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View Full Version : Would you go to Auschwitz on vacation?



RLB
10-25-2007, 08:34 AM
So friday we're heading out to bum around Eastern Europe for a couple of weeks. We're going to be in Krakow, right outside Auschwitz, and we've been discussing whether to go. We know it would be a powerful experience, but it would take up an entire day on an already hectic schedule. We'll probably wind up going to the Jewish quarter in Prague instead (I remember it having a pretty compelling Holocaust exhibit).

So I'm curious what other people think. Would it be a sightseeing priority for you?

poetinahat
10-25-2007, 08:53 AM
I remember seeing an exhibit in Prague -- drawings by children in the concentration camps. Just about stops your heart.

The old Jewish cemetery there is amazing to see too; when it filled, the tombstones were taken up, and another layer was added. Now, the yard is crammed with tombstones; it looks like a boxful of ancient receipts.

I can't say about Auschwitz, but the Jewish quarter of Prague is definitely worth seeing.

Have fun whatever you decide. Will you go to Budapest?

RLB
10-25-2007, 09:01 AM
I remember seeing an exhibit in Prague -- drawings by children in the concentration camps. Just about stops your heart.

The old Jewish cemetery there is amazing to see too; when it filled, the tombstones were taken up, and another layer was added. Now, the yard is crammed with tombstones; it looks like a boxful of ancient receipts.

That's the one I was remembering. It was incredible (I'm sure there's a more appropriate sounding word, but it really was).


Have fun whatever you decide. Will you go to Budapest?

Yes, but for just over a day. Any suggestions?

We're also going to Ljubljana (which I must learn how to pronounce) and Lake Bled (which I've wanted to see ever since I read the Historian) in Slovenia. And Plitvice park and Dubrovnik in Croatia. And Vienna for a couple of days.

joetrain
10-25-2007, 09:05 AM
yes, the jewish quarter in prague is beautiful and poignant; i assume auschwitz would be more poignant than beautiful. it is a tough decision. it would be an educational but mournful day for your vacation.

poetinahat
10-25-2007, 09:11 AM
Yes, but for just over a day. Any suggestions?
I wish I could remember. It's been twenty-six years. I remember a magnificent cathedral, a beautiful fin-de-siecle sort of restaurant -- a rarity in eastern Europe in those pre-Glasnost days, and speaking fumbling Russian with a record shop clerk.

And sneaking cigarettes on walks in the park. Good times.

PrettySpecialGal
10-25-2007, 09:31 AM
I've been to the Cech Republic- right after they opened borders (within a year or 2). I never made it to Prague- but enjoyed myself all the same in other border towns. Hubby did the concentration camp visits, and found it well worth the time. Perhaps it depends on your personal interests. I mean, to my husband, spending all day surrounded by WWII history was a day well spent, but for you, I'd hate for you to go, wishing the whole day you'd chosen somewhere else to go.
Choosing is hard.
Enjoy yourself either way.

RLB
10-25-2007, 09:47 AM
and speaking fumbling Russian with a record shop clerk.

Oh you should have heard my hand at Polish on the phone with the hotel clerk today. I'm sure I made his ears bleed, and I only knew two phrases: "Hello. Do you speak English?" I have no idea what I would've done if he'd said no (I'm not even sure I know what Polish for "no" is).

But in Budapest I'm hoping to try the public baths and maybe catch an opera.


I mean, to my husband, spending all day surrounded by WWII history was a day well spent, but for you, I'd hate for you to go, wishing the whole day you'd chosen somewhere else to go.

I don't think it'd the type of thing we'd regret (we love history). It's just hard to prioritize!

aruna
10-25-2007, 09:56 AM
Praghe! I've been meaning to go for ages - so near and yet so far! If it comes down to a choice, take Prague.

Joe270
10-25-2007, 12:18 PM
I visited Dachau when I was twelve or thirteen. The impression was lasting.

I'll never get a tattoo, and I was a merchant sailor for over 25 years.

The experience is disturbing, at the least. For anyone who respects freedom, the experience will solidify their determination to defend it, and to respect minority populations. Witness the history, ensure it doesn't happen again.

wordmonkey
10-25-2007, 04:14 PM
Closest I've been to something like that is the War Cemetries in NE France, near the D-Day Beaches.

I think I would go in your position. Not enough people learn history or learn from history. Sometimes a trip to a place like that can go a long way, and beyond where you think it will.

PeeDee
10-25-2007, 05:13 PM
I would absolutely go to Auschwitz on vacation, in a heartbeat. I've always wanted to.

threedogpeople
10-25-2007, 05:34 PM
I've been to Dachau and it was a sobering experience. I don't regret that I went but I'll never go again.

What struck me was how quiet and clean it was. The bunks in the barracks had all been worn completely smooth (they were polished smooth) that gave me a very clear understanding of how many bodies had slept on the bunks.

I didn't cry until I saw the ovens...there was still ash residue...I haven't been in over 20 years and it still disturbs me.

Go, I don't think you'll regret it and remembering is one of the most important things we can do for the victims.

