So These Four Jews Go To Germany…

While on our wonderful family vacation in Germany, we had three Jewish experiences (two were planned; one was not) which I thought deserved mention in their own post.

We first visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which is completely different from saying that we visited Dachau. When the four of us were leaving Kat and Holger’s house to make the visit there, they made sure to tell us that though the area is known for this horrible piece of the Holocaust, the town of Dachau is a lovely place and we should make sure to visit the Altstadt there, since we’d be in the area. (Check out the website for the city of Dachau here.)

Their telling us that stuck with me ever since that morning, because I think it speaks to what Germany as a nation has been trying to deal with since World War II. The Holocaust was an indescribably horrific event in history and should never be forgotten, but the Holocaust THEN is not what Germany is TODAY.

The presence of reminders (the concentration camp sites), is a good thing, because the circumstances that led to the brutal murders of somewhere around eleven million people (six million were Jewish, but five million were killed because they were gay, handicapped, unionists, or one of many nationalities deemed unacceptable by Nazis) will hopefully never be repeated.

On a side note, I was recently asked by a fellow Jewish person, upon learning where we went for vacation, “So, why would you go to Germany?” (Are you kidding me?)

I’m probably not expressing myself about this very well, but I guess I can just summarize the best that I can by saying that it’s important to learn from past events in order to make a better future. Germany as a nation has moved forward, not by getting rid of any reminders of the Holocaust, but BY keeping the reminders around and moving forward around them.

Our visit to the memorial site was, naturally, a somber one. Going to pay respects at a place like that isn’t something you do for fun, but we felt it necessary to go and learn a little more about that moment in history. Though there were hundreds of people visiting when we were there, it was mostly quiet, except for the voices of tour guides leading their groups around the different areas of the camp. It was eerie, creepy, and sad to be there, and it all started when we entered the front gate, which had the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work makes you free”) on it.


Walking through the buildings, whose windows still have bars on them, was a little disturbing.


Scattered throughout the rooms were pictures on glass (you can see it in the right forefront) from the Holocaust, so you could see the rooms as they looked back then. The pictures were set up in the approximate spot where they were originally taken. Looking at the now-empty-except-for-exhibit-materials rooms in this way and imagining what they were like back then gave me chills.


We walked through one of the barracks and got to see how crowded the sleeping quarters were.


Outside on the grounds, there were several memorials; naturally the one that spoke to us the strongest was the Jewish Memorial. It was built so visitors walk down into it; it’s six feet underground. The only light inside comes from one little opening, through which you can see the menorah that sits on top of the building. It was a very moving experience to go inside.


You can read more about this memorial, if you’re interested, by clicking here.


Do not forget.


The other planned Jewish “experience” we had on our schedule was visiting the Jewish Museum in downtown Munich. Located on St. Jakob’s Platz, the museum is right next door to the new (2006) temple, Ohel Jakob, which is totally gorgeous outside. We would have loved to see the inside, but it was closed. (I even contacted them a while back to see if we could attend Shabbat services there, but August is their vacation month and they weren’t having them!)



The Jewish Museum, to be completely honest, was–unanimously–our least favorite part of the entire trip, so I won’t spend much time on it. It is relatively new, having opened in 2007, and is made up of three floors. The bottom floor is where the permanent exhibition is, and it was S-M-A-L-L. The second and third floors contained temporary exhibits, which during our visit were mostly photographs and videos that were S-T-R-A-N-G-E. It reminded us of Sprockets on “Saturday Night Live”, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.


The other Jewish experience we had was a total surprise. It happened at the Audi Museum Mobile. We were exploring their temporary exhibit, “Farbverlauf” (gradient), which was made up of twelve cars, each a different color. Behind the cars on the wall were pieces of metal which were painted in different shades of that color. It was quite beautiful, see?





In each color section, there were also video screens that were slowing flashing various items in that color. Blue: blueberries, Cookie Monster, a butterfly…


Green: an emerald, a disco ball, the Incredible Hulk…


I was watching one of the screens when the younger boy came over to me and grabbed my arm. “Uh mom? You need to see this: come over here to yellow!”

I followed him over and watched the screens. Yellow: a tennis ball, a bumblebee, a rubber ducky, a sponge, Homer Simpson…


…the yellow star used to label Jews during the Holocaust….


WAIT!

WTH??

THE YELLOW STAR USED TO LABEL JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST was a part of an Audi exhibit about the use of color in automobiles?

I was blown away. BLOWN AWAY. Horrified.
I didn’t understand why it was there, in between Homer Simpson and a bunch of bananas.

We told the older boy, Jim, and Kat and Holger about it, and none of us could wrap our heads around why it was there. I resolved to send a note to the museum upon returning to the States, and that’s what I did:

Hello!

My family and I were visiting Germany from Chicago this week and explored the fantastic Audi Museum Mobile in Ingolstadt on Wednesday. The museum was very enjoyable, but I have a question about the “Farbverlauf” exhibit because something distressed me very much.

