Bec – 27 October 2011
Today was the day I had been looking forward to and dreading, all in the very same heart beat.
I’ve always felt very strongly about the fact that we as humans travel around the world to see the most beautiful, most fascinating, most inspiring places on earth and we are all too happy to by pass or turn a blind eye to those places that emotionally or morally challenge us. Oddly enough, these are the locations in the world that offer us the greatest enlightenment, not only of the abhorent violence that humans are capable of…..but more importantly the strength of the human spirit, the ability to believe and survive….. even in the face of despair and hopelessness.
And so it was, armed with these beliefs that I set off for the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
The first thing that hits you, is just how close the camp is…….. and was to the center of Muinch.
We are staying in a major chain hotel, which is located on top of an SBahn station and all I had to do was catch a lift down from the lobby and there was a suburban train bound for Dachau.
When you pull up at Dachau train station you find yourself in the middle of a medium sized town, a happy neighbourhood with children cycling, adults shopping and life going on very normally…… all ten feet in front of the high fences and barbed wire.
I’m sure that’s how the Nazi’s got away with these atrocities…they simply carried them out in plain sight of everyone….people only start to question things if you try and hide them away.
A local bus dropped me at the front gate ….and I was instantly relieved to find a dignified, peaceful space that filled me with the feeling that I was entering hallowed ground….a sacred space.
The size of the Concentration Camp is overwhelming and I was not aware that the SS and Secret Death Squad also used it as their training grounds druing the Nazi reign, so the largest part of the camp is filled with very comfortable barracks, mess halls and manicured ovals. The rest was designated as Protective Custody Area.
The autrocities carried out at Dachau are well documented, mostly becuase the SS and SA officers took lots of photos of the inmates and how hard they were being made to work. Thanks to them we can use these images to educate future generations.
The grounds of the Concentration Camp are easy to navigate and have been well marked so that comparisons to ‘then and now’ are obvious.
It was in no way as distrubing or traumatising as I thought it would be…..in fact, I felt the message wasn’t quite strong enough….and this point was reinforced by the fact that German teenage students, at the memorial on a school excursion were making jokes and running around.
I’m sure it is a mixture of immaturity and a softly, softly approach…but I am convinced that my children at the age of 4,7 and 9 would have shown more respect.
In a society where young children have already been exposed to images of war, genocide, third world hunger, autrocities and revolution….simply from watching the nightly news…..how do you get the message across….how do you make them understand what these poor prisoners went through at the hands of their fellow human beings.
I came away from Dachau with very mixed feelings…….I was so proud to be able to celebrate the strength of the human spirit and to see that life goes on. The Jewish religion, culture and community thrives throughout the world…despite one man’s determination to wipe them from the face of the earth.
Yet at the same time….sadly I walked away with an overwhelming awarness that the true message is not getting through to most who visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. There may be a push for German schoolchildren to visit the Memorial site and learn about it….but the empathy and understanding is not there.
History is only worthwhile if we as human beings can learn from it.
I’m not convinced that as a race we are …….