DonnaDuck
10-25-2007, 05:45 PM
While "vacation" and "Auschwitz" is oxymoronic, I would go. I would have gone when I was in Europe but I wasn't close enough to just do a day stop. Like what has been said above, it depends on your taste. WWII history is a huge fascination for me and I've done A LOT of research on the concentration camps and just doing that disturbed the hell out of me. You know they found 2 TONs (that's 4000 pounds) of hair at Auschwitz when it was liberated. Can you even grasp the aestetic size of such a quantity of hair to equal 2 tons? Just doing the reasearch itself is shaking, disturbing and renders nightmares. I can only imagine what the camp, whether Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka or any of the other camps, would be like to visit. But I would still do it just to be able to finitely grasp the magnitude of what was done to a people, however far detached from it I really am.

As for Dubrovnik, I've been there and it's gorgeous. I was there in May a year and a half ago and I loved it. Really, you can do the entire town in a day, especially considering the main attraction is Old Town and a few hours there and you're good to go. Split it supposed to be nice but even in Dubrovnik, if you go on a hike, tread lightly. Mine removal is very expensive and Croatia is a very poor country and their hills are still littered with very active mines. It's a beautiful area and the people are wonderful. I've always wanted to go to Romania but from what I understand, it's still an iffy country and tour guides actually refuse to take people to certain areas. I want to save up and do a Dracula's tour at some point just because I find all that lore and history very appealing. Istabul is supposed to be gorgeous even though it's not in Europe (close enough though) and that's another place I'd like to go sometime in the safer and hopeful future. If you want to see some Dubrovnik pictures, go to http://wandering.shutterfly.com. They're my European pictures. I can't remember if I have them up yet because I can't access the site on my work server but if they're not, let me know and I'll put them up for you. Glorious place, it really is and it's better to go now before they get sucked into the EU since the kuna is very much in the US favor!

WendyNYC
10-25-2007, 06:00 PM
I did. It was incredible. Go to Birkenau while you are there.

We went to Prague and Krakow on vacation and loved both cities. Loved, loved, loved Prague and I would go back in a heartbeat. But Auschwitz was the most memorable part of the trip, and it gave me such a deeper understanding of that period in history.

Krakow is a nice city, too.

Sheryl Nantus
10-25-2007, 06:16 PM
I would go and cry like a baby for hours.

it should be mandatory for everyone to visit at least one site of such importance to remind ourselves of the inhumanity of man.

kristie911
10-25-2007, 06:30 PM
I absolutely would go.

BenPanced
10-25-2007, 06:49 PM
If presented with such an opportunity, I'd go, too.

This is everybody's history.

Shadow_Ferret
10-25-2007, 06:57 PM
You guys realize that the Holocaust never happened right?

*runs away*

Note: This was a sad attempt at humor. The culprit has been captured and beaten severely. He promises never to be an instigator again.

Seriously though, I don't think I could visit that. The negative vibrations would just overwhelm me. My inlaws went and they told me about it. That's more than enough for me. There's a reason I never watched Schindler's List.

PeeDee
10-25-2007, 07:02 PM
I woudl go fully expecting to be overwhelmed and to have to leave. But that's okay. I would rather go and be overwhelmed than otherwise.

(the Holocaust was a ruse, and when people started nosing around, we 'faked' landing on the Moon to cover it up. I knowed it!)

Shadow_Ferret
10-25-2007, 07:04 PM
Well, the odds that I'll ever make it to Europe in my lifetime are pretty slim, so the question in my case is rather moot.

RumpleTumbler
10-25-2007, 07:09 PM
I've been to Berchtesgaden, Obersalzberg, the Eagles Nest, etc. Hitler's home was rubble at that time and there was very little of it. I imagine it's been picked clean by now that was 33 years ago. I would go. It would be painful but I think it would be worth it.

Tracy
10-25-2007, 07:10 PM
This is slightly off-topic, but only a bit so hope i'll be forgiven.

The hilarious Irish writer Marian Keyes has a monthly newsletter where she catches her subscribers up with her doings - in hilarious tones too. Last month she went to Slovakia where the Irish team were playing football. I replicate it below, and after you've read it you can decide if you think you want to include Slovakia on your itinerary.
Marian's article:

Okay, Slovakia. Well, we went there thinking a) the Irish football team would beat the living daylights out of the Slovak team b) that the Slovaks were lovely people. Neither of these things transpired to be true.

We set off from Prague on the Saturday morning, full of good cheer. We arrived at the SAS Radisson in the centre of Bratislava to discover that only one of our 3 rooms was ready (even though it was later than 3 o’clock.) We could hardly hear the conversation with the surly, surly, oh very surly desk person because of the singing of The Fields of Athenry from the bars across the street. Undeterred, we went to the one room and my brother Tadhg leaned out the window, looking at the hordes of Irish fans out there and said, “There it is! I’ve seen my first green inflatable hammer!” And so festivities were declared open.

