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The Topography of Terror

24 Nov

Just behind (or in front of depending on your orientation) these particular remnants of the Berlin Wall the museum building  stands. it’s a modern cube that sits (it changed position between sentences) surrounded by wide open spaces and to the right of it are two art galleries and the home of the Berlin’s State Parliament, not too long ago the situation was very different, as this location once – as a handy plaque informed us:

housed the most important institutions of Nazi terror:  the national central headquarters of the Secret state Police (Gestapo), The Reich SS leadership, The Security Service (SD) and the Reich Security Main Office

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The open and airy lay out of the gallery is a good thing as the reading material is at best challenging.  It shouldn’t be, I’ve read plenty of history books and I’m familiar with the appalling numbers of casualties, of the terrible fates suffered by innocent people, of the mass slaughter and cruelty and senselessness of it all and yet when on such a site as this I just couldn’t read about these events.

It is considerably harder to reconcile these events than usual when, where you happen to be makes it tangible, visceral, much more real.  With propaganda films and footage of executions, photos aplenty and sickening headlines in papers it was all a bit too much for me. it was plenty shocking, sickening and gruelling to the point where I had to sit down on the many handy benches to write some notes.

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As a consequence I did skim read certain sections and others had titles that were enough to conjure up long forgotten memories of things I had read and I skipped past them.  The part about how words were used to sanitise despicable events and make them seem more palatable to the general populace made it worse, especially for the writer in me and one who watches the news and sees that nothing has changed to this day.

Whilst taking a breather for the second time due to the shared sense of the oppressive atmosphere , I stopped to people watch and take in all faces.  There was a grimness to my fellow museum goers, a contemplative revulsion to what they were seeing and reading, yet each one was compelled to carry on and do their utmost to get around the often harrowing exhibits as best they could.  From listening to the quiet chatter there were more nationalities there than I could distinguish, this place of learning brought on a communal revulsion and discomfort.

The whole museum does an excellent job of capturing the palpable imprint of terror.  The staggering amount of the dead and displaced and the multitude of departments overseeing everything in minutiae of life in the occupide zones was quite frankly hideous in its conception, let alone execution.

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The above photo is one of the many index cards (below) from the investigations into the Reich Security Main Office personnel of which relatively few received any sort of sentence. The lack of justice was perhaps the bleakest thought I left with and sadly will leave you with as well.

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46 Comments

Posted by on 24/11/2015 in History, Travel

 

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46 responses to “The Topography of Terror

  1. Lyn

    24/11/2015 at 19:58

    Sometimes we need to be reminded of history with all its atrocities so we don’t forget; so we never think, “that was way back then.” Because, “way back then” could very easily become tomorrow’s news. Thank you for posting this, Ste.

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 20:10

      I was hoping to end with something a little upbeat but to do so would have perhaps seemed a little out of place for such a serious post. Sometimes the more difficult things are to read, the more they stick in one’s mind. If we don’t remember our mistakes we make them again, which would be unforgivable.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. gargoylebruce

    24/11/2015 at 20:42

    I haven’t read a fiction book set in Europe in WW2 for a while now, because I can’t stomach the content anymore. I remember hearing a letter read by a lecturer in my arts degree, from some member of the Nazi party to Volkswagen, listing all the changes that needed to be made to the trucks that carried these poor souls – it deftly applied some of the euphemisms you mention. Sickening.
    Unfortunately, Australia seems to be happily following the nazis down the path of cruelty and terror in regards to asylum seekers – many have already been locked up in camps for years (including children), our navy intercepts any boats that attempt to land and tows them back out to sea, and one of our senators recently put forward the idea that ALL refugees living in the community (that is, the ones already assessed as genuine refugees and resettled here) should be fitted with electronic tracking devices.
    I kid you not.

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 21:04

      It’s disgusting that language can be used to poorly disguise the truth but everything seems to have its dark side when examined. I think with the advent of groups like Daesh have polarised views on refugees and foreigners in all countries. I knew Australia was strict with their immigration policy but I had no idea it was like that, some of the ideas politicians come up with are pretty chilling, makes you wonder what warps them so much in the first place.

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  3. Jeff

    24/11/2015 at 21:07

    What did you think the mix of nationalities was among the visitors?

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 21:11

      I seemed a pretty mixed bunch, I recognised Italian, Polish, German, English, Dutch and Spanish and there were some Japanese tourists as well, naturally. There were a few other languages which I couldn’t identify but had a rough idea of the geographical regions.

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      • Jeff

        28/11/2015 at 22:03

        Sounds a tricky museum for the locals. I think it’s possible to visit the old Stasi HQ too isn’t it?

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        • Ste J

          30/11/2015 at 09:16

          I was curious to ask but at the same time felt it was a bit of a liberty as well, typical awkward English manners coming along ruining everything! The Stasi HQ was a bit of a way out but next time it will be on my ridiculously long to see list.

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  4. clarepooley33

    24/11/2015 at 22:44

    Thank-you for this post Ste. I can well imagine how stomach-churning some of the details in the exhibits were. This ethnic cleansing still goes on.

