Seventy years ago, Auschwitz, the Nazi regime’s largest death camp, was liberated by the Soviet troops. In remembrance of the 7 million Holocaust victims, the U.N. established January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day—a day that also urges all U.N. member nations to actively educate future generations about the Holocaust in order to help prevent future acts of genocide. To aid in that remembrance and education effort, Daniel Libeskind, an acclaimed architect of Polish Jewish descent, designed the award-winning Jewish Museum Berlin; one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Read on to learn more about how the impressive architectural design promotes understanding about the Holocaust and the history of the Jews in Germany.
Opened to the public in 2001, the Jewish Museum Berlin is considered one of Libeskind’s most famous works and has helped inspire his designs for two other Holocaust monuments: the Holocaust and Liberators Memorial in the U.S. state of Ohio, and Canada’s National Holocaust Memorial, which will be completed in Ottawa later this year. From above, the Jewish Museum Berlin looks like an exploded Star of David; an abstract form that translates to angled spaces alternating between light-filled voids and dark shadows. The deconstructivist-style building was designed a year before the Berlin Wall came down, and is only accessible via an underground path from the old “Kollegienhaus” building, which houses the other half of the museum.
According to Libeskind, the concept for the design was based on three insights: “it is impossible to understand the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous contributions made by its Jewish citizens; the meaning of the Holocaust must be integrated into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin; and, finally, for its future, the City of Berlin and the country of Germany must acknowledge the erasure of Jewish life in its history.”
The zigzagging design features three “Axes”—intersecting and axial pathways—each with a different narrative to symbolize the three stories of Jewish life in Germany: their roles in Germany from past to present, the Holocaust, and emigration from Germany. The first route takes visitors to a dead end at the base of the Holocaust Tower, a 79-foot-tall concrete silo. The second corridor takes visitors to the outdoor Garden of Exile. The third and longest path goes up the Stair of Continuity and into the permanent exhibitions. A vast linear void cuts across these zigzagging paths to symbolize absence.