Out we went. Irish fans everywhere full of niceness. Slovak police also everywhere. Not full of niceness. Making people take down Irish flags. Telling people to shut up the singing. Slovak bar staff. Not full of niceness. Back to the hotel to see if the rooms were ready. Revelation from (different other) surly desk person. The hotel was overbooked. There was no room for my brother Niall. The whole town was full. But they had secured him some rude lodgings outside the town, halfway to Budapest. All of us very distressed. He’s our brother, we exclaimed! We don’t see him that often! Don’t send him halfway to Budapest! But nothing doing.

Duff

We went for something to eat. And my God, the frozen, unsmiling hostility of it all. You’d swear it was illegal to smile in Slovakia. Indeed, maybe it is! Certainly, enough police around to enforce it too. Frankly we were astonished by the unpleasantness of the staff. I mean, I admit that Irish people can sometimes be a bit wearing, with their constant chat and bonhomie and desperate desire for the craic, but come on!

Then we went to the ground where the warm Slovak welcome continued. There were only 2 gates for the Irish fans and 279 for the (13) Slovak fans. Tumbleweed was blowing through the Slovak turnstiles but they still wouldn’t let us come in. They directed us (curtly, nay brutally) to the Irish gates which looked like Red Cross Feeding Stations in a famine zone. It was really – genuinely – scary. Although everyone (by which I mean the Irish people, not the granite-faced Slovaks) were really good-humoured, we were so crushed that my feet were lifting off the ground. By the time we got in the National Anthems were playing and there were still loads of Irish people stuck outside in the throng so they would have missed the start of the game. However, the less said about the game the better. All that you need to know is that it looked like we were going to win then we let in a stinky Slovak goal in injury time. And it felt like fecking déjà vu! It was Tel Aviv all over again! We were gutted, gutted, gutted! And to enhance our happiness, the Slovaks sent in a load of riot police who were so obviously itching for a fight. I’ve never been so insulted in my life! I’ve been to Irish games in lots of counties and never, ever, ever have we been treated like this. Irish fans are nice! Everyone knows that! (Like I say, yes, we can at times be wearing with the anecdotes and the good-humour but coshing people over the head with batons just to shut them up surely isn’t the way to go.) Then – the final salt in the wound – the Irish fans were locked in – yes, locked in – for 15 minutes at the end of the match, to let the 6 Slovak fans home safely (yes, I had originally thought there were 13 Slovak fans but 7 of them were Irish who had had to buy Slovak tickets because all the Irish ones were sold.)

Bhuel, a chairde! (Irish for Well, mes amies), it was a bad business. I know many of you will write to me (or maybe not) and say that some of your best friends are Slovakian and they spend their days from dawn till dusk laughing their heads off and a nicer, warmer, more fun-loving nation you couldn’t hope to meet. And that may well be the case. I am not judging the entire Slovakian nation, only the 417 Slovaks I met. Maybe they were having a bad day. All of them.

In fairness, no wonder it was such a peaceful business when they decided to break away from the Czechs and make their own country. The Czechs must have been delighted! ‘Work away lads, good luck with it all, no, no, no need to feel guilty, we’ll be grand. We’ll miss you of course, your little smiling Slovak faces, but we respect that you must do what you must do.’

And of course, out of suffering, great art sometimes comes. So much so that I’ve been inspired to write a pome about my time there. It goes as follows.

Slovakia. Oh Slovakia!
I won’t be going back to ya.

Southern_girl29
10-25-2007, 07:13 PM
Yes, I would go. I'm not sure if I would be able to handle it, but I would certainly try.

AnnieColleen
10-25-2007, 07:19 PM
I went, when I spent a semester in Austria. It wasn't emotionally overwhelming to me (not much is), but it was a very quiet, solemn kind of feeling. I really didn't have a mental picture of it before, so it was good, for me, to be able to get an idea at least of what it looks like today. It was a gorgeous day, very incongruous. The open grassy areas between the guard towers made a pretty scene, until we found out there was no grass there at the time, and that detail turned the picture on its head. There are displays of heaps of shoes that were left there, and the hair, as Donna mentioned, that was all turned gray from the gas. And Maximilian Kolbe's starvation cell.


Ok, typing that out is giving me the shivers now!


Another sightseeing place we went to -- and I don't remember offhand where it was -- is the salt mines that have all the statues carved in the rock. Gorgeous work...they have an entire ballroom carved out of salt rock, and statues of Polish legends, and saints, and all kinds of things. And clean air like I've never felt anywhere else; apparently they have a clinic for breathing problems elsewhere in the mines! I don't know how that would fit into your schedule, though.

Sounds like it'll be a great trip!

WendyNYC
10-25-2007, 07:37 PM
Another sightseeing place we went to -- and I don't remember offhand where it was -- is the salt mines that have all the statues carved in the rock. Gorgeous work...they have an entire ballroom carved out of salt rock, and statues of Polish legends, and saints, and all kinds of things. And clean air like I've never felt anywhere else; apparently they have a clinic for breathing problems elsewhere in the mines! I don't know how that would fit into your schedule, though.

