A few experiences in particular inspired Gideon to create an interactive and semi-private space on site, where visitors would be able express their thoughts and feelings, and consider the deeper meaning of one’s visit to such emotionally charged places.
A group of Dutch students and their Spanish-language teacher, who grew up in Argentina, visited Sachsenhausen. At the site of the former gas chamber and crematoria, the teacher began to cry. The students tried to console her, but she needed a private space, away from the pressure. During our walk back to the visitor-services building, she explained that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Argentina after the war, and that the intensity of the killing site must have overwhelmed her. Her family history and experience at the killing building are not uncommon, I told her, and she should take all the time she needed. After a long silence, she said that perhaps it wasn’t the site alone that brought on her breakdown, for she had no personal connection to Sachsenhausen specifically. Rather, her reaction was to the whole history of the Nazi camps and the Holocaust, and to the fact that none of her students knew that she is Jewish. When she returns to Holland, she said, she will tell them about her family history and background. But with an on-site outlet, she could have spent a few extra minutes articulating her thoughts in private, as could some of her students. Without an on-site booth, her initial and most uncut reflections are lost.
A teacher brought his class to Sachsenhausen on a frigid winter day. The students were underdressed for the extreme cold, but the teacher wanted me, their guide, to linger a bit longer on the former “roll-call” area, where prisoners were forced to stand for hours at a time as a kind of punishment regardless of the weather. “This is real Holocaust weather!” he beamed, explaining to me that he hoped the students would get a feel for what “camp life was like.” Now, with the Projected Memory installation, both the teacher and his students can reflect on their visit. The teacher might consider whether his dramatic tactic had the intended effect, and his students – without having to evaluate their teacher openly – might wonder whether standing in the freezing cold helped them to better understand the dangers of inmate life or whether a different approach might have been more effective.