Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Important Day

Guys, just so you know part of this post could definitely be upsetting- I had not posted any graphic photos, but the topic is really devastating so please be warned.

Yesterday was a big day for me for a couple reasons.

The first is that it was the first day that I was 100% off my original itinerary- I mean like a continent of difference- because I was supposed to be in Israel yesterday, but ofcourse the old foot has changed everything. ( By the way, I still have not decided what I am going to do for those two weeks that I am thinking of going to Spain, however everyone who contacted me in answer to my Seville vs. Granada question voted Granada ( about 10 different people), so it seems likely I would go there if I still end up going. It sort of depends on how my Doctors appointment ends up going back in London tomorrow.) So yeah- yesterday sort of marked the divide between the expected and unexpected and I am now definitely in the realm of unexpected.

Second, it was Yom Kippur, as I mentioned before. I didnt end up going to services because it just seemed like such a process with security here, and I actually didnt even fast because I need to take food with this medicine that I take 4 times a day ( 4-5 pills four times a day to be exact), so the whole thing was a little unconventional.

However that leads me to the third reason why yesterday was important. I ended up going to Dachau yesterday, which for those of you who dont know, is the memorial site of an old concentration camp outside of Munich. Actually it was the first concentration camp to be opened in Germany, and was opened prior to the start of the world war.

I wasnt sure how I was going to react. When I was in Israel this winter and I went to Yad Vashem ( which is a Holocaust museum there) I had an intense experience ofcourse, but I felt that most of the information there was information that I had already worked to come to terms with, and otherwise the site sort of acted as a beautiful commemoration for me than one that shocked.

It was weird going inside the actual place that so much had happened- I had never done this before. I went to a sort of pre- concentration camp once outside of Prague, but never this. As soon as I stepped in I really had a visceral response to it and I sort of felt a lingering nausea for most of the time I was there. However, it is a lot to swallow when looking at these sort of drab buildings, and I really only understood their meaning in little glimpses and waves.

Apparently Dachau acted as a sort of model camp for the rest of the Nazis. It was a work camp, rather than an extermination camp- meaning that people were basically worked to death there rather than killed right away. This does not mean that people didn't die here though, I think that they said that about 25,000 people died here ( forgive me if my numbers are wrong, this is all from my memory of the tour).

It was amazing to walk through these buildings, and be in the very place where people were told to strip naked and shower and were humiliated. Or walk on the patch of green near the fence where you would have been immediately been shot if you had stepped on it. Or stand in the room where people were whipped or strung up by their arms (the wrong way so as to dislocate their shoulders) as punishment for stupid things, such as their shoes being too dirty- or their shoes being too clean meaning that they hadnt worked hard enough.

The conditions of this place got worse and worse as the time went on, and what started as an ugly ugly work camp, where people at the very least had food and beds, became a place that was unimaginable- five times as crowded as it should have been, people were fed sometimes only three hundred calories a day, and people were being wiped out from overwork and disease like typhus left and right.
Above: here is a picture of where each of the buildings where people slept had been, though they were torn down in the 60s I think. They built these structures in a way that is meant to remind you of mass graves as a sort of commemoration. Above: The inside of the camp- this building you can see is the "welcoming" building where people are showered and humiliated when they first arrive. The open space is where they took role call twice a day- which you could not be late for. If someone was missing all the thousands of people there had to wait until the person was recovered.
Perhaps the most chilling of the tour was of the crematorium...... I mean I dont even really know what to say. It was horrible. I think that the picture sort of says it all.

One thing that I wish I had taken a photo of was the floor plan for the crematorium. Though the "showers" that were really gas chambers were never actually used here for mass murder, the ovens most certainly were. We walked through the whole complex and saw the false shower heads and stuff, and then the carefully planned chambers where bodies were held until they could be cremated. The whole thing was so carefully planned out as a sor tof assembly line-- which is part of what really affected me. That someone had actually thought through all this, and then taken the time to build it- and never stopped to question himself.

Above: A picture through the barbed wire of the electric fence - and that patch of green you could not stand on. You would have been shot immediately, and if a guard fired a warning shot, he was punished. On the flip side, for every prisoner he shot, he got two days off. Really disgusting. Apparently only two people ever escaped from here.

One thing that I thought was interesting that I thought about at Yad Vashem, is that Dachau is not as famous as a name as Auschwitz or other camps. However, the less famous the name, usually the less survivors there were. There were some camps that killed thousands and thousands of people, and only one person survived, and that is why we have forgotten its name.
Above: the gate to the entrance. It says "Hard Work will set you free"

So yeah it was a really intense day, and I was really glad to leave when I did. I definitely had a good cry- a few actually. At first I wasnt sure if it was a good idea to go on Yom Kippur, but I think that it was- because it certainly made me think about my own actions and prejudices, and it made me want to be better this coming year, so as never to emulate even an ounce of what happened here. It really is just so much easier to hate one another and it is so dangerous.

Sorry this is a little preachy- I suppose this entry is as much for me as it is for you.

On another note, without sounding condescending, I was really proud in a way that Germany keeps this place open to the public. Of course I know that many (hopefully most) Germans feel that it is important to keep it open as well- so that none of us ever forget, however I imagine it much be a really hard thing to do- to let people in and invite them to remember one of the ugliest moments in German history.

There are other images that took of photos that were at Dachau that I think are important to see, but perhaps a little too graphic to put on the blog- mostly of the state of things when the American army arrived to liberate the camp. Apparently there was a whole train outside that had been locked for three weeks full of people who were supposed to be transferred from another camp, but had been turned away from them all. There was one survivor on the train. Also, the camp had run out of coal for the crematorium, so apparently there are pictures of the way in which people were piled up waiting. When the Americans came and witnessed the state of things, they apparently rounded up all the SS men and shot them to death, which is technically a war crime, however no one ever punished them for it, given the situation.

So yes, this was actually one of the most important days of my trip so far. I am so privileged to share this with you- but I am also really glad to be ending this entry. I would love to hear your thoughts about this as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment