When we were planning this trip, Emma and I agreed that we must visit a concentration camp associated with WWII. We both share an avid interest in learning about the history of that time. Actually, that is inaccurate. We are interested not in the history of the aggressors nor the military aspects, our interests lie in the victims and defenders. We have been reading about people like Anne Frank, Meip Gies, The White Rose, The French Resistance and many more. Thus, it was essential for us to visit a concentration camp.

So yesterday we spent the day at Dachau.

It has changed us forever. One can read all the books or speak to survivors, but the experience of being there is like no other.

I am not sure how to convey the enormity of seeing the crematorium. I can not tell you the complexity of pain in my heart as my daughter and I stepped into the gas chamber with tears spilling from our eyes and our whole bodies trembling. I am not sure why I needed to go, but I did. I had to see the infamous gate with the sadistic sign claiming, "Work will set you free." I had to stand with my child and witness the photos of the piles of dead while standing in the exact spot where they were discarded. There is no way to make sense of the senseless, but we needed to bear witness and be dedicated to never forgetting and never allowing it to happen again.

The survivors of Dachau are the people who have made the site a memorial. They offer tons of information, but steered clear of the trappings of emotional manipulation or touristy pandering. I will admit that Emma and I were challenged by the teenage boys joking around in the crematorium. We were horrified at the people taking smiling photos in front of places like the gate, as if this were just another stop on a tour. However, for every moment that seemed inappropriate, there were also moments that seemed redemptive. For example, the sheer number of people who stood at attention while the bell tolled dozens of times marking the exact moment of the camp's liberation.

There is no doubt that Emma and I will remember this day forever. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been there. I think it is essential, in a world growing ever more callous, to find our courage to still feel things deeply. I have huge emotions. Sometimes they are so big that they can be overwhelming to other people and even myself. I have had moments in the last few years of concern as I watched my daughter express those same heart-wrenching and extreme emotions. However, no matter how odd it is, I am pleased that Emma and I can be so moved and touched. We feel deeply affected by the world. While that does not make for an easy life, it does make a meaningful and worthwhile one.

1 comment:

  1. I can't imagine what that visit must have been like. I hope you took some time for serious decompression afterward. I took 8th graders twice to the Museum of Tolerance (should really be Intolerance) after reading Anne Frank and they have an exhibit that recreates the path to the crematoriums and walks you thru one. I also showed them the movie Night and Fog which is a French documentary of Auschwitz from 1955. Have you seen it? It is horrifying. I think the worst part was of the town nearby where they showed from wartime film footage how the town would get covered in a white powdery soot. It was so thick-like if you've ever lived near a large fire and the smoke and soot cover everything. Well the soot there was the remains of the victims of the crematorium and it covered there town and they breathed it in and lived in it. I can't even imagine what that does to your soul. None of my teens made any funny quips either from seeing that film or the museum tour but sometimes when people are completely overwhelmed and don't know how to release that tension it comes out in an inappropriate manner so Emma those teens may have been feeling the same as you but had no way to deal with it. Lucky you, you have a family that allows the honest expression of emotions. Not everyone does. You have to feel safe to be vulnerable.