Reflections on a Topography of Terror


I’m trying to get my thoughts together here in the first week of Trump’s presidency.  It’s hard, because I am feeling so rattled, so apprehensive, and frankly, so sick to my stomach.  I live and operate out of a place of deep optimism and hope, always, but I am finding that place hard to reach today; and I am fearful that at some point, I’m simply no longer going to be able to find it at all, as it recedes further and further away from the new daily reality.

I don’t want a wall.

I don’t want a pipeline, let alone two.

I don’t want torture.

I want continued support and a warm welcome for immigrants–from ALL countries.

I want women’s healthcare protected overseas.

I want full support for the NEA, NEH and PBS.

The only recent good news is that I also want a daring, defiant National Park Service–and it turns out I have it!

I was in Berlin last week–I was there for a protest march at the Brandenburg Gate on inauguration day, too–and it was hard to ignore some parallels between the language and policies of Nazi Germany and some of Trump’s rhetoric and recent policy decisions.  Let me be clear:  I am not comparing Trump to Hitler, nor am I comparing 21st century United States to 1930s Germany.  However, what I am saying is that some of the language, some of the values, and some of the tactics that I have seen in the past few months have echoes in what I saw at the Topography of Terror–an outstanding museum of the Third Reich, built on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters.  (This is the website, if you want to learn more:  Topography of Terror)

For example:
*The use of public humiliation to shame people who disagreed or dissented with the government
*The demonizing of “outsiders” (like the Roma, for example) & the dangerous game of identity politics
*The use of economics to justify racist policies and to sway people to look the other way
*The deportation of people considered threatening
*The attempt to muzzle resisters
*Character assassination of a vulnerable minority population, largely through lies told about them
*Lying in general

This kind of behavior from governmental officials is seriously alarming; not only for what it is in and of itself, but for the ends to which it naturally leads.

All of this was reinforced by the remains of the Berlin Wall–you find them all over Berlin–and the lingering legacy of that border….

Did I mention I don’t want a wall?

There are other memorials as well, of course–this picture below is of the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  How many “ordinary” Germans could have envisioned what Hitler had in store?  How many of them had a sense something like this was going on?  I’m not sure which is more unsettling: to think that they did know, and did nothing; or to think that they were so focused on their own lives that they really didn’t see the signs of what was happening, that they just didn’t want to know.

There really is no excuse for ignorance, no justification for apathy–not then, not now.  The gospel calls us to action on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalized, in whatever time and place we find ourselves.  For all practical purposes, silence is acquiescence.  We are called to see, to speak, to stand up–not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for those who can’t.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on a Topography of Terror

  1. Amen, Kristin. I, too, have been feeling positively sick about all of the hatred and vitriol coming out of the Trump administration. I cannot accept this as our 'new normal.' I was in Berlin in 1972, long before the wall came down, and experienced a bad situation at Checkpoint Charlie. Visiting East Germany was an eye-opener, and solidified my appreciation for the freedoms we take for granted.We cannot accept this kind of repression in our country.


  2. Thank you, Zelma. I am with you about a “new normal”–it is easy for things to shift in such a way that what seem like “little” changes are accepted without thinking about where they are leading. Big evils build on small ones.


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