Alex Blaze

Question of the day

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 18, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Dachau, Germany

I'm on the last leg of my two-week vacation in Germany, and I'm spending my last full day here at Dachau, a concentration camp. I haven't ever visited one of those before, but I have a feeling I won't be on the site afterward.

Have any of you visited a concentration camp or another place where a horrific act occurred? How did it affect you?

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When I was in the Navy, the sub I was on pulled into Pearl Harber, and to pull in, you have to pass Battleship Row and the USS Arizona. We stood at attention and saluted as we passed by. Later, I visited the memorial and when I saw all those names on the back wall, I broke down. Being from Arizona and seeing the ship's anchor in front of the State Capital Building added to my sadness.

Visiting The Wall for the first time in DC, in 1999 tore me up so badly that my friends had to hold me up.

The other time was when I visited New York City and went to the site of the World Trade Center Buildings. There is a small store area that was converted to a memorial, complete with thousands of pictures, twisted and broken metal and all kinds of things from that day. They also had a wall with all the names on it. I cried so hard that I couldn't stop. A stranger had to comfort me.

Seeing names impacts me so greatly. This is why when I read names at TDOR, I cannot contain myself.

Yes, in Berlin when I was 15. I tried to stay detached but then it all got to me and I bawled my eyes out.

Time must be a factor in this, because ancient or medieaval sites don't affect me as much.

I have been to the Holocaust Museum more than once. As a Jew, what really horrified me was the mundane, bureaucratic way that these monsters went to the office every day. They did their jobs killing people, went home, kissed the wife and kids and sat down to dinner.

They were seemingly able to completely insulate themselves from the real truth of what they were doing. The ability of people to do staggeringly evil things suggests that it could happen again if we are not careful. Hate seems to be a doctrine that is astonishingly easy to promote.

If you haven't been there, a very telling photo album is on-line:

Just be glad you saw it as a museum my dad got to Liberate one of those camps during WW2 he says it was not the prettiest site he saw .

I have been to Andersonville now that place gave me the chills.Being empathic walking by the graves of the 7 made me move faster as there tormented souls were there and the whole camp had a feeling of evil about it.

I appreciate Monica's comments.

I broke down at the Vietnam memorial in DC, even though I'm not a vet.

Man's inhumanity to man is hard to comprehend at times. For example, I don't understand how people can make and be entertained by horror movies when real people have suffered through real horror.

Alex, thank you for going there. I feel like there's an obligation for all subsequent generations to do so, if they are able. Having said that, I also recognize that it's incredibly difficult to do so. So I appreciate your enduring the burden of Bearing Witness.

I think it's important to differentiate between museums and exhibits about horiffic acts, and where they actually took place. I don't think there *are* any comparable places to concentration camps.

They were designed and built to torture and commit genocide, and represented the very essence of evil. While a terrible tragedy took place at the World Trade Center, the place itself didn't exist for evil purposes.

I haven't been there since 9/11, but I watched it being built, participated in part of the bicentenial there, and celebrated my brother's graduation at the top of it in the Windows on the World. It would be very sad to visit it's remenants. But it doesn't scare me to go there.

I don't know if I would be able to go to Dachau. My hat's off to you for going, and for doing it on your vacation time.

I was stationed in Berlin for three years and saw many sights from the events of world war two through to the time I served there.I trained in the Grunewald (Berlins forested area) where they buried the rubble from the bombings.It was Berliners favorite spot to commit suicide so more than a couple soldiers stumbled across bodies there.I heard of some of the many instances of East Germans being killed while trying to cross the wall.I went to East Berlin on several occasions and saw the Soviet eternal flame and a grave yard where 30,000 soviet troops were buried in three mass graves.I can't remember if it was in East Berlin or West we were shown a cemented over subway station where Jews were killed and buried in cement.I saw what you could of Hitlers Bunker.I could spend many hours and possibly days talking about my experiences there.Despite all the bad that happened there I loved being in Germany and especially Berlin.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | August 19, 2008 10:24 AM

Wow, Dachau, it was a stop on our trip through Germany. I trust you visited the museum and observed the pink triangles as designation of homosexuals. Yours was a very old camp being founded in 1933 as a forced labor camp. It should be said it was located in the city of Dachau because that city voted heavily against Hitler in the last free election. The concentration camp was a punishment to the town and a reminder to stay in line. It is a painfully depressing place.