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    • Ste J

      25/11/2015 at 15:21

      Yes, that’s the sad part, things don’t change, they just get under reported so people don’t realise they are going on for such a long time, or perhaps people don’t want to know being such a chilling subject. Human nature is a fickle beast sadly.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    24/11/2015 at 23:25

    Last month, one of my friends visited this museum and she was out of words to express the feeling. Such scenes of oppression and atrocity undoubtedly make us unsettling 😦

    And, I agree with you completely here, “one who watches the news and sees that nothing has changed to this day”…

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    • Ste J

      25/11/2015 at 15:27

      Museums like this bring us together, we were all milling around shaking our heads disgusted. There were a few people laughing at which normally I would frown upon (at the very least) but I understood that people needed a release from what they were seeing and it was a nervous laughter not at the exhibits but how close to it we felt and how much we needed to break the spell of horror. it makes more sense in my head than it does in words but I know you get what I mean.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. renxkyoko

    25/11/2015 at 02:46

    May I assume that’s a Nazi museum ?

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    • Ste J

      25/11/2015 at 15:11

      It is, its main focus is on the SS and Police and goes on to chronicle all that happened over the whole of the occupied territories, I’m glad I went despite the challenge of it.

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  7. Alastair Savage

    25/11/2015 at 07:40

    I visited the former SS Office in Cologne and what I found most horrifying was the thought that all this murder and torture was going on in suburban streets where ordinary people were quietly going on about their business as if nothing was happening.

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    • Ste J

      25/11/2015 at 15:42

      It’s a horrific juxtaposition and it begs the question, did they know? If they did, what could they do? It must be tough for the conscience of the people who didn’t even want the war or the Nazi party in power. That a lot of these places look so innocuous from the outside makes the disgust even more palpable when realised.

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  8. Shakti Ghosal

    25/11/2015 at 13:21

    I too had visited this museum some years back. Had found it fascinating , another time, another place.

    Berlin never ceases to enthrall and surprise me. It holds this unique capacity to show up differently. This had led me to muse and write about the city a while back.

    http://esgeemusings.com/2013/04/01/those-faces-of-berlin/

    Great post!

    Shakti

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    • Ste J

      25/11/2015 at 15:50

      I agree it’ s a city that can immerse one in so many different ways and thoughts. I am looking forward to going back again sometime soon. I’ll be over to take a look at your post shortly.

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  9. RoSy

    28/11/2015 at 05:35

    Stuff like this gives me the willies. And – to think – some don’t learn from any of this. :/

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:16

      It really is crazy that we don’t see things like this and just say ‘never again’, it is powerful stuff but I am glad I experienced it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. macjam47

    29/11/2015 at 00:51

    Interesting post, Ste J. Also, very creepy – the subject matter, not your writing.

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    • Ste J

      30/11/2015 at 09:19

      I was sitting on my own writing the notes for it, looking around thinking that I should be immersing myself but I preferred to just dip a toe and I will remember that feeling for when I read more WWII history.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. Bumba

    29/11/2015 at 05:37

    Here in LA, we have a 20 or 30 ft section of the wall in front of one of the office buildings. The back was the east Berlin side, scarred and pock-marked by bullet holes and unfinished scribbling. It was gruesome and depressing to look at. They soon painted it over – probably to stop the office workers from suiciding. It’ amazing how the German people have overcome the weight of their past.

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    • Ste J

      30/11/2015 at 09:40

      How interesting to bring it over the ocean and the whole landmass to then paint over the bits that showed the horrors of history. Having said that work is bad enough without the heaviness of history adding to that. I do wonder if the younger generations of Germans have any sort of passed on guilt or whether they regard it as something that has nothing to do with them. It was only my social awkwardness and the language barrier that prevented me asking.

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      • Bumba

        30/11/2015 at 17:31

        The people inside the building had to look at the ugly side all day, so after a couple of months they threw some bright paint on it. I think the young Germans feel great shame over their past. As a Jew, I avoided Germany and German products for a long time, but now I’m buying the beer and also seeing also how many fine Germans there.

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        • Ste J

          30/11/2015 at 20:06

          It is interesting how quickly people adapt to what has happened in recent history, things move on, the population and ideal changes and the Germans do do good beer!

          Liked by 1 person

           
  12. Letizia

    30/11/2015 at 16:45

    The wall of index cards really got to me because if you just look at it from afar, it actually looks quite pretty, like modern art. And then when you realise what it represents….

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    • Ste J

      30/11/2015 at 19:52

      It did catch my eye, so few were brought to justice though which surprised me. The colourful nature was in such stark contrast to all the black and white photos but it is testament to cynicism (or realism) that there was a lack of just desserts when it was needed.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. shadowoperator

    01/12/2015 at 17:56

    I can tell that you were affected by what you saw; one wonders how modern-day conscientious German citizens feel about it. Guilt, no doubt, is there, but one wonders what else goes on in their heads when they read in the museum about that period of time.

