The Whole Truth or…A Day in The Jewish Museum in Berlin

Written by Nathalie Kalbach. Posted in Photos, The Traveling Artist

Disclaimer: This post is a very deep post. It contains my personal emotional and thought provoking experiences of visiting The Jewish Museum in Berlin. I write about this because this visit has impacted me a lot and I would love to share this because this blog is about my art work and my life as an artist. My art is often very emotional and a lot of my art work is influenced by experiences like this one. I would like to ask to keep any comments respectful – this is a very sensitive topic and I must say I am a bit scared to write about it.

I will not tolerate any hate-related comments. If you feel the need to do so- you are welcome to go to a far remote place in blog land and never ever return back to this website – because then this blog is clearly not written with you in mind!

 

NatKalbach_JewishMuseumBerlin

A couple months ago when Julie and I had already scheduled her visit to me, I heard about the Exhibition “The Whole Truth…Everything you always wanted to know about Jews” in The Jewish Museum Berlin. Many controversial newspaper articles can be found about this exhibition especially the part of the exhibition which became known as the “Jew in a Box”. In the exhibition a Jewish Person sits in a kind of a clear box and can be asked questions about Jews and Judaism. When Julie and I heard about it and read the articles we started discussing this a bit. It started as a discussion between an American and a German, a Jew and a non-Jew, two friends striving to understand cultural, historical and religious differences. We decided we would have to go ourselves to Berlin in order to have an opinion about this exhibition. And so we went.

JewishMuseumBerlin

The building itself is very impressive – there is an old part of the building as well as a new one built by architect Daniel Libeskind. I cannot remember when an architectural building had such a strong emotional impact on me.

Throughout the building Libeskind has created so called voids, empty spaces which represent the absence of Jews from German society.

NatKalbach_Void

 

One void is called “Holocaust Tower” . It is very oppressive and moving. It’s a 24 meter/78.7 foot high shaft of concrete illuminated by a single source of light.

The other void which left an unbelievable emotional and physical impact on me was a Memory Void containing an installation titled Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. “Over 10,000 open-mouthed faces coarsely cut from heavy, circular iron plates cover the floor”.

NatKalbach_FallenLeaves01

 

Upon nearing this void Julie and I heard this incredible loud noise which from a far away distance sounded first as a remote noise in a very busy cafe where dishes were clanking together but once we came closer and closer the sound was getting painful and shrill. Visitors are encouraged to walk into the void which turns darker and darker in the end.

NatKalbach_FallenLeaves02

 

I started stepping on the first faces and I stopped right away, I felt sick to the stomach and could not walk a single step further. I think I have never had this kind of reaction to any art I have ever seen and experienced before.

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The first time we went through the Special Exhibition the clear box was unattended. So we decided to come back later again. At the end of the exhibition we found this huge wall full with post-its where visitors were asked to leave their comments and questions about the exhibition. It was another deep emotional moment to read some of them – in all languages, by all kinds of different people , age groups, countries and faiths. Some post-its were rude and  made me swallow – like one in German that said: “None of my answers were answered by this exhibition and I will continue to have my prejudices” ,- many were written in a very narrow minded religious way – but there were also some like these:

NatKalbach_JM_PostItWall01

NatKalbach_JM_PostItWall03

NatKalbach_JM_PostItWall04

 

Later we came back and talked to the woman sitting in the clear box. Julie and I started talking to her and my first question was “How do you feel sitting in this box” and “What was your motivation of volunteering for this” . The answers and stories about her experiences were very touching. From outraged Germans that have ties to Nazi-perpetrators to outraged Jewish people being hurt that she would sit in a box like in a zoo, from Jewish women from the U.S. starting to cry because they could not grasp that a jewish woman would live in Germany to young people asking basic questions about the religion. She told us she had wanted to do this to get to know how people in Germany feel about it because she always felt being asked many a questions anyway when she told her friends she was jewish. What she didn’t expect was how emotionally draining this whole experience would be.