Sounds like it'll be a great trip!

I forgot about the salt mines. They were great.

RLB
10-25-2007, 08:00 PM
Well now you people have got me thinking about rearranging our itinerary (though I'm not sure I could make it work at this point).

The thing I'm realizing as I'm reading through all the guidebooks is that because much of the region we're visiting was first under Nazi control and then under the communist regime, there are many memorials, exhibits, and museums dedicated to the suffering these people endured (though I'm sure Auschwitz is probably the biggest).

I still remember the emotion of standing in the Holocaust exhibit in Prague's Jewish quarter six years ago, and I really want my husband to experience it.

Thanks for all your opinions...

(and Tracy- we were feeling kinda "meh" about Slovakia, so it didn't make the cut; I'd still really like to see Romania and Bulgaria, but we'll have to save them for another trip)

RLB
11-13-2007, 08:10 AM
Well, we went. It was chilling.

Thanks for your encouragement; it's not something we'll ever forget.

Slovenia was probably my favorite country (we went to Lake Bled and Ljubljana), but I loved the exuberance of Krakow, the stateliness of Budapest, the natural beauty of Croatia, and the refinement of Vienna. And Prague was still Prague (though a little pricier than the last time I was there). It was a great trip!

Soccer Mom
11-13-2007, 08:29 AM
You're back! Sounds like you had a fantastic trip!

WildBill
11-13-2007, 08:37 AM
If I want to see how depraved and terrible humanity is, I can always look in a mirror. If I'm interested in wandering the largest mass graves of genocide available, I'd go to Russia. Stalin made Hitler look like a piker.


Theognome

crazynance
11-13-2007, 08:55 AM
no = nie [nyeh]
I had a chance to go when I was staying in Wroclaw. I reckoned it would overwhelm me. Of others who went, one man felt he could hear the cries of the dead. How many hundreds of thousands of voices would that be?

billythrilly7th
11-13-2007, 09:10 AM
I'd go. I'd get angry. I'd cry. I'd get angry. I'd cry. I'd leave. I'd remember it forever.

DonnaDuck
11-13-2007, 06:54 PM
I read an article a couple weeks ago that the site that a death camp was on somewhere near Slovenia or Slovakia, one of those countries, is actually being used to host a concernt. Somehow this piece of property slipped through the cracks and was able to be bought by a private investor that's now using the land for capital gain. He states that it's "prime real estate" and would increase revenue for the area. If I can't find the article again, I'll post the link. It's one of the most disgusting things I've ever read. That's capitalism at its worst, right there, when you look at a former death camp and all you see is potential dollar signs.

Storyteller5
11-13-2007, 07:35 PM
That's great that you did go. I think it's important to feel those things and see these places to understand from a new perspective a little more about the world.

eodmatt
11-13-2007, 09:42 PM
In 1968 I was posted as a young soldier to Germany. To Hohne garrison in fact which is in between the town of Bergen and the Belsen concentration camp. I had to visit Belsen, of course. it is a sombre place and it is said that no bird sings withing the confines of its fences. That certainly seemed to be the case each time I visited the site. I visited the camp several times. Once isn't enough to comprehend the full horror of what happened there. I was interested to see coach parties of German children also visiting. These were no chattering kids on holiday, but serious, quiet kids, learning what happens when a totalitarian regime take over a country. Several years later also I visited Dachau.

1991 found me in Somalia at a town called Hargeysa. A delegation of local women took me to a small plateau forty minute or so drive from the town. The plateau had small tufts of cloth sticking out of the ground. Hundreds of them. The women told me that this was where the despotic Mohamed Siad Barre's army had taken all of the women and children from the town and machine gunned them. Each tuft of cloth denoted the body of a woman or a child.

In about 1995 I visited Tuol Schleng, the torture / murder building in Pnomh Penh. I was in Cambodia as a member of a European Commission Fact-finding Mission. We were escorted around the place by a stunningly beautiful Khmer girl of about 20. Piles of skulls and human bones in evidence everywhere; dried blood still visible where the prisoners had their throats cut by their tormentors in the moments before the place was liberated.

At the end of the tour the young lady, with the pain plainly visible in her eyes asked me: "So what do you think of Cambodian people now, Sir?"

I told her that it was not a Cambodian thing. that it was a human race thing. She didn't believe me. She thought I was just being diplomatic.

read and destroy
11-15-2007, 06:24 PM
Well, we went. It was chilling.

Thanks for your encouragement; it's not something we'll ever forget.

That's what does it for me. You can either go and sit on the beach for a week, unnecesarilly sweating and enduring boredom for the sake of a suntan, or you can go see something really interesting, like Auschwitz. I know what I'd rather do.

The Jewish quarter of Prague I wasn't massively impressed with. Although it's great to see, it loses some authenticity in the way it's catered towards tourists. The city's a fairy tale though.


In about 1995 I visited Tuol Schleng, the torture / murder building in Pnomh Penh.

