Photographer Jason Langer spoke at Kennesaw State University’s Museum of History and Holocaust Education on Nov. 8, to commemorate the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht or Night of the Broken Glass, as it is sometimes called.
The event memorialized one of the important turning points in the Nazi Holocaust in Europe.
On Nov. 8 in 1938 the Hitler government began two days of attacks on Jewish owned businesses, synagogues and other Jewish institutions to formally initiate the active annihilation of Jewish life in the country. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed or damaged, 267 synagogues in Germany, Austria and the Czech Sudetenland were destroyed, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The event was said to have foreshadowed the decision in 1942 to implement what the Nazis euphemistically called, “The Final Solution.”
For Langer, the rampage in the German streets and other territories they controlled, has become a symbol of the troubled relationship with Germans and is remembered to this day. It helped to motivate his return to Germany in 2009 to examine that relationship through the lens of his camera. He spent five years repeatedly returning to Berlin, the German capital to photograph reminders of the Nazi era that are still a part of the city’s life. In an interview he said the project provoked, in a sense, a catharsis, in his feelings about what happened there so many decades ago.
“I was instantly brought back to those feelings about not only Germany and German people but thinking of Berlin as the seat of the “Third Reich.” And so, I took it upon myself to go there and photograph important places, historically, for Jewish people but then also just get a sense of the city itself as it is now, because I know it’s changed a lot.”
On his repeated visits he crisscrossed the city, taking thousands of pictures that he culled for the exhibit at KSU, some extraordinary and some very ordinary. There is a striking image of the ornate facade of what remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof, the old train station from which at least 50,000 Jews were shipped to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe. In the northern suburbs of the vast city, which stretches 23 miles northward and 28 miles east to west there is Sachsenhausen, one of the earliest concentration camps. Langer photographed the crematorium, still intact and the eerie long tunnel where so many Jews walked to their deaths.
He also photographed the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, near the Brandenberg Gate, designed by the New York architect, Peter Eisenman. Across an open space of nearly 60,000 square feet, there are 2,711 grey concrete boxes in rows of various heights that encourage visitors to walk among them. All these structures are a reminder to Langer that “history can be found in the city’s architecture everywhere.”
The exhibit at KSU is based on a published large format book of his photographs of Berlin which contains several short, but insightful, essays about the experience of living with the horror of what happened there. A German Jewish essayist, Shelly Kupferberg, eloquently writes of her emotions that she lives with each day in a country where many Jews died.
“Grief, escape, pain, violence, expulsion — these exact experiences exist surely in every family,” Kupferberg points out. “What does not, however is the thought of being exterminated. The thought remains incomprehensible to this day, and it asks so much of you.”
In his lecture at the exhibit, Langer also addressed those feelings that came to him as a flâneur, a French noun that connotes a thoughtful explorer of urban spaces. As he mentioned in his lecture, despite his long strolls through the city, the experience left him “feeling haunted in a certain way.”
“You feel these Jewish ghosts,” he told me, “And feel and hear their stories everywhere you go.”
But Langer did not just speak of the past in his Kennesaw lecture. He saw in the faces he photographed on the streets of a new generation, with new ideas. There is even something of a renaissance, as he described it, of Jewish life in Germany today. Even though many Jews thought they would never, ever return, there has been a significant movement back to Germany, even by young Israelis. Still he says, his impression, after his long walks in Berlin and nearly 85 years of history since Kristallnacht is there remains much to be done.
You feel these Jewish ghosts. And feel and hear their stories everywhere you go.
“There is a kind of outsider-ness that Germany is still dealing with when it thinks about Jewish people, and they are trying to do whatever they can to overcome that. So, there is a real active daily attempt at reintegration of the Jews.”
- Bob Bahr
- Photographer Jason Langer
- Kennesaw State University
- Museum of History and Holocaust Education
- Night of the Broken Glass
- Austria and the Czech Sudetenland
- The Final Solution
- Third Reich
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
- Brandenberg Gate
- Peter Eisenman
- Shelly Kupferberg
- Anhalter Bahnhof