Friday, April 25, 2008


I just wrote this as a comment on another blog - Zoe's "A Complicated Salvation." Please give her a visit, she does good stuff.
After reading through my comment, I decided I would like to share it, in a slightly expanded version with those few of you who visit here from time to time.

An odd thing. As I mentioned in an earlier post my wife and I recently spent about ten days visiting our son who lives in Germany. The day after Easter we toured Ravensbruck, a concentration camp set up by the Nazis primarily to imprison and murder women and children. It obviously wasn't a happy couple of hours for us, but there was something about the atmosphere there that was at once haunting and yet stunningly peaceful.

Inside the walls all of the barracks in which the prisoners lived are gone leaving only an impression in the gravel of the outline of each building as if the collective misery which permeated those buildings left an indelible stain on the ground beneath. There are multiple rows of Linden trees remaining originally planted near the door of each building, a cruelly ironic gesture if given some thought. Far to the rear of the complex are buildings which served as a factory wherein the women and older children manufactured SS uniforms. Otherwise, the space is open, barren.

Outside the confines of the camp itself is a lake with a plaza at the end nearest the camp. On the plaza is a tall pillar topped with the statue of an obviously emaciated woman carrying a dead or dying child. That alone is quite moving.

But one can turn away from the lake, looking back beyond the statue toward the camp and see, scanning from the left, the crematory still in place and the space where the gas chamber once stood. Scanning further one sees a long narrow field of grass and perennial flowers which is a mass grave for over 300 women and children found dead when the camp was liberated by the Russians in 1945. Behind the grave is a wall commemorating all of the various countries from which the prisoners - the women and children - came. According to available reading material only about 16% of all the prisoners brought to Ravensbruck were Jews. Many were "Romas" or gypsies, a variety of political dissidents, even Catholic nuns.

Turning back, I looked once again first at the pillar and statue, then the lake. It was all very serene. It was a cold, but sunny day. I sat for a time atop a low wall adjacent to the lake and took all of it in for a time until Joan and Nick caught me up.

Quietude. The place is, in its own way unexpectedly beautiful - the surroundings, not the camp. Ravensbruck is situated north of Berlin in what is Germany's lake country - its Wisconsin if you will.

Looking through many of the displays and photos of the camp when active, has the effect of jangling one's sensibilities. One tends to respond that this is just not possible! This happened in the middle of the 20th century, a time we consider to be part of the modern, supposedly civilized era. How could anyone so purposefully, so methodically carry out such barbarism? And yet, there it is.

Over one hundred thousand women, children and a small number of men perished at Ravensbruck. It's not even one of the larger or well known camps.

I wanted to cry. I felt like I should cry. I just couldn't.