Sod going to Cambodia in 95'. I did however go a couple of years ago. Amazing place! The people are so friendly, but the history and what remains of it is more than chilling. Not sure what it was then, but Tuol Schleng's now the genocide museum, full of tourists, but largely in its original state. The blood's still there.

Shwebb
11-15-2007, 10:54 PM
I'm glad you found the experience worthwhile, RLB. I'd have gone, as well.

I'm wanting to go to the Holocaust Museum in DC. Has anyone toured that, as well?

DonnaDuck
11-15-2007, 11:36 PM
I went but it was more than a decade ago, right after they built it. From what I remember, it was very solemn, very moving and very realistic. It's a huge building, 8 storeys, I think and floor we were on was rebuilt to look like the inside of the barracks. I had a Jewish teacher that was with us at the time. It was hard for her to handle.

KansasWriter
11-16-2007, 09:21 PM
I have been to both Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Auschwitz I found very difficult to understand. I wasn't emotionally affected by it at all. It was, and take this how you will, like a small government-run collection of buildings in any government town. The ovens and whatnot didn't really get to me. I'm not sure what I expected but not much happened.

But Birkenau was another story. That's where the train tracks ended. That was where a big open space held long barracks and bunk beds. It's strange, but an open space can sometimes be vastly more frightening than one that is evokes feelings of confinement - at least for me. I felt some horror at the isolation of the place.

Both camps are within a 15 minute drive of each other if I remember correctly. I highly recommend going.

KansasWriter
11-16-2007, 09:24 PM
Oh I didn't see the other post.

Tuol Schleng was terrifying. The Cambodians have left some rooms as they were. There were just these single beds made of thin metal in the middle of former classrooms. The broken yellow-tiled floors were filthy and had horrible stains. People had been shackled to the beds and tortured until they died. That place was all too real.

eodmatt
11-17-2007, 11:39 AM
[quote=KansasWriter;1817163]Oh I didn't see the other post.

Tuol Schleng was terrifying.

Yes. And its odd how certain things about it became fixed in my mind, like pictures, about that place. The small, almost dainty red clay bricks that had been used to build rickety walls to partition some of the rooms into cells. The ammunition boxes that were all that the inmates had for use as toilets. The bare springs of the beds. And outside the water filled 45 gallon oil drum and the adjacent wooden frame to which people were lashed upside down and which was used to lower people head first into the water until they lost consciousness and were then removed from the water and revived. Over and over again.

Business goes on as usual outside Tuol Schleng now and there is a shoe shop in a parade of shops opposite, where for about 6 dollars (US) you can (or could in 1999, the last time I was there) order a pair of bespoke shoes. The staff in the shop get you to sit with your feet on a bit of paper. They draw round each foot with a felt tip pen and use it as a template for your new shoes, which you pick up the next day - direct moulded composite sole and leather uppers. Ingenious!

spanner3
11-17-2007, 12:08 PM
I visited Bergen Belsen after a very comfortable night and a beautiful meal in the very nice, well kept expensive town. I had no idea that it was the town through which hundreds of Jews had been force marched through on their way to the Gas Chambers. Geography is not one of my few talents. The next morning, Matt took me to the camp site. There was no birdsong, no rabbit pellets, in fact no sign of animal life anywhere inside the camp.
I found it impossible to reconcile myself to the fact that the affluent town I'd spent the night in, was filled with people who would have seen what was happening, and turned their backs on it for whatever reason.
We didn't go back through the town, which was a very good thing. I found that I wouldn't be able to meet these people again and not tell them exactly what I thought of them.
It took me ages to come to terms with the camp and the indescribable atmosphere inside the walls, and it has shaped my view on a whole race of people, whether that is fair or not.
Ignorance is no excuse, and as far as Belsen goes, it's an outright lie. The whole town was aware.

Maggie

Inky
11-17-2007, 12:17 PM
You guys realize that the Holocaust never happened right?

*runs away*

Note: This was a sad attempt at humor. The culprit has been captured and beaten severely. He promises never to be an instigator again.

Seriously though, I don't think I could visit that. The negative vibrations would just overwhelm me. My inlaws went and they told me about it. That's more than enough for me. There's a reason I never watched Schindler's List.

I resided in Germany for 6 years ('til this past August). Every person we met that swore this was THE THING TO DO, came back haunted.
And not in a way that it moved them, but in a way that scarred them deeply. Some would feel this is a good thing, but a few of you out there will realize the difference, and understand what I'm conveying here.

If you go, from every story/detail I've been told, I personally would NOT take children. If you're taking teens, I would truly give that some deep thought. You might think it's educational for them; you might discover it's more than they can handle.

This isn't a DisneyLand vacation. This is profound. Go into it with much responsability for those you take with you.

eodmatt
11-17-2007, 12:47 PM
I have been to both Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Auschwitz I found very difficult to understand. I wasn't emotionally affected by it at all. It was, and take this how you will, like a small government-run collection of buildings in any government town. correctly. I highly recommend going.

