From the Jewish Museum to the Stasi Museum / Yoani Sanchez


The Jewish Museum in Berlin

The building is shaped like a dislocated Star of David. Gray, with a zinc-clad facade and little openings that provoke a strong sense of claustrophobia. The museum is not only the objects on its walls and in its display cases, the museum is all of it, each space one can move through and even the voids — with no human presence — that can be glimpsed through certain gaps. There are family photos, books with their gold-embossed covers, medical instruments, and images of young people in their bathing suits. It is life, the life of German Jews before the Holocaust. One might expect to see only the testimonies of the horrors, but most dramatic is finding yourself facing the testimony of everyday life. Laughter captured — years before the tragedy — is as painful to look at as are the emaciated corpses and piled up cadavers. The proof of those moments of happiness make the tears and pain that follow more terrifying.

After a time between the narrow corridors of the place and amid its bewildering architecture, I go outside and breathe. I see spring greenery in Berlin and think: we can’t allow this past to ever return.

A tiny window, the only source of light in a German Stasi cell.
A tiny window, the only source of light in a German Stasi cell.

And not very far from there, stands the Stasi Museum. I enter their cells, the interrogation rooms. I come from the perspective of a Cuban who was detained in the same place, where a window looking outward becomes an unattainable dream. One cell was lined with rubber, the scratch marks of the prisoners can still be seen on its walls. But more sinister seeming to me are the offices where they ripped — or fabricated — a confession from the detainees. I know them, I’ve seen them. They are a copy of their counterpart in Cuba, copied to a T by the diligent students from the Island’s Ministry of the Interior who were taught by GDR State Security. Impersonal, with a chair the prisoner can’t move because it is anchored to the floor and some supposed curtain behind which the microphone or video camera are hidden. And the constant metallic noises from the rattling of the locks and bars, to remind the prisoners where they are, how much they are at the mercy of their jailer.

After this I again need air, to get out from within those walls. I turn away from that place with the conviction that what, for them, is a museum of the past, is what we are still living in the present. A “now” that we cannot allow to prolong itself into tomorrow.

10 May 2013