On the wall next to each color display, video screens showed pictures of things that represented lots of different shades of each color. In the “yellow” section, there were pictures of a smiley face, bananas, Homer Simpson, corn…and the thing that was very disturbing to me: a picture of the yellow star that was used to mark Jews during one of the darkest periods in history, the Holocaust. It was a shock to see this, to be sure.

My family and I are Jewish but our German hosts are not and they were disturbed by it as well. I am just wondering if you can explain to me why this was included, as there are so many other things in the world that are the color yellow: why include something as negative as this? I have been thinking about it very much, trying to come to a conclusion that would make sense to put this yellow star in the exhibit, but so far cannot come up with anything. Unfortunately this put a little damper on the end of our visit to the Audi Museum…

Sincerely,
Melisa and family

We returned home on Thursday, August 19 and I sent that e-mail over the weekend. On Wednesday I had an answer from a museum representative that knocked my socks off.

Dear Melisa,
Thank you very much for your letter and your remark concerning our exhibition „Farbverlauf“ in the Audi museum mobile. We are very sorry to have wounded your emotions by using this sign. We deeply apologize for this presentation.

Among other aspects, the intention of our exhibit is to demonstrate the effects of colours upon the human being – colour symbols may cause different reactions. Looking at all shown symbols again and alerted by your remark, we have decided immediately to remove this historical sign from the exhibit.

If you please give us your post office address, we would allow us to hand over to you, as a little present, our company’s history book „Four Rings – The history of Audi“.

We would very much appreciate to welcome you again in our museum mobile.

Yours very sincerely, The Nice Man at the Museum (I took his name out)

This reply was so kind and so much more than I expected. All I asked for was an explanation; the removal of the symbol from the exhibit–which, I’ve learned since returning home, OPENED the day we visited–not to mention the book he is sending us was a super-awesome bonus. It turned the bad taste in my mouth from that experience into a good one, and makes me feel empowered to act again, the next time something that I believe is wrong happens. It’s a good feeling.

24 Comments

  • TKTC

    I really loved this post. I've traveled a good bit in Europe but am ashamed to say that I've avoided Germany for reasons I know to be perfectly ridiculous. I love that you acknowledged the sad history that took place there and clearly differentiated the past and the present. I KNOW it's irrational and everything I love about travel I know through others can be found there- interested in a similar itinerary that both honors the past and celebrates the present. Good for you for thoughtfully voicing your concerns to Audi. And good for them for listening and taking action.

  • Lynn @ Walking With Scissors

    Okay, first of all – bravo! I'm proud of you for taking action about the yellow star! And kudos to the nice man at the museum for stepping up to the plate and making things right.

    Secondly, your first batch of photos from the Dachau memorial site gave me chills. I remember learning about the Holocaust in school and seeing video coverage of concentration camps like this and it remains one of the most haunting, horrifying experiences of my life. I won't get into it, but I agree with you – I'm glad that Germany has kept these sites as a reminder of something that should never, ever have happened so that nothing like it will ever happen again.

    On a silly note – I think you're the first Jewish person I've ever met! Is that weird? 'Cause I'm pretty sure it is…

  • Rachel

    Shocked, SHOCKED that Audi had that in the exhibit. Good for you for letting them know that wasn't OK with you.

    Neither of us is Jewish, but I'll tell you we had some strange looks when we told people we would be honeymooning in Germany and Austria (eight years ago).

  • Mrs4444

    That's really great! Assertiveness in action, followed by an appropriate response. Very cool. Still kind of dumb that they wouldn't have predicted your reaction, though. Well done, my friend.

    P.S. Kyle enjoyed your Audi link and photos 🙂

  • PJ Mullen

    While their response to your email was prompt and decisive, the inclusion in the first place still screams of being incredibly insensitive.

    And I'm sure many people would like to see the remnants of the concentration camps removed, like you said they need to be there as constant reminders of those unspeakable atrocities in order that they never happen again.

  • Mari

    My husband & I lived in Germany for 4 years, and it was a great experience.

    We also visited the former camp site at Dachau and noticed the calm and stillness. There were no birds or ambient noises; it was as though all the natural creatures avoided the area completely. I think even if the remnants of the camp were removed, the psychic scars would remain; that land will never be the same.

    Bravo to you for sharing these stories!

  • Siobhan

    What a great post. I appreciated your tour and was moved by the photographs of the concentration camp. What a horrible, horrible part of history. I can see what Audi was getting at with the symbol on display, but it doesn't make it right. What a very nice gesture to send the book. :o)

  • Mom24

    I'm not proud of it, but I have also been someone who could never imagine choosing to visit Germany. I guess it's ignorant, but it's hard for me to imagine being comfortable there–things like the Audi exhibit are exactly what I would be afraid of.

    I'm so glad you spoke up, and I give them a lot of credit for removing it, but still can not believe they would ever have thought that was appropriate in the first place. Wow.