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    • Ste J

      02/12/2015 at 14:51

      Had I made proper acquaintances in the time I was there I may have asked (politeness notwithstanding) but I think I will make that my goal for next time, it would be fascinating to find out the locals thoughts, both young and older. It was a relief to leave there and go and stand in a frivolous Christmas market for a bit. A big steak later on in the day cured my subduedness though.

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  14. writersideup

    03/12/2015 at 05:27

    Ste J, it is totally understandable how you felt in this place. The horror of it all, especially having so many pieces of it right there in front of you, had to be too much to bear. Do you read/speak any German? Was anything written in english so you could understand it?

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    • Ste J

      03/12/2015 at 15:22

      I know the odd German word but that is all, with just over a day to pack and get back to Nottingham and sleep for the early flights I didn’t get much chance to swot up. There were English translations to make it accessible for non German speakers but even if it hadn’t the photos and videos were enough for the imagination to conjure up the horror.

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  15. Sherri

    04/12/2015 at 09:30

    Grim indeed…but important to visit and I feel your heavy emotion. It seems incredulous that this happened, but it did… I planned a post about Oradour-Sur-Glane, we visited in September (too much going on that’s played havoc with my blogging lately but will post at some point…). A village in France still kept as it was after the desecration commited by the SS in 1945, killling a village full of innocents in revenge for the capture by the French Resistance of one of their Generals. It was ordered by de Gaulle to stay as it was as a memorial to all who lost their lives that day. It’s shocking to see all those cards of those who got away with their crimes. A tangible reminder of injustice and the evil of such men…

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    • Ste J

      04/12/2015 at 20:10

      I look forward to that post my friend, I think it is a wonderful tribute to remind people of the horrors of innocents in war, which is still in the news today, it never seems to go away.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Sherri

        05/12/2015 at 12:19

        Yes, you’re right, it never goes away does it? I watched a video yesterday on another blog that made me weep. I posted just now as I wanted to let everyone know why I’ve been away from blogging for a little while, not all bad reasons, but then on Wednesday I had a car crash if you can believe it. Still, no injuries, but…anyway, you will read all about it when you are able. I had to share the video and you’ll see why. But be prepared, it will move you profoundly as it did me. I’ll do that post but not until after Christmas. It’s just so awful right now isn’t it with all these shootings left right and centre. Too much. Well my friend, I’ve gone on long enough. Time for a pint I think…or maybe a swift half…

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        • Ste J

          05/12/2015 at 18:38

          I’m glad you didn’t get any injuries, it is a real shock when involved in a car crash, I trust you will be taking it easy for a bit and resting. I will be checking out your blog tomorrow, I slept until 4pm today, I guess I needed it after all the work but it has put out my blogging commitments for the day so I shall be back with you tomorrow as its nearly time for my next night shift now. I will join you in a pint or perhaps two because we deserve it.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Sherri

            06/12/2015 at 17:29

            Ahh…thank you so much, I’m okay after the initial shock, just waiting to get the repairs done now. You’re working hard my friend, doing great with your blogging while working the night shift. That’s tough. I don’t blame you sleeping in and I hope you get to do so today too and have some time off soon. And I look forward to sharing a couple of pints when you are up and about…

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            • Ste J

              06/12/2015 at 18:24

              I made myself get up today as I am a day late in getting around people’s blogs, I do a bit of editing as well, so need to be able to get a lot done with my time. I have a night off tomorrow night so one night for me to get through and I will be happy and maybe treat myself to a sleep then…before it all starts again. You should take some time for yourself as well my friend!

              Liked by 1 person

               
              • Sherri

                07/12/2015 at 12:23

                That’s good, glad you get a break…but busy times and so much to get done in those small windows of opportunity. And I will try, I will try my friend!

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        • writersideup

          05/12/2015 at 18:57

          I haven’t had time to read all comments, but caught this one, Sherri, because of Ste J’s response. I’m glad there were no injuries, too. Car’s can be repaired/replaced. Humans—not so much.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Ste J

            05/12/2015 at 19:14

            Wise words, you can’t replace Sherri!

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          • Sherri

            06/12/2015 at 17:23

            Thank you so much…you are so right, I am so grateful it wasn’t worse.

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  16. Amethystmist

    08/08/2016 at 20:03

    Very informative blog post. The first bookmark Ive had saved that Ive been meaning to read since I got my replacement phone. I’ve only recently found out a couple of basic things about it (my knowledge of this sort of thing is more related to China and ‘the autonomous region of tibet’ and the torture that goes on there secretly for no good reason. I have to be careful that I dont read anything too in depth about it though or I’d feel really upset and desparate).

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    • Ste J

      10/08/2016 at 18:50

      I appreciate you saving it and having a read my friend. It is amazing how affecting going to a place with history can affect someone…I have read loads of horrible details but being where it was decided…it is good that we can confront such horrors. Then again as you say so much goes on secretly or just not reported by the media, it is not just unsettling but but should be extinguished from this ‘civilised’ century.

      Like

       

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