Thursday, May 29, 2008

On mice, men, and memorials

So the article I'm writing at the moment (currently overdue to my own self-imposed time frames, but hey) deals in part with memorials and representations of pivotal events in history. Primarily, with our conceptions of war, and the life of the soldier.

However, when this article appeared on my Google Reader page, I got a bit reminiscent, and a bit thoughtful.

For those who haven't been to Berlin recently, there is a memorial there to the murdered Jews of Europe, in fact, the new memorial, to the homosexuals who suffered at the hands of the Third Reich is apparently across the road from it. Now, I deplore most modern art, but the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe ("the memorial") is quite astonishing. Never in my life have I been to a place that is quite of eerie. While I'm sure that a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau or the like will provide an even greater sense of loss, I was truly moved by the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. To do the night tour and visit the underground museum below the Stelae is an even more moving experience, and I strongly encourage everyone to make a visit, should your path take you to Berlin.

What I wanted to talk about, however, is the concept of a memorial. Now, as an Australian who has done his fair share of mind-numbing car trips across this great, flat, desolate country, I've seen many, many memorials to fallen soldiers: Philip D'Alton, who I mentioned in a previous article had a somewhat critical perspective on them. Sifu, I feel, was right. Memorials in our country are often muted versions of the truth, sanitised and commericalised in such a way that feeds us images that warp our perspective on the horrors of war. Not so in the memorial. Devoid of images so tacky as images of concentration camps, starving Jewry and corpses, the memorial instead conveys a deep sense of loss, by it's starkness. the particular concrete-esque substance of the Stelae soaks up sound, and turning corners is disoriented in the uniform field of Stelae and slowly undulating paths between. it is an inspired memorial that hopefully will continue to inform and challenge people on one of the horrors of the previous century.

So my question to the wider world is: what function does a memorial serve? Memorials in Australia are usually to commemorate battles and fallen citizens, while The Memorial instead commemorates a far different part of history: it remembers the sins of a nation. In light of "sorry," and all its press coverage, it gives one pause for reflection as to the status of the "sins of a nation." can a nation have sins? Are there things so terrible that a body of citizens can do that we become bound to our history? I think so, but I'd be interested to hear from others. It's my view that we have a moral obligation to remember history, lest it (please for give my cliches) repeat itself.

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