Before I launch into my regularly scheduled post, I just have to acknowledge the deep void that was left in Massachusetts and in the US today at the passing of our senior senator, Teddy Kennedy. Throughout my life as my interest in politics grew, so did my awe of Teddy who helped to make the dreams of so many come true and the lives of the little guys a bit easier. I had the honor and privilege to “campaign” (in MA he really needed no campaigning, and yet he needed a certain # of signatures to be on the ballot) for him while I was in college and to attend a fundraising event where we were supposed to meet him. He ended up held up in the Senate and called in via a television that day, but I was so proud to be on the team of someone who championed civil rights, equality, healthcare, and education for all. Teddy is without a doubt irreplaceable to us here in MA and to the country as a whole. It is rare to find someone with such ideals but also the grit to be able to make good things happen even when what you are doing might not be popular at the time. I know I will certainly miss his booming voice, his warm smile, and his commitment to social justice. I only hope, like the message and hopes of his brothers lived on in him, that Teddy’s work will live on in all of us.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for awhile, and I want to warn you that its not about the usual fun, foodie, relaxing vacation type things I normally love to do and write about. I decided to finally post this because I think that travel is the best way to open our eyes to new and different things, and it is also a way to witness the history that we spent so many years of school learning. It can be exciting and devastating to visit the sites of historical events, but it also makes them seem more real and tangible.
On our winter trip through Europe last year, we visited many beautiful, magical places, Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich, Lake Lucerne, and Munich. While staying in Munich, we had a fantastic time in the beautiful, old yet cosmopolitan city that it is.
We also drove the 10 miles north of Munich to visit the site of the Dachau Concentration Camp. Established in 1933 Dachau was the model for the camps that followed. Dachau remained open and was the place where 43,000 died.
My first thoughts on approaching Dachau were about how close it was to a perfectly normal seeming town full of people. The camp itself was huge and bare and cold. Much of the original property was destroyed at the end of WWII and rebuilt in 1965 as a memorial. Even though the buildings are not the original, a visitor does not need the physical property to be able to feel the pain that occurred here.
The photo on the bottom right is of the gas chamber. The cloud in the photo was not there, and there was nothing on our camera. The other photos I took came out clear. I just wanted to point out that this photo is not altered because many people asked if it was.
We spent an entire afternoon walking around the camp buildings which now includes a Jewish temple, a small Catholic chapel, and a Protestant Church of Reconciliation. We also walked through disinfecting chambers, past the ovens, and into the gas chambers. The main building houses authentic photos, video, and remnants of the actual camp.
We entered and exited through a door with a saying that became infamous during the Holocaust. Prisoners were promised that work would make them free.
“Work makes you free”
As a Judaic Studies minor in college, I spent a lot of time studying literature and history of the Holocaust, but what I learned in my classes could not have ever prepared me for the feeling that came over me during this experience. It was at once a feeling of breathlessness, weakness, nausea, and intense sadness that permeated my entire being. It was overwhelming, too much at times, to the point that I would need to step outside one of the buildings. But in a place like this you really can’t get away.
I would recommend that anyone who is able to visit a memorial such as Dachau. It gives you not only a physical connection to the history learned in school books, but a connection to the atrocities that are still being committed around the world. To be honest, it gave me a fairly bleak view of human nature that was hard to shake. Overall though I feel as though this was one of the most important journeys that I have taken in my years of travel.