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In Berlin, street art prompts PhD student to reflect on Holocaust remembrance

September 18, 2019

By Audrey Williams

The entrance to the alley next to Haus Schwarzenberg in the Scheunenviertel neighborhood of Berlin is nondescript, but once you step in, one of the city’s most dynamic street art scenes awaits.

“[It’s] a tiny alley with a whole other world inside,” says Fatma Jabbari, a doctoral student at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. While the alley’s walls are painted and papered over with new art on almost a weekly basis, one mural has remained untouched: a portrait of Anne Frank by Jimmy C.

Jabbari happened upon the alley during summer travel to Berlin following two weeks of research and academic development at Tampere University in Tampere, Finland, and at the Georg Eckert Institute in Braunschweig, Germany.

“I’m a researcher on religious minorities and state policies, and how [they] trickle down into social discrimination,” says Jabbari. Her research focuses in particular on the Jewish minority in her home country of Tunisia, where she says there is a “state-sanctioned public invisibility of anything that is not Muslim.”

As part of her academic work, she is partnering with a group of researchers to complete a project funded by the Academy of Finland and based at Tampere University titled “What Works? Youth Transitions from Education to Employment in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Jabbari’s work within the project, which “explores the dynamics of transitions to adulthood from the perspective of young people in the region,” according to the project website, brought her to Tampere University from June 14 to 19 for a strategic planning seminar.

During the week, she and her project partners participated in four days of workshops and presentations around the project’s goals and implementation. She was also able to present her research to faculty and students at the Tampere Peace Research Institute on June 17.

Within the scope of the project, Jabbari’s research focuses in particular on the livelihood strategies of Tunisians from religious minorities as they transition to adulthood—a transition that is made harder by the systems of inequality and the institutional discrimination they face.

“We have a lot of systematic problems that hinder the upward mobility of young people from religious minorities,” Jabbari says. One such problem is the educational curriculum in Tunisia, which she says is “tailored to cater to students from one religion.”

The issue of social identity in the Tunisian curriculum was the subject of research she presented this summer during the 6th Georg Arnhold International Summer School, hosted by the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) in Braunschweig from June 25 to 29.

Of the 90 applicants to the program, Jabbari was among 20 selected to participate in the week-long intensive focusing on “Global Citizenship Education and Citizenship Education in a Changing World.” Her paper, which she presented on June 25, was titled “The Discursive Production of Identity in Tunisian Social Science Textbooks: Belonging, Overlapping Meanings, and Societal Discrimination.”

ID: A seated woman with a laptop in her lap speaks in the center of the frame, while an out of focus woman on the right listens.

Fatma Jabbari was one of 20 academics selected to participate in the 6th Georg Arnhold International Summer School in Braunschweig, Germany, in June 2019. (Photo courtesy of GEI)

Like many academics who have the opportunity to use the summer months to conduct and present research abroad, Jabbari didn’t want to miss the opportunity to do some additional travel. Her mind went immediately to Berlin, a city she has always wanted to see.

For a student of conflict analysis and resolution, the city’s draw makes sense. During her visit, Jabbari made sure to visit the remains of the Berlin Wall as well as the DDR museum, which offers an interactive look at life in former East Germany.

However, when reflecting on her trip, she always comes back to that alley next to Haus Schwarzenberg and its portrait of Anne Frank.

Jabbari feels deeply impacted by the “gravity” of Anne Frank and her story, a gravity that drew Jabbari to Berlin in the first place. For Jabbari, the city’s history represents how Germany transformed from “a Nazi state into a fully-fledged liberal democracy that is inclusive and that actually recognizes […] its past and tries to build on it to promote individual freedoms and rights."

In both Berlin and Braunschweig, Jabbari was struck by the way that remembrance of the Holocaust is woven into German life, from the large-scale, like the Holocaust Memorial’s labyrinth of concrete stelae reminiscent of tombs, to the small-scale, such as the “stumbling stones” that have been placed in front of houses to remember the names of former Jewish occupants who were victims of, or displaced by, the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.

ID: Two gold plaques placed in a cobblestone sidewalk.

While visiting Braunschweig, Fatma Jabbari was struck by these “stumbling stones,” which are placed in front of houses to remember former Jewish occupants who were victims of the Holocaust. These stones indicate that Jacob Reiter and Wanda Reiter were Jewish Polish citizens residing in Germany who were deported to Zbaszyn, Poland, by the Nazi regime, where they were then killed. (Photo courtesy of Fatma Jabbari)

“I felt every bit of it,” she says of her visit. “It was mind-blowing, or at least surprising, to see how […] this country, with whatever it went through in terms of atrocities, actually is not erasing its past, it’s recognizing it.”

According to Jabbari, rather than ignoring the history of the Holocaust, or merely encapsulating it in a simple apology, Germany has woven remembrance into every facet of life, so that “wherever you go, you will be reminded that this is the history of Germany […] and this is what [Germany] should not be [ever again].”

For this conflict analysis and resolution student engaged in her own work on religious discrimination, social identity, and inclusion, the magnitude of Germany’s effort has stuck.

From the Cold War remains of a separation wall, to a labyrinthine monument to the victims of genocide, to a painting of Anne Frank in an alleyway of art, Berlin was the “life experience” Jabbari had hoped it would be.

Related people: Audrey Williams