Berlin – Day 3

We began our day visiting a modern memorial to the Holocaust in a section of Berlin called the Bavarian Quarter, so named because many of the streets were named after towns and princes in the German state of Bavaria. In this middle class section of the city, once lived an estimated 16,000 assimilated German Jews, most of whom would be murdered by the Nazis.   One very famous Jewish resident was physicist, Albert Einstein. He had moved to Berlin in 1914, lived in the Bavarian Quarter and taught at Humboldt University, next to the German Historical Museum that we had visited on our first day [site of the book burning memorial], until he emigrated to the United States in 1932. Approximately 70-80% of this residential area was destroyed during the war, so it is now largely comprised of modern apartment buildings and stores.

The Bavarian Quarter memorial reflected the first phase of the Nazi policies towards Jews, the legislative phase. In the 1980’s the city council decided to put up a memorial in this area. Olaf told us the memorial is comprised of over 80 signs, about 10” x 14” attached to poles throughout the quarter. On one side of each sign is a city ordinance or law which had been enacted against the Jews during the period of 1933 to 1943, and on the other side is a picture or symbol which depicts the essence of that ordinance. These memorial signs are scattered, and we encountered several on our walk around the quarter, noting that they were not in any particular order and not chronological.

In years past we have visited the Loecknitz Elementary School in the Bavarian Quarter while it was in session so the students could view a project which has been ongoing for more than 25 years relating to the Holocaust. Today there were no students in session, but a few from the preschool in daycare. We were, however, able to visit the wall which represents the culmination of the project for all 6th graders. Our students learned that this project is a graduation requirement including the opportunity for 6th graders to research and decide who they would like to represent from the former Jewish community in the Bavarian Quarter.

After a lunch at the famous Spinner-Brücker, known as the ‘biker deli’ because it has served as a meeting place for motorcycle enthusiasts for years we made our way to the Wannsee Villa. The villa is located on the banks of lake Wannsee, which on this clear day seemed such an incongruous setting for a meeting on January 20, 1942, called by Himmler’s deputy director of the SS, Reinhard Heydrich and Adolph Eichmann, bringing together representatives of many bureaucratic agencies for a luncheon meeting over which they would discuss how to implement the plan known as the Final Solution.

As we navigated this very new exhibition which at first was very surprising because the entire exhibit was handicap accessible. On the opening monitor was a sign language interpreter who gave directions on how to locate apps for signing the exhibit. It was also pointed out to us that the building was fully accessible to the blind with cane markings on the floors and braille for each exhibit.

In the main room of the villa, where the meeting had taken place Mr. Barmore spoke to us about both the participants of the meeting and the content of their discussions. These were educated people, we were told. There were 9 Ph.D’s and even one was a Protestant minister. We had spoken of a concept of Hannah Arendt, “the banality of evil” during our debriefing last night. The discussion of this meeting was an example of that. The original concept was to comb Europe from the West to the East, and send Jews to the East for extermination, but one member suggested that it might be more efficient to start in the East where the Jews were already in large numbers, concentrated in ghettos, dying of starvation. So that policy was adopted. Another problem was what to do with the ‘mixed’ Jews, the mischlinge. First degree mischlinge had one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent so were 50% Jewish. But what about if one was 25% Jewish with 1 Jewish grand-parent and 3 non-Jewish grandparents? This would include many excellent Germans who were war-heroes or highly respected members of society so they became more liberal at this meeting and voted to adopt the policy to only eliminate 50% mischlinge. Another paradox since it had originally been determined that any ‘Jewish blood’ was a virus to the German nation and must be eliminated. The Final Solution could now be implemented and it was time to construct the remainder of the killing centers which were operational within a year. Between February 1942 and 1943, Mr. Barmore said, most of the 6 Million Jews of Europe were murdered.

Our next visit was to the train station in Grunewald, a very wealthy residential area of Berlin. It was from this train station, beginning on October 18, 1941, that most of Berlin’s Jewish residents were to be deported. Olaf showed us three memorials at Grunewald to the deportation. The first memorial was a cross section of railroad ties in front of the entrance to the train station, established by a local group of Lutheran women in 1987, with a plaque commemorating the beginning of the deportations. In 2011 a Polish artist brought birch trees from around Auschwitz to several places in Germany which were part of the Holocaust, planting several here at Grunewald train station as part of this memorial. This was the first time in many years that we had seen the birch trees in bloom.

The second memorial Olaf showed us was a wall which depicted figures as they walked up the hill to the train platform to be deported.