NatKalbach_JewishMuseumBerlin2

 

During our conversation many other people joined our group from all countries, jews and non-jews and we had a very lively and very interesting discussion. It was a wonderful experience the way how we all stood there and talked with each other. And then somehow the amazing woman was not alone in the glass box anymore. She was accompanied by a friend from South America and a man from Germany who said he never makes public to be jewish out of fear for the reaction. I know it is hard to grasp if you haven’t been there or if you are full of prejudices about this exhibition anyway- but this picture and this moment was a moment of peace and made me feel that there is hope for this world.

During and after the visit Julie and I spent many hours talking about our experiences in the museum, thoughts and feelings. It was very deep and open and honest. It also reminded me that art is something that provokes thoughts and feelings. As mentioned several times, this visit in the Jewish Museum has provoked many thoughts and feelings in very different ways in me, and sharing this with a friend is an experience I will always cherish.

Loves

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Nat

 

 

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Comments (44)

  • Anne Porretta

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    Nat,
    I held my breath when I saw the topic of your blog. The Holocaust holds deep personal pain for me, as I was a baby survivor at the end of the war. My mother and father were all that was left of a large and loving Jewish family in Poland. Everyone perished in the camps. Thank you for being courageous in posting about this–a museum I didn’t know existed, and one I could never visit.

    Reply

  • misty

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    thank you for sharing this. I have a huge heart for the jewish people and this brought tears to my eyes…especially seeing the faces represented. There is something kind of awesome knowing that you and Julie shared this experience together!

    Reply

  • Ally

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    It is a brave pos & you are a brave girl for writing it. Thank you for doing so. It sounds like a very eye-opening place. I am so glad you were able to go with a close friend and discuss openly with each other. I so agree with the post-it note showing the world – why not indeed?

    Reply

  • Thea

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    What a experience is this. Several years ago when i was a teenager i visited Camp Westerbork in Drenthe. It was in the day’s before May the 4th. This is when the Netherlands remembers the victims and fallen soldiers of ww2. To see the railroad where trains came in and the baraks where they lived in. It was horrible. Can’t even imagine how that must have been. I’am so gratefull for the freedom we are living in now. A freedom that was not cheap! If people blame Germany for the war, let them look inside their heart and ask them self: How clean is my country? Because i know from historybooks and storytelling that every country can be blamed for it. So, let’s love one and eachother and never ever ever forget what has happened so we won’t be making the same mistakes again. Thanks for sharing this Nathalie.

    Reply

  • Carole Miller

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    What a wonderful way to share thoughts and experiences! It must have been such a warm experience to share the museum with a dear fellow artist friend, and both of you united by love of art, people, heritage and beliefs. Your unique friendship was made to share this extraordinary experience together. I envy you both. I envy your talent, friendship and opportunity to share such a moving and emotional exhibit that shows how art can cross all boundaries of life.

    Reply

  • Corrine

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    Thanks Nathalie for sharing such a deep and personal experience. The museum is so visceral and even seeing your photo of those iron faces brought huge emotion to me. I am not Jewish(my husband is) but I went to visit Auschwitz many many years ago and got to the gates and could not go in because I felt this overwhelming energy from the souls within. I hope the power of that building by Libeskind can be a healing place for many…a place to confront and deal with feelings and history in a way that leads to acceptance. Thank you for being brave enough to share yours and Julie’s experience there. xox

    Reply

  • Avatar of

    sue_clarke@hotmail.com

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    Wow…Fallen Leaves made me cry. I can see how this was an emotional day and how nice to be able to share it with a close friend. Brave of you to share.

    Reply

  • Tsila Sofer Elguez

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    Thank you for this moving post.

    Reply

  • Jean A Marmo

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    A long time ago, I spent a year in Berlin but never got to visit Auschwitz. I cannot even imagine such a museum but was drawn in by your observations, thoughts and feelings. How powerful and, I am sure, overwhelming. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  • Sharon

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    The only thing I can even say now is…wow! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings Nat….wow! Yea wow!

    Reply

  • Vicki

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    Hi, Nathalie,
    I want to add my thanks to the others for sharing your experience. Thank you also for the poignant reminder that art can be a means for initiating communication through the soul.

