we were neighbors


Tuesday 27th January: “Holocaust Remembrance Day”  or “Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus” or, with typically italian “understatement”, “Giornata della Memoria”.

I was in Berlin on Jan 27th and I visited the exhibition in the Rathaus Schoeneberg Town Hall: “Wir waren Nachbarn” – we were neighbors.

At the townhall all the victims of our Kiez  were listed, by name, occupation. A map highlighted were they lived. Gruenewaldstrasse. Close. Eisenacherstrasse. Pallasstrrasse. Really close.

No “masses” of human beings. But neighbors. Real people. With names, jobs, addresses, families.


Similarly to the panels that you can find in Schoeneberg, this initiative with its small scale, local roots, highlights the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt would put it.

The triviality of evil, as Matteo pointed out this week on Metapolis, is that it also is an urbicide, it happens in “normal places”. Where people go in their whereabouts. Not only in frightening prisons or on horrible battlefields. Factories. Streets of Poland. Stadiums in South America. Schools in Gaza. But also schools in Genova…

It’s easy for the citizens to forget and for the politicians to cover it up, when it’s just “those”.

When  walking you can see in Berlin brass Stolpersteine in the pavement in front of the houses were citizens lived a normal life, until they became victims of the holocaust. You can see NAMES.

The town now looks back to those murders and to its own urbicide. The exhibition is no sticker, it involved local citizens and students, the young interviewed the old.

The authorities must give space and opportunities, but then there’s more to it than a speech, there was real participation behind this initiative, just like for the Pigneto one. Real citizenship.

Brecht said that if you don’t care about “those”, someone soon may be after you.

Think about it. Denk mal…


7 Responses to “we were neighbors”

  1. 1 apu
    February 5, 2009 at 11:57

    Yesterday evening I went to a book reading in Trieste and I could listen to real stories of people deported to Risiera and then to Germany. The narratives were painful and they demonstrated again the banality of evil: “normal” places, “normal” people. I was struk by the fact of “your friends” that became “your enemies”: your best collegues that report you, your friends (with whom you were playng cards till few days before) that arrest you

  2. 2 stripedcat
    February 5, 2009 at 21:28

    …I was impressed by similar stories regarding the Fosse Ardeatine massacre. With even nazis disgusted by the fact that some italian citizens were reporting to them their neighbors, for the purpose of petty revenge

  3. August 26, 2012 at 18:54

    impressed by the words you found for the exhibition and sometimes depressed, because there is still so much work to be done. would you like to contact me? words matter and deeds do. sigrid, one of the members of frag doch! the community which is charge of the project now

  4. 4 stripedcat
    August 26, 2012 at 22:05

    dear sigrid
    thank you for your message…each time we have friends staying in schoeneberg we recommend them to to the rathaus and see the exhibition, telling them not speaking german will not be a barrier to understanding.
    we are “ab und zu” in berlin, but I will write you!

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