The FASPE group started the day at the Berlin-Grunewald Track 17 memorial, a train platform from which thousands of Jews were deported to the east between 1941 and 1945.
The memorial's design was quite striking; it offered no interpretive signage at all except for markings along the track indicating the date and destination of each deportation and the number of Jews deported.
While this approach might be criticized for leaving too much unexplained, it does force the visitor to construct meaning from the data, and in some instances the meaning is shocking. Consider the final deportation:
So embedded in the Nazi framework was the mission to rid Europe of Jews that they were still staging deportations in late March of 1945, just 34 days before Hitler committed suicide and 41 days before the unconditional surrender of all German forces. Think about that a moment: with their world collapsing around them, the Nazis were still deploying resources to deport Jews.
From this memorial we went to the House of the Wannsee Conference, the beautiful nineteenth-century lakeside villa in Berlin where 15 high-ranking officials of the SS, the Nazi Party, and various ministries gathered on January 20, 1942, to make arrangements for the implementation of the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question"--that is, the program of mass deportation and murder of all of the Jews of Europe. It has been converted into an excellent museum and education center. Naturally it was chilling to stand in the room where these functionaries coolly worked out an agreement for genocide in a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes. Our guide emphasized the ordinariness of the gathering -- just another meeting on a busy Tuesday for a bunch of bureaucrats. When Hannah Arendt wrote of "the banality of evil," perhaps she had in mind the invitation to the Wannsee Conference that its organizer, Reinhard Heydrich, sent to the other bureaucrats:
"I therefore invite you to such a meeting (on the subject of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question), to be followed by breakfast, on 9 December 1941, 12:00 noon ..."
"To be followed by breakfast ..."