Photo: Nihad Nino Pusija / Topography of Terror Foundation
12 February 2013 was a chilly and hazy day; I felt an ominous presence as I set foot in the ruins of GESTAPO in the Grey City of Berlin. There stood a modern, immaculate building. My saliva dried out like ashes when faced with the pristine glass cube that stood parallel to what was left of the Berlin Wall and the Nazi headquarters. The place smelled of cleaning products, the taste of bleach was overwhelming – as if they could scrub the horrors displayed in the murals from our minds if they used enough of it. The light coming through the glass windows worked as holophotes, highlighting the darkness of the exhibits in the Topography of Terror.
The chills down my spine had nothing to do with the freezing weather, the heaviness of the place hang above me like a cloud ready to shed its tears and in a never-ending mourning the loss of herds of innocents. The museum was full of people like me, curious wanderers who refused to let the Holocaust be forgotten or treated as anything but mass murder – at least that’s what I’d like to believe; it’s better than tourists ticking a place off their checklist.
What I saw there will haunt me forever. No, I am not Jewish, Romani, Polish, homosexual, or physically debilitated, but like all of the victims, I too am human. I remember pictures of pre-schoolers huddled up for an imminent death, locks of hair displayed as proof that these humans who were wiped out like a stain, once breathed. A Romani woman, immortalised in a photograph, undressed as the day she was born – her body was carved in slashes like a wooden sculpture – bald and bare for the entertainment of the crowd that gathered to watch her humiliation, a performance whose soundtrack was one of joy.
Files were framed in all its glory, the glass free of fingerprints; documents looked preserved, cherished even, in a twisted way. Many of them displayed proudly the signature of Adolf Hitler. The face of the Führer was everywhere, stamped in the walls in photographs some admirers snapped of his famous speeches, his followers looking at him with something akin to worship – ready to follow the footsteps that would stain a nation and destroy many others. They would paint a continent in crimson and ash whilst an entire nation would Heil a dictator and wave their weapons like paintbrushes.
More constant than his face though, was the Swastika – it was worn with pride as books were burned, as guards sent thousands into a chamber they would never come out of, as families were split, as the reality of war cut a river of death across the continent. They created chaos to achieve purity in a world that was so hungry for blood that would accept any prey. At first, they were picky with flavour, but then, the famine was such that anything with a spark of defiance would be sacrificed.