The third memorial established by the German Railroad, was consisted of two train platforms lined by plaques which represented each deportation train from Grunewald, listing the date, the number of Jews and the destination of the train, including Theresienstadt, Lodz, Riga and Auschwitz. The train left October 18, 1941 carrying 1,251 Jews to Lodz and the last on December 10, 1944 carried 31 Jews to Auschwitz. The largest transport carried 1,758 Jews and the smallest carried 13.

Mr. Barmore also spoke to our group about how the Holocaust represented modern murder. First, because of the technology, and second, because of the bureaucracy. The technology allowed the Nazis to bring people from as far away as Norway quickly and efficiently, and the vast system of bureaucrats, with their organization and exacting, meticulous methods, made it possible for the Holocaust to be so total. This presented a problem after the war, he said, in that how do you answer an individual who says, “I didn’t do anything wrong, I just drove a train” or “I just typed a letter, I’m not responsible.” How can you do the most terrible things, without really thinking you are taking part in it, we were asked.

Mr. Barmore noted that officially, the decision to stop the annihilation of the Jews was made on November 27, 1944, according to documents. Yet transports continued to be sent to the east. What do these small numbers signify at the end? Where do they find them?   Mr. Barmore spoke to us about an event toward the end of the war called the “Jew Hunt” in which there continued to be a concerted effort to track down all Jews, showing the extent to which this whole racial policy was important to the Nazis. He spoke of it being a bureaucratic search whereby bureaucrats went back into old census lists and other records in order to locate any Jewish names. Another method they employed was hiring Jewish informers as bait to locate Jews who were hiding.

We ended the day we had a very special visit in the evening from our dear friends, Mohammad and Sanaz whom we met first back in 2016 as the refugee crisis was overwhelming Germany. Back in 2016, Mr. Barmore had met a German film producer, Mathias Schwerbrock, who had been working with refugees, and he arranged for us to meet with two of them. This is how we met two very special young people, Mohammad and Sanaz. In that first year told us of leaving their home in Afghanistan after their father, a police officer, was threatened by criminal groups associated with the Taliban, walking through Iran and Turkey, riding in a small, overcrowded and flimsy plastic boat from Turkey to Greece, and then continuing to walk through Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, before reaching Munich, Germany, 50 days later where they were helped by a German relief agency and moved to Berlin. Their journey was about 3,000 miles.    Originally housed with thousands of other refugees from multiple nations, in a converted gymnasium with cots for beds, families such as theirs were moved after about 3 months into converted hotels where they were assisted by German aid agencies. There eventually were success is completing high school, providing for their family and moving into their own apartment – all a profound burden on them both to provide for their family while maintaining their Afghani culture.

As they both told their stories in perfect English, we had the chance to ask them how life was treating them here in Berlin. They were very pleased to tell us that they are both employed as well as their father now and Sanaz is pursuing her dream of medical school while Mohammad recently finished his drafting degree. Their immigration story not only inspired us all, but left us feeling connected to our own family stories of coming to America. Both Mohammad and Sanaz were very clear in their message to the students:


  1. The Bavarian Quarter in Berlin is home to an estimated 16,000 assimilated German Jews, most of whom were murdered by the Nazis. In the 1980s, the city council decided to put up a memorial to the Holocaust, composed of over 80 signs attached to poles. The Wannsee Villa was a meeting place for representatives of bureaucratic agencies to discuss how to implement the Final Solution. Olaf Barmore visited Grunewald train station in Berlin and showed three memorials to the deportation. He spoke about how the Holocaust represented modern murder due to technology and bureaucracy, allowing the Nazis to bring people from as far away as Norway quickly and efficiently.


  2. It is very cool to see that memorials such as the House of the Wannsee Conference are accessible to handicapped, blind, and deaf people. Germany seems to really be trying to bring awareness to everyone. It was also cool to learn about Mohammad and Sanaz’s story of their migration to Germany, and how they are now pursuing their dreams.


  3. Day 3, once again in Berlin, however this time visiting a well known area known as the Bavarian Quarter. Which was once home to 16,000 assimilated Jews, who most ended up being murdered by the German Nazi’s. In this area there were over 80 signs attached to poles, which served as memorials for those who passed in the Holocaust and were first introduced in the 1980s. Then the students were taken to the Gruneland Train Station, where he spoke about the way Nazi murdered Jews, and how it reflected a more modern style of doing so.


  4. It’s wonderful to see that memorials like the House of the Wannsee Conference allow the physically challenged, the handicapped, and the deaf to use them. It seems that Germany is genuinely trying to educate everyone. It was also fascinating to learn about Mohammad and Sanaz’s journey to Germany and how they are currently following their goals.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s