My experience was similar. What affected me most deeply was the haunting feeling of utter despair and depravity. Hopelessness. An atmosphere which still prevailed, of complete and utter injustice; an inexorable movement to inevitable death for no reason other than perverted policy. A deadly bureaucracy, uncaring and feeling only hatred.

As far as Belsen was concerned: I found out that the regiment, of which my squadron was a part in 1968, had been the unit which had breached the fences of Belsen with its bulldozer tanks at the close of the war. The disease, malnutrition and inhumane conditions that were found there were all recorded in the dry unemotional style of the units regimental history. Along with pictures of the emaciated bodies of the dead being bulldozed (because of the risk of Cholera and other diseases) into vast pits, where now there are grassy mounds with markers that simply say e.g. "5000 lay here". Belsen is now a lot of open space.

On several occasions I drove past Belsen to the next village, which is called, I think, Winsen Aller. The road from Beslen to Winsen is narrow with trees planted at intervals on both sides. Deep drainage ditches run along the road on either side. When I drove the road in '69 it was winter. A hard winter with temperatures of -25C. Snow on the ground. The road is exposed to the icy, killer winds which blow off the great north German plain, the Lunerburger Heide. I remember distinctly imagining, as I drove the road, a long straggling column of victims, starved and ill dressed, being abused and beaten having been disgorged from the cattle trucks at the railway sidings and being force marched to the camp, some dying along the way and being left in the ditches.

It is said that the people of Bergen knew little or nothing of Belsen concentration camp during the war. There is some plausibility to this idea, since Belsen was in a heavily militarised area where the movement of civilians would have been severely restricted. But the residents of Winsen Aller MUST have seen the over loaded cattle trucks with their content of starving and sick people passing through.

Anyway, sorry to run on. Vivid memories and all that.

DonnaDuck
11-17-2007, 06:34 PM
I refused to believe that people in a town that close didn't know something was going on. The stench alone would have been overwhelming. They didn't necessarily have to see anything to know that something was going on.

Melisande
11-17-2007, 06:37 PM
So I'm curious what other people think. Would it be a sightseeing priority for you?

No!

johnnysannie
11-17-2007, 06:45 PM
I had relatives who died in the Holocaust and although they died at Theirenstadt, not Auschwitz, I have no desire to go because it would be very emotional for me; to me it's personal.

Inky
11-17-2007, 08:38 PM
I refused to believe that people in a town that close didn't know something was going on. The stench alone would have been overwhelming. They didn't necessarily have to see anything to know that something was going on.

This is in no way a defense of what transpired, but I did want you to know the way villages in Germany are geographically situated. They are nestled between valleys, mountains, forests, and whatnot on all sides. Enough so that a village that's within walking distance can remain so isolated, you really WOULDN'T know what's transpiring there.
When taking a brisk walk, through woods, a couple of natural trails, and one paved road, I came upon a village that was fairly large, and yet, I'd never seen it when driving. They were in the middle of a rather loud fair. Yet, walk back towards home for all of 15 minutes, and you could no longer hear the laughter, music, carnival bombardment of noise.

Now, as for the stench...eh..can't call that one. I've smelled a dead body once, it's a putrid odor that will never be forgotten. Multiply this, and yeah, you got me there: SOMEONE had to have smelled SOMETHING.

Anyhoo, most people don't know how vastly different Germany's set up compared to the states when it comes to their neighborhoods. It's still villages here--there--sorry, it's only been a few months since I've been away from the village I resided in.

But people talk. It seems to me THAT would have been the way word would have gotten 'round...if not the smell.

I really don't think any concentration camp should be considered a vacation hot spot.
If you're going for deep personal reasons, yes. If it's an educational study to enhance your degree, yes.
But as a vacation?
The word vacation in the same sentence as Concentration Camp is vulgar.

joetrain
11-17-2007, 09:07 PM
on ken burns' the war, they interviewed a soldier who liberated a camp near the end of the war, when the allies were first uncovering the holocaust. the camp was in a former insane asylum on a hill. the townspeople at the foot of the hill said they had no clue what was happening at the asylum. this infuriated the soldiers as even they could smell the place from the town. so the military forced the townspeople to bury the hundreds of camp victims alongside their own main street. the video of these civilians burying the victims was deeply poignant. i'd like to describe the scene better, but there are few words for the spectrum of the human condition present during that sad ritual -- the civilians, the soldiers and the inglorious deceased. it was one of those instances where our greatest attempts at poetry and art are crushed under a physical reality too great to bear.

RLB
11-17-2007, 09:11 PM
If you're going for deep personal reasons, yes. If it's an educational study to enhance your degree, yes.
But as a vacation?
The word vacation in the same sentence as Concentration Camp is vulgar.

Unless you happen to be on vacation when the opportunity to go arises. When we vacation, we usually spend a lot of time in museums, at memorials and exihibits, and getting to know the history of places.

I'm not getting a degree in history, nor am I Jewish, but I don't see anything wrong with going to mourn, learn and remember. I certainly do not regret going and would commend the experience to others.

ETA: I agree it would not be a place to bring children.

