Saturday, May 16, 2009


Went to Dachau
the other day:

We went together as a group: Americans, Germans, Romanians. We have been meeting and sharing discussions of culture, theory, mobility, politics for a week. And today we walked around quietly and thought about history. History in the present. The past brushed against the grain of contemporary knowing, questioning, feeling, trying to understand.

Arriving by train, the town of Dachau is a little outside of Munich, and is a beautiful little Bavarian German "suburban" town. It is spring so everything is green. Flowers. By afternoon the sun was out and everything seemed clean and quaint. Apparently, when the concentration camp was liberated, the local townspeople were brought in to see just how much violence and destruction was caused there. The film image shows onlookers turn away in disgust when they see the pile of corpses, in various states of decompose, in the crematorium; the bodies in the last months before the liberation were piled up, or buried in mass graves, because there wasn't enough coal to run the cremation fires.

We think how strange to live in this town, with this memorial site right in the middle.

From the train to the bus and we are left off in what seems like a lovely park. Trees. A little river. The stone road continues on into more residential areas. We walk through the memorial site, on the path lined with trees, and then through the gate that opens into the prisoner area. The roll call area. The barracks area. The "maintenance" building that once housed the baths, and where prisoners were hung up by their wrists from the ceiling as punishment or just for torture, now serves as the museum. History explained in texts and displays. Artifacts and photos.

Walk down the gravel road past the former barracks' foundations, pass the religious monuments, erected for reflection from a variety of denominations, and across the bridge into the crematorium area. The small original building and the larger, assembly line style buildings are set among trees and pathways lead out into a small woods that reminded me of the paths one might take for reflection and meditation at a retreat center. But here, instead, one now reflects on the graves marked for the thousands who died, were cremated, and buried en masse.

The experience is obviously strange and difficult. Intense and quietly meditative. History in memorial. Signs and paths and museum displays show us history on site. Site non site of trying, still, to make sense of. It seems strange to eat lunch in the cafeteria after, head back tired, eventually moving into the conversations that locate, help some of us think further, or at least, think present, in the context of.

No comments: