Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Topography of Terror

That was the title of the museum: The Topography of Terror. It was set up in the middle of a large urban lot filled with drab gray stones. (That’s expensive real estate) And in the middle of the drab gray stones was a drab steel building—very plain and modern and functional—but drab. A path wandered around the stones highlighting various historic sites but the drabness, the grayness of it all grabbed my attention. The historical setting of the building was also attention grabbing. It was the former location of the headquarters of the Nazi SS, and the Gestapo—the long arm of the Nazi party during the twelve years of Hitlers rule over Germany in Berlin. The museum was set back from a display located in the Gestapo’s exposed basement, highlighting the rise and fall of the Third Reich, the eventual rises of communism, and the creation and demise of the Berlin wall. The wall, which ironically bordered the property, was a prominent part of the display.

This museum, and the display it highlighted, took up nearly an entire city block. The irony of the location, the choice of stone, and the color were not lost on me. The German people were saying, “The bareness of this property, the ugliness of it, represents the bareness, the ugliness of this part of our history. It is barren, ugly, dark—but its part of us and we will let the world see what these kinds of choices lead to.” An ominous quote from Heinrich Himmler garnished the windows outside the building though, for the life of me, I for some reason didn’t write it down. The scene was quiet and surreal. Nearby was the site of Hitlers bunker—the place where he stayed and eventually committed suicide near the end of the war. It’s a parking lot now.

The logical and practical implications of the social Darwinism that led to the Nazi worldview are still practiced and at work in our world today. That people don’t seem to see that puzzles me. Inside the museum one can listen to speeches by Nazi leaders, like Himmler, espousing the reasons for their choices. As the war ended, and the Nazi leadership fled for their lives, many like Himmler, chose to commit suicide rather than explain, and then be held accountable for, the atrocities that they’d fostered on those they didn’t like. The hardest part in all of this is to recognize the Topography of Terror that resides inside each of us. Its not popular to say or think, and may even be offensive to some readers, but the topography of terror is resident inside the human heart. The heart—we can’t live without it and yet in it there is the potential for great evil. Sobering!!