In later years I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, but spent the day at the hotel instead. There was a group or orthodox Jews from Israel who were going and they were just kids, happy and carefree kids! Why were they sent there? It hurt me to think of them there.

Dear departed friends of mine were survivors of a Lithuanian death camp and they loved me German name and all. They told me stories of the "kind" guards who would give them a potato, when they could, and how they would love to be able to find them and buy them the best meal they had ever had to repay them. (This was in 1980) The people who survived these atrocities were the ones who had some superhuman gift of forgiveness and love that I have to spend the rest of my life trying to appreciate.

But beyond that Alex, every and any major city you could visit in Europe has known atrocities. They are around every corner and not just from the Nazi's, but the Inquisition, the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, the Protestant Reformation, WWI just to name a few. You would think we would have become smarter by now based upon what we have already done.

Is man evil because ignorance is stronger than virtue? Is man good because love is more satisfying than hate? With every year for me it becomes simpler and more complicated.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 19, 2008 3:02 PM

Alex, brave man for going....I'll never understand humanity's propensity for cruelty and indifference.

I lived in Munich for a little while, and visited Dachau. While I lived there, I also traveled, and visited Auschwitz in Poland. Compared to Auschwitz, Dachau felt very clean and sanitized. For Germans, coming to terms with the Holocaust is tense - certainly, people do not disavow that it happened, but WWII historical sites always felt a little cleaned up to me while I lived there. There is tension around the idea of collective guilt - the need to memorialize, to not erase history... but there is also a sense, especially among younger Germans, that "we did not do those horrible things."

For me, Auschwitz was more powerful than Dachau. Auschwitz has a museum section, where you can still see some of the notorious piles of eyeglasses, shoes, human hair... I do not remember crying, but it makes me emotional now just to think about it.

The other places that I found extremely creepy were buildings built by Hitler that are still standing in Munich. He had a particular style of architecture that he used for his buildings, and they are still standing. The one that stands out in my memory is now being used by the University, as the music school. Apparently, the basement floor is still in its original, Hitler-era condition. I remember standing in the building with some classmates, hearing ethereal snatches of organ music, violin, etc. floating through the marble halls as people practiced their instruments. That gave me a chill. We found ourselves asking, "can a building be tainted?"

The tension is interesting, and these places are powerful. I think I am a better person for seeing them - it makes that history more real, and reminds me that I need to keep working for peace and justice in this world.

I've been to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. There's a statue of Sasaki Sadako in the park where people from all over the world leave thousands of paper cranes. The building at the center of the blast which is surprisingly intact (as opposed to completely flattened as almost everything around it was) is still preserved. I think the thing that most affected me was the clothing preserved in the museum; and a section of a bank's front steps that were bleached white in the explosion, except a shadow which marks where a person was sitting when the bomb was dropped. It is an experience to walk through the park and museum and then come out into Hiroshima's vibrant shopping district almost right next door.

Angela Brightfeather | August 20, 2008 10:45 PM

I was totally overcome when I visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and the site of Picket's charge. That battle ground is defintily haunted with the ghosts of those soldiers and the converging feelings of loss and heroism are simply overwhelming when you stand there. The atmosphere of the entire place covers you like a blanket and you feel the presence of those who died in that battle as you walk back and forth in front of where the chage took place.

The feelings were so strong that I just broke down on the spot. It would take me a lot to muster the courage to go back there again and stand in the same place.

Alex --

Just by coincidence, I recently ran across these articles, which I thought might be of interest to you in light of your recent trip to Dachau...

"INTERVIEW: Teaching the lessons of the Holocaust"

"FEATURE: Auschwitz will stay with me forever"

The articles prompted me to look these folks up --

The Holocaust Education Trust

And finally, all of this reminded me of a post I saw a couple of years ago at boing boing...

"Homophobic flyer at Auschwitz: what does it say?"