Friday, May 16, 2008

Dachau - The Cold & The Rocks

A few things stuck me just after entering through the Dachau concentration camp gate with the famous "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work will set you free) slogan. The camp was larger than expect and the air was decidedly chilly. As I then started to walk around I noticed the gravel yard of the camp and how the gravel crunched under my feet and under the wheels of the stroller. Throughout the entire visit the chill did not leave the air and the noise of the crunching rocks did not leave my ears.

We then split up so Tamara could go into the museum alone (some pictures and videos are too graphic for young children). We walked from the museum entrance to the restored barracks across the role call area. People died standing at attention in this area and the walk seemed long and the chill in the air and crunching under my feet would not let up. At this point the kids started gathering rocks.

We went into the barracks and looked at the beds - three level bunk beds. The kids thought the beds would be cool to sleep in and picked out their favorite. I showed them that the beds would have been half a head too small for me (I am about 6 ft. 1 in. or 185.42 cm).

We then walked on past the remaining barracks' foundations (there are only two restored barracks on the grounds, but originally about 32 stood on the grounds - a foundation is present for each of the barracks.) The horrible thing is that towards the end of the war they housed up to 2000 people despite having capacity for only 200. The chill and the crunching did not subside and I tried to walk in the sun. I kept expecting the morning chill to wear off, but it would not. The kids continued to gather rocks and Shantal started gathering the "pretty" rocks. She is very good at seeing the beauty in the world around her.

We then found a Flag of Israel on the ground within the foundation of barracks number 10. The kids were impressed by this. In the lower left corner of the flag you can see some little rocks around the edge of the flag. Spencer completed this decoration and when we walked back I noticed that the flag had a stone boundary and some stone decoration in the middle in the star. Shantal continued to find beautiful rocks and was trying to decide which ones to keep. The chill and crunch did not relent.

We then went to the Jewish memorial on the grounds. The submerged memorial leads the visitor into what feels like an underground prison with what looked like barbed wire fencing guiding you down into an abyss. Once inside the prison, however, there is a ray of hope shining down though through a hole in the building's ceiling and through the hole, up on the roof one can see a candelabra, the light of the temple, a beacon in a world of darkness. I thought this was well done, and it provided brief relief from the crunching rocks and chilly air. Shantal had narrowed her search to a few rocks.

My journey did not end there. I will continue with a post about the images and impressions from the museum.

One note, however, on chill in the air. I would have attributed the chill in the air the weather of that day, except that when we left the camp and were walking to car the chill suddenly left. The sudden change in temperature was so abrupt that I will always associate an eerie chill in the air with the Dachau concentration camp.


Tammy Hershberger said...

Thanks so much for the insightful post regarding your trip! My 11 year old daughter has just completed a study at school on the Holocaust, and we're so grateful to hear your impressions firsthand and see the pictures! Looking forward to your next post!

Abby said...

What an experience. I know that chill in the air is quite freaky. I went to Terazin in the Czech Republic when I was 17 and didn't fully appreciate the time spent there because I just wanted to get out of the place.

Gardner said...

Thanks for your kind words. It was a truly powerful experience to visit the concentration camp.

barbara said...

Hi Gardner,
Very powerful and moving post.
I don't have to be there; I feel cold from here. And very sad.Like the feeling that I had at 16, when I learned of Holocaust in High School.

Have a good week and take care.

heidikraut said...

Hello Gardner,

this is fascinating and it's really interesting to read about your experiences - were there many German visitors while you were there?

Maria said...

Gardner-- I agree. It is powerful, and it shook me so much, that it is still powerful today, and reading your experience brings it all back like I was visiting just yesterday! thanks for the great post(s), and I look forward to the continuation!

Gardner said...

Thanks all - it's such a confusing part of life - the holocaust. When I think about it, it feels like I'm doing a math equation in my head, and no matter how hard I try, I just can't find the solution.

@heidikraut - yes, there were several german speaking visitors. The majority of visitors belonged to school groups. From the groups I believe I heard at least three different languages other than German.

March 2007