Gleis 17

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Perspectives

What do you see in this photo?

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It’s not very good, really. Railway tracks, pretty boring. It should have something dramatic, something that catches the eye, something in the foreground.

So as a photo, not up to much.

But this is Platform 17 at Grunewald train station in Berlin. It’s the platform trains departed from in the 1940s, heading to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and other similar places. It’s now a permanent memorial to that period in German history. I doubt most people know it exists.

Along the platform are metal plates, each showing the date, number of Jews deported, and the destination. The rest we can imagine. I was particularly touched by this one:

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It wasn’t 100 people on that one day in 1942, it was 101. And for some reason, that one person made a difference to me. It was more personal.

The other thing which struck me amongst the horror that this platform represented in a small way was the number of people who were still being found and deported as late as the spring of 1945. To have survived for all those years and then to have been discovered so close to the end of the war.

So the photo wasn’t meant to be technically good, it was meant to be a reminder. Changing our perspective is sometimes the most important thing we can do in a situation. Much more prosaically, I was reminded of that on two recent occasions.

You are running late, in traffic, and a car wants to pull in front of you. You might miss the next set of lights if you let it in. And then you realise that you recognise the driver, it’s someone you know. Of course you let them in, it’s become personal, not an abstract question of values.

Or you are watching a concert and some teenagers in front of you start climbing on each others’ shoulders, holding some huge video camera and blocking your view. How annoying. And then someone else asks them what they’re doing. It’s a school project, they’re on an exchange, learning about the country. And all of a sudden, who cares about missing the view for a few minutes while they film the experience they are having? Again, there’s a personal connection all of a sudden.

Three recent reminders for me that sometimes, all we have to do is change our perspective to change a situation, because it’s not what’s happening that’s the problem, it’s how we’re interpreting it.