15 May 2005
Please note that text in red indicates comments and changes to the original 2005 text that I made in June 2008. Enjoy!
WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: this article contains a narrative about my visit to the German World War II-era concentration camp Dachau. Read on only if you believe that doing so will not scar you, et cetera. If you're not sure what you're getting yourself into, drop me an e-mail and I'll explain. I will NOT be held responsible for your actions. (It's really not that bad, so I'm not sure why I'm being so adamant here.)
Day nine began with another late breakfast (we had had the chance to sleep in a bit, again, which was nice), if I recall correctly. It was more of the same, though (roll with meat & cheese, yogurt, roll with nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut spread), so there's really no point in writing anything else here.
Actually, there is something worth noting here. Nina and I met this woman from Bavaria who was in town for some sort of conference of old-world people or something. We discussed the origin of my mother's maiden name. She told me that it was actually German, not Slovokian as I had originally thought. She was sweet.
"Today is gong to be a sobering day," I thought as we boarded the bus once more. You see, today we were going to the concentration camp at Dachau. After driving a ways to get there (I'm not really sure where Dachau is, but I'm sure any of you could just Google it and you'd find it quickly), we finally arrived at the ex-concentration camp. *shakes head* Was I happy to be there? Certainly not, at least, not in any sort of bubbly way. I thought that it would be important to see, though, so I gritted my mental teeth and began my self-guided tour of Dachau.
Dachau was a concentration camp from 1933 to 1945. The Nazi party (under Hitler's guidance, of course) had originally set up the place in order to "reeducate" malcontents (both German and of other ethnicities), but things quickly turned much uglier (as I'm sure you could have guessed). My humble words cannot begin to describe the horrors that could be found at Dachau, even today. :/ Yikes.
For the tour, we were each given a map and something that I'll call a "talking tour wand" (TTW) for lack of a better term. The map had number codes on it that you were able to punch into the TTW. The TTW was probably 35 cm in its longest dimension, and on the end of it that you didn't grab (the part that wasn't the handle), the TTW flattened out into a sort of disk shape. To put in another way, the TTW was kind of shaped like a MASSIVELY out of proportion table-tennis paddle (it was much longer and thicker, and its disk had a smaller radius) To use the TTW, one would first consult his map, find the appropriate number for where he was standing (like '3' for the the main "parade grounds" (to use an approximate word)), punch that number into the TTW, and then hit the 'Play' button. This was an exceptional system, I think, because it brought all of the pertinent information about Dachau to my fingertips, a fact that I exploited during my one-man wanderings (originally, when I wrote this, I had the word "solitudinal" in place of "one-man" (longitude : longitudinal :: solitude : solitudinal, in my version of English. :) ), but the dictionary says that one must be physically cut off from people to be in solitude. I disagreed--while there were other humans around, I wasn't with them, if you know what I mean. *shrug* To each his own, I suppose.). It was a good system, and there were probably a couple hours of audio stored on it. The only way it could have been better is if it would have been able to have been carried without so much effort (I had to hold it up to my ear the entire time--there was no lazy way to do it). Excellent engineering, I say. (The fact that I spent so much space on this very common (at tourist attractions, at any rate) technology is a bit amusing.)
Most of Dachau isn't really worth commenting about because it wasn't that bad. After wandering the grounds for a while (and after seeking shelter from the rain inside one of the old prisoner accommodation buildings), I came across one of the very large memorials that had been place there. This memorial was a large sculpture, I guess, depicting a bunch of twisted, mangled, emaciated, and tortured bodies that was representative of the atrocities that were committed at Dachau. It was quite disturbing to look at--you have been warned.
The worst part, though, was the crematorium, the place where they burned all of the dead bodies that the camp produced (if 'produced' is even the right word). I punched in the number for the narration for the building called "Barrack X", a building in the crematorium, gritted my mental teeth again, firmly told my stomach to behave, and entered. (It really is great to star in my own fantasy literature! Hee!) Even though I had done my best to prepare myself, I was still repulsed by the feeling the whole place radiated. In one room, I saw the gas chambers the Nazis used to kill people with. I also saw (and had a chance to touch (I didn't take the chance, though)) the ovens that they used to cremate people in. This was the sight that turned my stomach the most. Morbidly, I imagined climbing into one of these ovens, which made me feel both ill and scared (necrophobic, to be precise). *shivers* I did warn you, you know. I often have these uncontrolled or uncontrollable thoughts, but I think that this is mostly because I give my mind free reign (in order to better encourage mental fexibility and creativity).
Needless to say, after about 2 hours, we were all ready to leave. I think that it's good to have places like this, places that just ooze with pain and sorrow. These places help us (as individuals and as a humanitarian world society) to, as a part of the memorial I saw but didn't mention said, allow these things to happen "NEVER AGAIN." To use Herr Fock's unique turn of phrase, I think "it's working out." I wonder if there are similar memorials in Russia to mark Stalin's excesses?
One more thing of note: my good German friend Lydia lives in a Catholic community where they seek to answer the question of "How could a country of Christians let something like the Holocaust happen?" In other words, the effects of what happened at Dachau are still being felt today.
We left Dachau and went to Burger King, where I won a free beverage in the "STAR WARS: win something from a galaxy far, far away contest" that was going on at the time. Hooray for a free .4L of coke! *twirls finger*
Later on that night, after we were all hungry from eating crappy food at Burger King, the lot of us headed off to Murphy's Law for a drink and a bite to eat. I had the "chicken salad" (chosen because it sounded decent and because Scott W. was having it, too), which was actually pretty tasty. I shared some french fries (or the ML equivalent) with some of the others in the group, and just enjoyed being with some of my good friends. By this time, we were coming together to be quite a tightly-knit group. I made idle conversation with Claudia and Nina, and Peter taught us some new games. It was a good experience.
I've nothing else to report for Sunday except for this: Germans must be REALLY serious about church! I forgot to mention (not that I couldn't just go up to the top of this document and add this in, but shh!) that EARLY on Sunday morning (it seemed especially early because I stayed up half the night on the telephone. . . *growls*), the church right beside our hotel decided that it would be an excellent time to ring all of its bells. Loudly. For about fifteen minutes. At 0700. Peter and I, in our infinite wisdom, had left our windows open (we liked it to be cool in our room), so the sound transmittance was NOT impeded by the glass of the window much at all. . . Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that they had tons of REAL bells in Augsburg (something that we no longer have in Chicora or Butler (back home)), but man oh man were they loud! Beautiful, but loud. (Sounds just like how I like my women! ;) )