Trapped: A Metaphorical Reenactment of Denial (2/3)

The lower level of the Jewish Museum where my disorientation began. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

It seemed so simple to leave the Jewish Museum. How hard could it be to leave a contemporary building designed for people to come and go as they please? As I continued through the top floors of the museum, expecting to find an exit at any moment, I began to realize how mistaken I was. I couldn't for the life of me find an exit that didn't have an alarm hooked up to it and every docent I found was in the middle of a large or private tour of the museum. Quickly walking through the exhibit, it became clear that the only way out was to go through the entire thing. So, I pressed on, following the arrows on the floor that presumably led to the exit. This should have been an easy task, but I found myself looping back to previous locations and unable to discern exactly where certain arrows were pointing. I became more and more frantic as I desperately searched for an escape from the museum as the piece of Jewish history around me became more and more focused on the persecutions and atrocities suffered by the Jewish community over time. When I would loop back to certain points, it was almost as if the exhibits there were deliberately pulling me back in an effort to force my attention to its content.

The Garden of Exile could be seen from the windows as I became more and more desperate for an exit of some kind. Photo: Thomas Bruns.

When finally reaching the lobby again, I was relieved that I could finally leave and try to catch up with my colleagues who were well ahead of me at this point. I didn't think that I would be stuck in another limbo state unable to find the actual exit. The entrance of the museum is strictly one-way with security scanners and guards, so that wasn't an option. The signs I saw pointed to the right for the exit and led me to part of the Museum Gardens. A docent at the entrance smiled and I beamed back thinking I had made it out, but the end of the garden yielded nothing but a sturdy fence barring my passage. I backtracked and saw a turnstile near where I entered the garden, but that proved too be locked. The docent, noticing my confusion, pointed me back inside in order to exit the museum. Again, I was at a loss since the signs indicating the exit seemed to point to areas where I had already been. The staff of the coat check tried to help, but I was still unable to find it.

Then, at last, I noticed a small recessed area from the lobby between the entrance and the bookshop with a silver turnstile and the German word for 'exit' (Ausfahrt) written in an ever so slightly darker shade of silver that, for me, was easy to miss. It was during this final portion of my escape from the museum that I realized the beautiful metaphor that I was acting out and that the museum may be purposefully designed to induce. In the West, it isn't uncommon to find people who look at the notion of Jewish persecution with a skeptical eye. This can range from ardent Holocaust deniers to microagressive stances that Jewish people "don't/didn't have it that bad." When confronted with solid counterarguments about the reality of the topic, they use logical fallacies to try and escape the reality of Jewish history.

One of many such spaces throughout the Libeskind Building, the Memory Void features the haunting Schalechet installation by Menashe Kadishman. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

I was inadvertently playing out that mental process as I attempted to escape a physical representation of Jewish history for the sake of a diversion that had nothing to do with the museum's focus. I didn't want to be there anymore just as an anti-Semite doesn't want to think about the realities of the Jewish experience. Institutions like the Jewish Museum are essential for forcing an authentic remembrance of this subject and all the dark and deplorable human acts that have been carried out against it. Regardless of any criticisms against the government of Israel and their human rights violations against the Palestinian people, the larger history of Jewish culture and the pain it's members have had to endure for eons cannot be ignored. This is but one example of the greatest lesson that Berlin has to offer: never shy away from the difficulties and horrors of the past for the sake of nostalgic idealism. The same loud and public awareness of the dark parts of the past is present throughout the city's urban landscape.