Sunday, Tristan and I visited an exceptionally sacred place: Dachau KZ (Konzentrationslager). It was a clear, sunny day. Crisp air, and bitingly cold as the wind blew. The chill seemed fitting; the sun seemed misplaced.
When I learned that it wouldn’t be until Tristan was in middle or high school before the atrocities of the past would be breached in class, I took it upon myself to begin his exposure to some of the darkest places of humanity. We slowly read about the Survivors, Hero’s, leaders… we read about Anne Frank, Operation Dynamo, Normandy… and worked our way into the evil and darkness that festered and spread across Europe. We read and discussed, watched movies and spoke of how grateful we are of those that sacrificed or risked their lives for others… for the betterment of our world.
From the beginning of my resolve to take Tristan’s education of the Holocaust into my own hands, there were many people that disagreed with me. They thought it too violent and cruel; he wouldn’t understand. But to me, it was simple: the children lost, murdered, left orphaned and alone; the children all throughout Europe caught in the crosshairs of power hungry men; those huddled underground and terrified of the explosions above – they, too, were too young.
And so, Sunday, we walked through the gates, gazed along the vastness of the grounds and sighed. We made our way into the administration building where many “special” prisoners were kept and tortured. The building was long and lined with tiny cells on each side. One larger room had reinforced walls so the other prisoners could not hear the sounds of pain and suffering of their tortured comrades.
Tristan moved ahead of me.
I hung back to allow him to take it all in, on his own, without the influence of my opinion or emotions clouding or swaying his. I watched as he stopped at almost every cell, peered in with a pause, then moved on. I caught up with him in another room towards the entrance where he darted out of the building. It seemed wrong to step back into the sunshine, but I did.
Tristan was pacing near the building parallel. He came up to me quickly saying he didn’t feel good – he was going to throw up.
He didn’t. But for the rest of our visit, he was solemn, reserved, head down, thoughtful. It had affected him so viscerally – to his primal core.
He walked through the museum area of the compound with me, but sat and waited while I walked through the cremation chambers. It was here that I stepped through the decontamination cells, into the gas chambers (where I paused, closing my eyes, imagining how it must have felt to wait for death), hesitantly stepping into the cremation room where prisoners would be hung before the blazing fires that would disintegrate their remains, then into the room where bodies would be piled high until their turn in the fire.
What I felt then, and what I feel now, is hard to explicate. I cannot quite decipher the anger, sadness, and weight in my heart from our experience. What I feel – whatever wrong I feel I’ve been done; whatever trauma I feel I’ve survived – is minuscule to the parts played out here.
The car ride home was silent. I’d attempted discussion about our visit, but Tristan’s solemnness had turned to anger… then finally exhaustion. It had been an emotionally draining day, so I let him remain silent and drift off to sleep. We haven’t spoken of it since, but I can see the difference in his demeanor. I can see his eyes open just a little bit wider to the current events in the world. I can see he now realizes the differences between true suppression of speech, liberty, and freedom. My plan to widen his eyes, broaden his horizons, culture is brain is succeeding… and I can only hope that what he returns back into the world makes a difference someday.
If you’re looking for photo’s, I did take a very select few. I captured the infamous gate: ARBEIT MACHT FREI – “Work brings Freedom.” I captured the pieces of stories lit onto the walls of the cells in the administration building:
At around two in the morning the key jangles in the first cell door at the other end of the passageway. Immediately everyone is awake. With a metallic thud the loosened shackle falls to the floor. The prisoner from number one takes the first steps to the bunker courtyard. A shot rings out. A life is extinguished.Walter Buzengeiger, July 1 1934
Four months in the Bunker, four months detention in darkness, four months with hot food only every fourth day! Time crawls by. I only count every fourth day, and I am amazed when the food comes and wakes me up – I am in a state of trance.Erwin Gostner, July 1938
It was strict detention, a full 8 months. In darkness. No exercise. Hard bed. Bare wood. Three days: water and 1 pound of bread. Then 1 day prisoner’s food. Just a tin bowl and a spoon. No fork. No knife. No cup. No washing bowl. No soap. Nothing.Walter Buzengeiger, June 1934
I captured images to remind myself that I lead a life of freedom. I lead a life of exception, luxury, and safety. I will not share them here.