people’s ruined lives. They should teach more in schools, much, much more. Not teaching that part of Russian history is simply lying.
If you’re in Berlin, drop by that memorial. And perhaps you’ll learn your personal lesson, like I learned mine.


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