    Reply

  • Madeline Rains

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    This was so moving, even just with pictures, especially the faces and the voids representing the lack of Jews in Germany. I did not know that prejudice against Jews was still such an issue there. I guess it is everywhere and I am just naive. That man who normally never tells anyone he is Jewish and is sitting in the box? wow.
    My grandfather was a Russian Jew. He was killed when my mom was 13 and my mother’s mother hid the fact that he was Jewish. I don’t know why as I don’t know her. I found out that he was Jewish from my great aunt after my mother died, at 46. She never knew. She strongly embraced the Jewish culture. I wish she could have known. Why such ignorance and fear?

    Reply

  • Kathy P

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    Thank you for sharing this beautiful and deeply personal experience with us here, Natalie. Very moving, and such an important issue today—and not just for those who are Jewish. In my heart, I believe that it is experiences like this one that really ope our wold view and make us grow as human beings.

    Reply

  • Louise Dahlgren

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    My brother became a conservative Jew in 1977. I became a Jew, along with my husband, in 1998. My brother and I have always felt that we were strange because we never felt comfortable in a “church” setting. We felt we were Jews. Thank you for sharing this museum. Everyone should be uncomfortable when entering a house of horror. Nothing about exterminating life should be tolerated. We, also, must remember that many others, not Jews, were murdered because of sexual preferance, disability, or a child.

    Reply

  • Vicky

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    I, too, was moved by all the iron faces on the floor. I feel sure that I would not have been able to walk on them. I’m not Jewish but I am an American with German roots and the Holocaust is very disturbing to me as a Christian with a love for Jews and ALL peoples. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Thanks for sharing your experience! I would love to visit Germany sometime. My maiden name is Brandenburg. I don’t think you can get much more German than that, eh? :D Wish I had developed an interest in my ancestry before my parents died. I would love to know more about my roots. Maybe someday.

    Reply

  • Susan Kopp

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    Wow, I hadn’t realized I had held my breath reading this post until the end when I took in a huge rush of air. I often wonder peoples collective responses to such a horrific time in history. I learned of the Holocaust 48 years ago in a history class using a magazine article from LOOK magazine in an article about Treblinka. From that moment on I vowed to never forget the pain and suffering of the Jews and to pass on the information so it wouldn’t be lost. My daughter did a paper on it in high school that is now being used to teach this bit of history and yet I am constantly surprised how raw this makes me feel each and every time it comes up in my conscience. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Reply

  • Avatar of

    petyvic@gmail.com

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    Oh, Nat! this article is so appealing!…i remember details of this era of terror thru the radio, and also my oldest relatives discussed about this… so i will post on FB because i I want my grandchildren to read these episodes and see those photos! They are our future generation and i want them to learn about this time of horror, which i consider existed for no other reason than mental illness of discrimination. Very many thanks for this!

    Reply

  • Joe Rotella

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    Amazing post, amazing museum. When I visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC I left so emotionally drained I couldn’t do anything but crash the rest of the day. I can only imagine how you felt. Walking on the “faces” would have crushed me. I love how art can move an educate like this..stimulate discussion…. stimulate thought and feeling…wow! Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

  • Jeni

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    Wow! Thank you for sharing this powerful experience. The 10,000 faces was too much to comprehend. What was at the end, in the darkness? What was the noise?

    Reply

    • Avatar of Nathalie Kalbach

      Nathalie Kalbach

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      Jeni the noise was created by the people walking on the faces. It made them literally scream. And in the end you just had to turn around and go all over back. Nat

      Reply

  • Limor

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    Nat!
    I know why I just adore you! One of the many things that’s missing in society is being able to speak with each other and share with each other hard topics in case we offend someone’s opinion so instead we sit and stew, judge others without ever speaking..
    Your post was incredible and reading your experience about the museum was simply an experience for your readers… I was tearful through your whole post as I could feel the weird feeling in your stomach…
    As artists and educators it is so important to keep topics like this alive and continously share and evoke topics that will hopefully in the end bring us all closer together…. I too am Jewish but that’s not what touched me about this. The Jews are not the only religion that has been attacked, there’s other races/religions etc that are still being killed, hurt, judged etc and it is imperative this world starts to operate with love and compassion and understanding…. I really do believe there’s hope and the only way is through education and communication. I believe this post is one of those ways as it opens the doors for discussion. Thank you for opening a door Nat, I’m inspired by your courage to share your experience with your readers….I simply adore you!!! Much love
    Limor

    Reply

    • cora mutsemaker

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      Thank you for sharing your feelings , you touched my heart .
      My stomach turned around when I saw the faces. Saw the faces of my
      24 family members taken away during the war .
      Again , thank you for understanding.