  • Catherine

    Fantastic post Melisa with one S. I was shocked by the yellow star and really cannot imagine how it got there in the first place. How could they have thought that it would have been a good idea? Glad that Audi did the right thing by removing it and taking the time to reply to your message. I just finished reading the biography of Miep Gies where she goes into great detail about the holocaust and hiding Ann Frank and her family so the holocaust is very fresh in my memory. Glad you enjoyed Germany it is a beautiful country despite this terrible part of it's history.

  • WeaselMomma

    I can't imagine the level of sobriety and emotion that swirls around visiting such a memorial. I'm sure it is physically palpable.

    Kudos to Audi

  • Liz@thisfullhouse

    What a fantastic post, my friend. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experience — seriously, felt the chills while reading — I'm still trying to wrap my head around Audi's response. Kudos to Audi, indeed!!!

  • Tom

    Good for you for taking Audi to task on the use of such a repugnant image. Evoking feelings is one thing, but that's over the line. I'm glad they changed it.

    And I'm just a wee bit envious – that book on the history of Audi sounds really cool. I know a smidge of why they have four rings in their logo, and it is an interesting story.

    I'm really enjoying your retelling of the trip to Germany!

  • melissa

    i love that audi is doing that for you! i totally get what they are striving for but THAT isn't acceptable.

    also…it is amazing that when i think of germany, i think of concentration camps, gray dreary days and death. i have never thought that it might actually be a beautiful country.
    thanks for reminding me.
    xoox

  • Kim Moldofsky

    I find the inclusion of the yellow star shocking and repulsive. I"m glad you were pleased with the response.

    When I was in Germany about 20 years ago, I found it hard to look at the trains, esp. the cattle cars. Ugh.

    I was at Dachau on a sunny day. I found the Jewish memorial incredible powerful in its simplicity. I know I have pictures of it somewhere and I recall writing about it in my journal. As I recall, the sun was shining in through that opening on the top and project an eloquent sense of hope.

  • Charlie on the PA Turnpike

    More than 15 years ago the United Nations had a Holocaust exhibit in its main lobby that I spent some time viewing. While NY is certainly far from Germany, I can understand the kinds of emotions people must experience when they visit Dachau.

    I am inclined to believe the Audi exhibit was an oversight, possibly done by a 20-something graphic artist who, sadly, probably lacks a proper education on the historical relevance of the symbol. That's not to excuse the mistake, but to put in context.

    I applaud you for your letter — many people would have written an angry screed.

    Well done, and thank you for sharing all of this.

  • Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog

    First, GO AUDI! Making a mistake and then correcting it and admitting to it is what makes consumers stop and pay attention.

    Second, To visit Germany and NOT pay tribute to WWII would be very strange to me. So many lost their lives in vain. The least we can do to honor their memory by not erasing the evidence of the travesties. I'm glad you were able to pay tribute.

  • Tara R.

    What an amazing experience this trip must have been. Both heartbreaking and life affirming.

    I'm glad you too Audi to task and that they did the right thing. Not many huge corporations like that would have been so thoughtful.

  • Michelle

    Go you! Do I really need to say more?

    Ok, so the memorial is amazing. I can only imagine… and the beds? And pictures? And bars? Not an easy place to visit but so necessary to remember!

  • As Cape Cod Turns

    Wow. Excellent post, Melisa. Oddly enough, it never occurred to me that you were a Jewish family going to Germany and the implication of it. Maybe that is the great thing about America? That it doesn't matter what religion you are. Hmmm. Food for thought.

    Awesome that you immediately wrote to the Audi museum. How often have you (or anyone) ever wanted to write a letter like that and haven't? Yay for nice museum man!

  • Patty@NYC Girl at Heart

    I can only imagine how hard the visit to the concentration camp was but I agree with you there are lessons to be learned from the past. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    I was so disgusted with Audi but then relieved as to how they reacted. I'm so glad you said somthing to them and that they acted on it! 🙂

  • judydaniell

    Melisa,
    Thanks for referring me to your post. Incredible.

    I feel so honored to have met the man that I did. I have never met a Holocaust survivor before. His spirit was so amazing.

    I have recently read two novels that provided beautiful/painful glimpses into the lives of the people of Germany and France during that horrific time.

    I would love to hear your take on them if you have read:
    Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum and
    Sarah's Key (Can't recall the author at the moment.)

    judydaniell@yahoo.com
    http://www.dirtroadmusings.com

  • dirtroadmusings.com

    Melisa,
    Thanks for referring me to your post. Incredible.

    I feel so honored to have met the man that I did. I have never met a Holocaust survivor before. His spirit was so amazing.

    I have recently read two novels that provided beautiful/painful glimpses into the lives of the people of Germany and France during that horrific time.

    I would love to hear your take on them if you have read:
    Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum and
    Sarah's Key (Can't recall the author at the moment.)

    judydaniell@yahoo.com
    http://www.dirtroadmusings.com

  • Oscar

    I would have been just as disturbed. I'm not Jewish, but most of my friends are. I'm Jewish by association. 🙂 I know enough that people assume I am! I'm proud of it.

    I own an Audi Q5. Audi is a class outfit. That shocked me. You should have your friends there confirm!

    I'm sure they did.

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