Inky
11-17-2007, 09:38 PM
For the reasons you listed above, I agree, this would be a place to see and 'feel', as that's what has always been told to me is the most profound of the experience: what you 'feel' that no amount of books will ever convey.

The initial post came across more as if this were a roller coaster ride, should one get on.
Many said go.
I simply desired you to see the other side of the wall.

joetrain
11-17-2007, 09:45 PM
if any wwii enthusiasts come this way, a question:

generally, german citizens say they were unaware of the holocaust, but surely some knew, or at least noticed things. were there any instances of revolutionary attempts against their genocidal govt. by the citizenry, or at least dissenting voices? if not, why? brainwashing? fear?

Inky
11-17-2007, 10:20 PM
My neighbor and I discussed this one night (I was living in a small village called Gries--pronounced 'Greece') and he delighted in teaching me the culture.

Many Germans were terified of what they were hearing and refused to believe it.
Many others were terified that if they spoke out, it would be their families marched to camp. Most don't realize that it wasn't just the Jewish communities, but Germans as well. If you had any mental disabilities, imperfections, you were considered unfit for what Hilter had in mind as the New World.

On a much smaller scale, but an example of group power and people's fear that if they don't go along, it will be them that these bad things happen to is Lord of The Flies.

Better them than me is a very real human emotion.

Plus, it was a different time. In this day and age, we ARE more aware of world events due to the interent. But back then, something like this could be well hidden from the rest of the world for a very long time.
And just like misery loves company, so do psychos. There were hundreds in high ranking positions that were beyond monsters. They enjoyed what they were doing. Got off on it, if you will.

It's equivelent to the Klan or any other racist faction. They deeply believe in their cause, and in this unswaying belief comes power.
People are drawn to power. Whether it be from fear, the hope of self gain, or to seek a bit of it for themselves, power is the ever elusive weapons of mass destruction.
One doesn't need a bomb to destroy a community/village/city/country.

One never knows to what extremes they'll suffer to keep their children from being stripped, used as medical research while they're unsedated, alive, and strapped down, so some sick doctor can perform a liver removal...and study the extent of how much pain the human mind can withstand before slipping into unconciousness.

That's one example of some of the nightmarish events...you should read what they did to twins.

This is--not 'was' (for it is very real to them even to this day) Germany's greatest embarrassment, greatest shame. And millions of Germans are horrified that this is the main thing they are known for.

joetrain
11-18-2007, 12:04 AM
Many Germans were terified of what they were hearing and refused to believe it.
Many others were terified that if they spoke out, it would be their families marched to camp. Most don't realize that it wasn't just the Jewish communities, but Germans as well. If you had any mental disabilities, imperfections, you were considered unfit for what Hilter had in mind as the New World.

Better them than me is a very real human emotion.

Plus, it was a different time. In this day and age, we ARE more aware of world events due to the interent. But back then, something like this could be well hidden from the rest of the world for a very long time.
And just like misery loves company, so do psychos. There were hundreds in high ranking positions that were beyond monsters. They enjoyed what they were doing. Got off on it, if you will.

It's equivelent to the Klan or any other racist faction. They deeply believe in their cause, and in this unswaying belief comes power.
People are drawn to power. Whether it be from fear, the hope of self gain, or to seek a bit of it for themselves, power is the ever elusive weapons of mass destruction.
One doesn't need a bomb to destroy a community/village/city/country.

One never knows to what extremes they'll suffer to keep their children from being stripped, used as medical research while they're unsedated, alive, and strapped down, so some sick doctor can perform a liver removal...and study the extent of how much pain the human mind can withstand before slipping into unconciousness.

i definitely understand these tendencies in human behavior, and see them as reasons for anything like the holocaust happening in the first place. but i am still wondering where the revolutionaries were, those with little family and great dissenting passion against injustice. maybe i'm thinking too modern american, but it seems other genocides in history had their share of counter-culture to deal with. maybe it's just a testament to hitler's effectiveness.



This is--not 'was' (for it is very real to them even to this day) Germany's greatest embarrassment, greatest shame. And millions of Germans are horrified that this is the main thing they are known for.

i passed through germany quickly, and didn't catch much conversation on wwii, but i met a particular german in southern england who was deeply shamed by his country's actions. he was a very kind man, but wore a huge beard and went by a fake last name so people wouldn't know his origin. this amazed and saddened me, being the gentle, welcoming spirit that he was, and, more notably, he was amazed that i didn't hold the holocaust against him personally. tragic.

Inky
11-18-2007, 12:38 AM
Joe,
There was a woman that I knew. Her daughter attended German school, vs American school on base. When her daughter reached middle school age, the principle felt it in the child's best interest to attend an American school, as Germany wasn't going to be her permanent home.
The mother flipped and accused the man of being a Nazi.

She said she'd never seen a man become so red in the face, so enraged, and so angry he spit more than he spoke.
It wasn't the first time she was tacky towards the foreign culture we were immersed in, but for me, it was enough to sever ties.

