Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flossenbürg Concentration Camp

This post might suffer from a touch of Feeling Introspective After Visit to Concentration Camp.

Today, we visited Flossenbürg Konzentrationslager, about an hour away from where we're staying. This was my first visit to such an awful place - while we were there, I was trying to think of anywhere else I've been that made me feel so awful awful awful. Quneitra came to mind, but even that misery was on a much smaller scale.

The interpretive materials on site were so well done. The most moving aspect of them was the way they set up displays of old photos around the site on the spot they were originally taken. It gave the site so much more meaning and context, to be standing in the courtyard, for example, looking at an old photograph of prisoners lining up just there.

I was apprehensive about bringing the girls there. Fortunately, they have been really interested in Anne Frank since we came to Germany, and that has provided a relatively child-appropriate access point to the whole mess of WW2. Still, I hated having to tell them that some horrible people did horrible things to other people, right here in this place. I do think their naivete and their tendency to see things only in black and white will protect them for now. On this visit, they had ears only for stories of good guys and bad guys, allowing none of the ugly complexities of these people's nuanced, difficult lives to cloud the picture.

I recall a moment in one of the exhibit halls, standing in front of an image showing the pictures of a dozen female guards who worked at Flossenbürg. They had soft hairstyles and warm smiles, and yet these women helped run the concentration camp machine day after day after day. Magdalena looked at the pictures and was immediately able to categorize the women as bad guys. I looked at them and thought of the parents, siblings, or children they were supporting during a frightening time of war, possibly with the only work they could get. Shades of grey can be so unsettling sometimes.

It was overcast and raining when we first showed up at Flossenbürg. We spent time in the exhibition halls and visiting the grounds, and gradually the sun came out. The kids and I headed back to the car ahead of Jeremy, and as we walked out through the gates, we made an effort to shake off the feeling of that horrible place. Thankfully, we were successful. The sunshine definitely helped.

Here are a few pictures, though I felt gross somehow taking any.

In the foreground are markers for each country who lost people "to bloody Fascism," as the Russian put it. In the background is the crematorium chimney.

"In honor of the 90th US infantry division which liberated Flossenbürg Concentration Camp April 23, 1945."

 There was a wall with cards where you could leave your thoughts. These were Magdalena's two contributions. "Never forget the war today. 22.7.14 war time 1938."

"In the next few years it got better in the war."

Yes it did, thank goodness. Even though this was a pretty terrible place to visit, I'm glad we have the chance to do so.


Aimee said...

I have really enjoyed your german summer posts. I have been meaning to get onto the computer to comment on your blogs since for some reason I can't comment on my phone.

Auschwitz is a a very similar experience, and the only times I have been are during the month of November, when its freezing outside. It certainly adds a completely different perspective. Dachau is a pretty intense experience as well. Like you (and maybe many others) I went through a serious WWII phase in children's literature and read everything available. It can be so hard to come to terms with the fact that many of the older people I know and love in Germany were involved on some level be it serving in the army or a young person in a time of war. My gg-Grandpa left Germany in 1874 and the family managed to stay in communication through 2 world wars, and we still visit each other. My "deutsch Opa," a second cousin, said he was very relieved when he was a young man in the army and he was sent to the Eastern Front so that he didn't have to fight America.

How much longer are you in Germany?

Bridget said...

We're here for two more weeks!

That is so interesting about your German relatives. That's the first time I've ever heard of someone being grateful for the Eastern Front. Yikes.

Jen said...

What an awesome experience (in the true sense of the word "awesome"). I'm so glad you got so much from your visit.

It's interesting to stop, and pause, and realize how far removed we are from being a degree or two away from World War II. Growing up, everyone knew a WWII veteran. They came to our elementary schools and marched in parades and lived down the street. It's weird to think that our kids, by and large, don't have that. They speak of WWII the way I remember talking about WWI.

Joe's grandpa was part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day---I'm so glad my kids have that close connection.

Glenda The Good said...

Wow, I understand what you mean on the gray. The atrocities of those concentration camps makes the issue so black and white in my mind but you are right....while there were some real monsters there also were just normal people just kind of blinding themselves. What were they thinking, feeling, how were they going about these acts everyday. It is hard to imagine. In our Children's museum they have this room built in as monuments to Ryan White, Ruby Bridges, and Ann Frank. I was reading some plaques to Peach and Gigi and I started to cry. I can't remember if it was Ann Frank or Ruby....but I was just tears going everywhere. The kids were a little shocked by this. I'm grateful that while they are so little that they can just look at these things as good versus bad and not get bogged down in the complexities or the horror, but I also look forward to the day when I can talk with them about empathy and compassion, and what are responsibilities are to all of God's children and have them truly understand why these concepts are so hard.

Liz Johnson said...

Oh wow. I wish I could have that kind of experience with my kids, as hard as that would be to talk to them about. I'm glad you got to go.

AmandaStretch said...

When I was in Germany in 2004, a friend of my host family was my tour guide. We were driving one morning and she said, "I want to take you somewhere that will be difficult." Immediately, having done a little research on sites in the area, I said "Bergen-Belsen." And that was our next stop. It was indeed difficult and hopeful all at once. As strange as it is to say, I'm grateful I was able to go.


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