>For a few days, after visiting the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial and the Sashenhausen concentration camp, I noticed the composition of my images had changed. I was dividing my photographs in half. Perhaps it was a subconscious influence of the binary systems I had observed.
Former President Bush lived in a binary world which is aptly illustrated in his words, “You’re either with us or against us.” Binary is about on/off, either/or and, on another level, them/us. It can also be in/out. It is you/me but not “we.” The Holocaust is an icon of binary policy. Through an extensive Nazi campaign, the Jewish population (along with gypsies, physically and mentally challenged people and political dissenters) was configured to be unlike everyone else. “You’re either like us and fit in or you’re out.”
We visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin where we reviewed this terrible history. We saw photos of German citizens wearing hooked-nose masks, mocking the “other,” de-humanizing Jews.
The Nazi binary system grew into an unimaginable extermination policy between 1933 and 1945. I sat in a darkened room at the Memorial where names of victims were projected onto four walls and a short biography was read both in German and English. The name of Yefim Mintz was projected on the walls surrounding me. He was just three-years-old when he was extinguished by the binary mentality carried to extreme. Four walls…three years…only two possibilities–live/die.
Although somewhat different in context, the Berlin Wall is another example of division caused by a non-mathematical binary system. The Wall divided Berlin for more than 28 years. We visited the East Side Gallery which displays art on a part of the Wall that was once Checkpoint Oberbaum Brucke. It was once a binary switch, in/out.
In 1961 politics divided people with the help of the Wall and now, after the wall’s destruction in 1989, the Wall has become a vehicle that brings people together through art. More than 100 artists from 21 countries have contributed to the world’s largest open-air gallery.
While we were looking at the art, a group of Chinese tourists insisted that we hold hands together in front of the Wall. The fact that the Wall can evolve from a divisive to a uniting force gives rise to hope. It also reminds us of the power of art.
I cannot help but think about how binary the U.S. has become and how crucial it is to move away from this perspective. Germany is evolving and, in some ways, is ahead of the U.S. As of the beginning of this year, same sex marriage is legal. The “others,” those who were once considered so different, are now more accepted as “us.” A metaphorical wall is beginning to crumble.
I’ve noticed, however, that an invisible wall still remains many places in Germany for those who must travel by wheelchair. Inaccessibility spells “either/or.” You either have two legs that work like everyone else’s or you just can’t get from here to there. Germany, as does the rest of the world, still needs to eradicate binary perspectives.
What can we do? As the Wall tells us, “Many small people who live in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.”