      Reply

  • Lisa

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    Thank you for posting your experience, Nat. You were able to convey the power and rawness of the subject and the museum. I am particularly moved by your telling of the coming together in conversation at the box, that the woman was then joined by two others, the German man “coming out of the closet” by stepping into one so to speak. Powerful.

    Reply

  • Martha Richardson

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    Thank you for sharing this post. To be able to go with JUlie and shared your experiences together had to have been incredible! I think of my German {well at one time Loetzin,East Prussia} heritage and how affected I have been about the Holocaust & survivors. It’s a story that must be told over & over until people really GET IT!!!!!

    Reply

  • Riikka

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    Thank you Nathalie for sharing this. The Fallen Leaves made my stomach turn, too. Very powerful pictures and art.

    Reply

  • Nolene

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    Wow! Thank you for sharing. Your photos are amazing and just reading about your experience (and especially Fallen Leaves) made me emotional.

    Reply

  • Michelle Guest

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    Wow! A very emotional tour… Thanks for sharing it with us! I think walking on the faces on the floor would be hard to do. Thanks Nat…

    Reply

  • Carrie

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    Fantastic review of the exhibit and the museum space, Nat. It looks like probably the most powerful museum I’ve heard of. Even though I think almost all of us humans have some kind of prejudice whether we realize it or not, I have never understood prejudice to the point of hatred and abuse or violence. That seems to be truly the presence of evil in the world.

    The installations and the “Jew in a Box” idea are brilliant. It’s difficult for me to even look at the faces in the Fallen Leaves installation; I don’t think I could’ve walked on them.

    Reply

  • Nurse Ratchet

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    Nat…thank you so much for sharing such a poignant and personal experience accompanied by your amazing friend with us. Your beautiful souls are such inspiration to everyone you touch whether in person or via your art. Love ya LGL!!!

    Reply

  • Avatar of

    janet.l.barlow@gmail.com

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    Nat, thank you SO much for posting this. It’s such an important topic – and encompasses many topics, actually. Have you ever visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.? We went with our older teen boys years ago and it was also a very emotional experience. It’s so interesting how it’s designed. You start on an elevator that, when the doors open on the top floor, you walk out of to stunned silence as your eyes connect with larger than life photos. There were many displays that made me cry – and I wasn’t the only one. Interestingly, after the horror you’re met with upon the elevator door, as you travel down through the exhibit, it is arranged so that you become more aware of the spirit of the Jewish people, they’re hope to go on from there and the profundity of their culture. One of the most interesting – and hopeful – parts was listening to the recorded stories on a “telephone-like” device where actual Holocaust survivors are telling their stories. It was deeply moving. Don’t miss it when you get here. I’m just struck by the BEAUTY of a German Person and a Jewish Person (such as you and Julie) being able to have a heartfelt and genuinely loving conversation about all of this. There IS hope in this world despite those that would say otherwise. Thank you again for being brave enough to share! ♥♥♥

    Reply

  • Michelle

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    I’ve been curious about this exhibit ever since I read an article about it in the New York Times last summer. It wasn’t even up yet and people were already frothing at the mouth. I am glad someone thought if the “Jew In A Box” exhibit. The implications are serious and can be severely misconstrued but I think many people take prejudice and hatred based on “otherness” too lightly these days. This exhibit is shocking but it’s the best kind of art because it promotes open discussion- something that is much needed in this “post race” world.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts- I’ve often wondered how you felt about your country’s past. One of the things I love most about blogs is the personal stories people tell- I wish writers opened up more often. It’s hard since we blog about a very specific subject but it’s worth it. I swear if i had seen an evil comment i would have joined you in the royal blog beat down!
    I’ve wanted to visit Berlin for so long now- this makes me want to go even more! I would love to read some of the discussion you had with Julie- I bet I would learn a whole heck of a lot.