Anyhoo, yes, it is horrific that they must hide for fear of being preconceived as evil.

It is a country we hope to be stationed in again. Germany or Scotland will be where we retire.

You brought up interesting stuff! Now I'm wondering too if there were revolutionaries. Every country/war has 'em. Hmmmm. You know what? I wonder if The History Book Club has anything on this?
Think I'll check with A&E and the History Channel. Mind you, I don't get these two channels here in Turkey, so I'll have to surf their website.

Good post. You brought up a subject that makes a person sit back and ponder over all the possibilities.

RLB
11-18-2007, 01:24 AM
One thing that made an impression on me were the amount of school groups (mostly older teens) we saw at Auschwitz, many of them German-speaking. According to our guidebook (so I'm not how accurate this is), many German schools mandate a trip to Auschwitz for their students.

Inky
11-18-2007, 01:56 AM
Yes. So it won't happen again. And...another thing most don't really have the up & up on, it's also in hopes of detering today's youth from becoming Neo-Nazi. They have a strong influence in Berlin, and rumor had it Frankfurt.
The the German populace is fiercely strong and straight-forward. They have no qualms doing whatever it takes to eradicate the racism before it spawns another nightmare.

I think you should just be really, really, really aware/prepared that you will come away from this deeply moved. It WILL stay with you for a very long time.
There's a section where there are quilts (?) made from the hair shaved from the women about to enter the gas chambers.

Like I said, your best bet is to totally mentally prepare.

Inky
11-18-2007, 01:59 AM
pS,
please know that, should you visit Germany, you will be most welcome. They are a very kind people. Europeans are blunt, so don't let that put you off, but you sound well-traveled, so I think you know this.

If you need help with some of the inside scoop regarding culture and the day-to-day life there before going, don't hesitate to PM me. But I don't know how you're traveling either. Me? I throw on a backpack and go to wherever the day takes me. And I hate hotels. I rent a flat, and immerse into the culture.

Also, be sure to get your international drivers liscense, if you haven't already. They're really cracking down on that here.

DonnaDuck
11-18-2007, 02:14 AM
It's also a crime to deny the Holocaust in Germany. There was a very public trial of a man who did just that. I can't remember his name but he was certainly swarmed upon for denying it. I didn't get a chance to visit Germany while I was in Europe but I'd like to go. There was a woman in a war class I had taken that was writing a bit about the liberation of one of the camps and how Himmler had whitewashed the records in order to make it look like he helped the liberation in order to save himself. Really it fell upon the shoulders of this one man who wore the Nazi uniform but was a dissident and fought the regime from the inside. He put Schindler to shame. She even obtained silent footage of HJ members sledding and showed it to us. She hunted down known Nazi soldiers as a means to obtain information and had her life threatened on more than one occasion for it. So there were those that revolted but it's not the romanticized notion of revolution where people stand up and fight. It was covert and would have been downright stupid to publicly revolt because you certainly wouldn't have gotten very far.

joetrain
11-18-2007, 08:35 AM
mmmm, good posts. thanks for popping in donna d. this is what i was thinking, that there were some working against the machine under the radar . i just wonder why we don't hear much about them.

yeah, i'm looking forward to ending up in the eu again. we're planning on france in two years or so, as my wife has french connections and and the language (supposedly i'll also have the language by then too). but it looks like we'll have some good friends moving to germany on a similar timetable. i'm sure i'll get a lot of opportunities to explore the area/history as i please.

inked, turkey: i've really wanted to go there for a while. how do you find it? i would like to explore the old ottoman empire sometime soon, and i figure turkey is probably the most accessible muslim country right now.

i'd like to pick your brain on some of your travels for future planning, but this may constitute a derailment (and i'm already recovering from the mental derailment from your new avatar). maybe pm me about turkey.

eodmatt
11-21-2007, 12:09 PM
"i passed through germany quickly, and didn't catch much conversation on wwii, but i met a particular german in southern england who was deeply shamed by his country's actions. he was a very kind man, but wore a huge beard and went by a fake last name so people wouldn't know his origin. this amazed and saddened me, being the gentle, welcoming spirit that he was, and, more notably, he was amazed that i didn't hold the holocaust against him personally. tragic."[/quote]

Good old Santa Claus! http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/icons/icon12.gif

Seriously, I lived in Germany from 1968 - 73 and from 1980 - 1984. I speak German (badly now) and I can honestly say that I don't think that what happened during the National Socialism era is indicative, nor characteristic of the German nation. During my time in Germany I made many friends there and of course, met a few fundamental orifices too. But you get them everywhere. And what happened in that dark era of Germany's past I have seen evidence of in other countries.

eodmatt
11-21-2007, 12:12 PM
One thing that made an impression on me were the amount of school groups (mostly older teens) we saw at Auschwitz, many of them German-speaking. According to our guidebook (so I'm not how accurate this is), many German schools mandate a trip to Auschwitz for their students.

German law dictates that the Holocaust is taught in schools and for the majority of school children there, this means a visit to a former concentration camp.