    Reply

  • Peg

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    Sounds like a profoundly moving experience, I can only imagine. So special that we have come far enough that you and Julie could experience it together with love and support for each other.
    Like Martha said, this is a story that needs to be told again and again so that it is never forgotten.
    Much love
    xx

    Reply

  • Nancy Sapp

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    I already knew that you & Julie were great artists & teachers (I follow your blogs & posts every day) but now I know that you’re both brave. I also wondered what the noise was at the end of the tunnel.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings throughout the post.
    Grandma Nancy

    Reply

    • Avatar of Nathalie Kalbach

      Nathalie Kalbach

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      Nancy , the noise was generated by the visitors walking on the faces…the “grinding” of the iron plates when walking on them – made them literally scream. That was the sound we heard in upon nearing the void. Nat

      Reply

  • Mary Werner

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    Fallen Leaves is the most perfect example of ART that I have seen. Walking down that hall would have been next to impossible but probably something I would have done to deeply instill the memory of that sacrifice of God’s people. Why Jews? They were killed only because of their belief in God! It ended with the return of a portion of Israel given back to the Jews (a land born in a day – Issaiah 66.8) and we are all blessed because of them. Thank you Natalie for posting this as I would never have experienced it without your blog.

    Reply

  • Helen

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    Bravo Natalie for posting about the experience you shared with your friend. I admire the artists who created this stark reminder of the brutality of racism and genocide. Your words made me ask myself what I can do, here and now, to welcome immigrants and refugees into my country. Thank you for your raw and visceral post.

    Reply

  • Cindi

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    Nat, thank you so much for this post, as hard as it must have been to write. What a moving experience to share with a friend, and now we blog readers can learn through you. Most of us won’t see this exhibit in person, so thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  • SusanJane

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    I cried when I was in the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem so many years ago and I’m not Jewish. It strikes me again that any group no matter what religion or race or nationality has to found museums and memorials to honor so many dead. There’s so much identity and so many memories tied up in what happened. I cry not just for the Jews who suffered and died but for our species that can’t seem to live with each other and our differences.

    Art has the capacity to say things that cannot be otherwise said. Your photos are testament to the incredible power of art and the creative spirit.

    Reply

  • Cuchy

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    You told me about it in june but I thought it was only the cube q&a exhibit. This has had to be impressive and so emotional. Too much “fallen leaves”
    Thank you for sharing. loves

    Reply

  • Laura Strack

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    Dearest Nathalie,
    I too have friends that are Jewish and I love them and their families, deeply. I thank God everyday for my friendship with them. We may never fully understand how someone could have so much hatred in their heart and could support such evil doings. Thank you to you and Julie for sharing your beautiful friendship and experiences with all the world to see. It is a true testament of how God wants us to live; love one another as I have loved you.
    In love and peace, always,
    Laura

    Reply

  • Willow

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    Thanks so much for sharing your emotional experience visiting the Jewish Museum with Julie. I am not sure I could get beyond those cement columns out front and if I did get myself inside, I could never walk across those faces, faces of my family, my people who perished. And as others mentioned, people are still being brutally murdered. When will we ever be able to respect each other no matter our differences…

    Reply

  • Bonnie Rabon

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    There is hope. There is!

    Reply

  • Diana

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    i simply can not ….. i have not a single sentence that will make sense…. thank you both for sharing your experience with each other and with all of us. Nat you are a very brave wonderful kind brave soul for sharing this with us! thank you xoxo

    Reply

  • Judith Kaufman

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    A very powerful article. I’m Jewish and live in America. I’m proud of you…that you posted this….We must teach the world and remind them to “never forget”.
    The Fallen Leaves…brought tears to my eyes. My grandfather was one of 8 siblings. He’d come to the US many years…some of family were able to come and yet, some went back to Germany and were lost in the Holocaust.

    Reply

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