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Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka...

Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka...

Jan 13th, 2009, 09:23 PM
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Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka...

I must ask this question and in a reverent solemn manner. Why should a person who is educated about the atrocities that took place in WWII visit one of these concentration/extermination camps? Is it akin to visiting a cemetary which I do understand and appreciate, though I don't do it often. I am frankly abhorred by the thought of what happened and can't imagine going to these places. I'm not sure I could appreciate what happened more than I do already, though there is always something to learn. Please don't misunderstand, I am not trying to disrespect or offend anyone. I just see posts all the time on here recommending Auschwitz and Dachau in particular. As a side note, I have relatives that are ethnically Japanese-American and spent their childhoods in "internment camps", losing all of their family possesions and years of their lives; different yet somehow similar... I've never felt compelled to visit those sites either. Please give me your thoughful feedback.
jumbonav is offline  
Jan 13th, 2009, 10:09 PM
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IMO, it is one thing to learn about concentration camps by the book versus actually visiting one or two.
Without trying to make a joke of it, it would be same as if you said that the information leaflets of your dentist actually prepared you for the pain you feel at a real visit to your dentist.

I find the camps very different from a regular cemetary or an old battle field since the aspect of industrialized extermination is especially frightening for me. Others may find it more remarkable that several camps (like Dachau or Buchenwald) are near very nice and quaint towns (Dachau and Weimar, respectively), so the terror went on while a few minutes away other people were enjoying their small town lives, or were busy studying Goethe and Schiller.

It will be hard to foresee how a visit will touch you, but I am almost sure that you while you may not actually "learn" new facts, it will have an impact that goes beyond a mere academic understanding of history.
Cowboy1968 is online now  
Jan 13th, 2009, 10:37 PM
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Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon, or the Ocean, or the Alps or the Rocky Mountains? How did that compare to just seeing them in pictures or reading about them. Quite a difference wasn't it?

After living in Germany for 21 years, I finally was able to visit Sachsenhausen near Berlin last year. It is very sobering to be there, to be in the barracks or jail cells or the morgue. To stand next to the torture poles, to stand next to the autopsy tables, to view these places of execution is something very different than reading about it or watching a film. There is such a feeling of sadness when there. The vast horridness of it all is something I think people should experience if possible. The time will come when no one is alive to relate these things on a personal level, and then the world will have to rely on these memorials, films, books and photos. Hopefully it will be enough.

In my opinion it is not like visiting a cemetery, unless of course one has relatives that were killed there.
Mainhattengirl is offline  
Jan 13th, 2009, 11:34 PM
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I have relatives who feel that that the Holocaust, or Shoah, has been illegitimately appropriated and made to serve ends that distort the reality of what happened and -- more to importantly -- create obstacles to understanding that do nothing to avoid a repetition of what happened. They therefore almost make a deliberate point never visiting the monuments and relics. I doubt this is going to ever be your problem, but I also have a friend with whom it is impossible to visit Holocaust memorials because his attitude is so devastatingly Larry David-Mel Brooksian, one can end up being the only person laughing in church, which can be pretty uncomfortable.

I think the uses and abuses of history are instructive to see -- all monuments and memorials are political, including Holocaust ones, and its interesting step back and see what the preservers and builders are trying to accomplish, what message they are promoting, and how willing they are to be hands off about the conclusions you draw. I haven't been to the death camps, but on my tour of Berlin, I visited a number of sites that memorialized the Holocaust. Only on rare occasion were the facts allowed to speak for themselves, which can be electrifying, educational and really helpful in sorting out how to avoid -- one hopes -- more inhumanity.

But I saw little to compare with the scholarship, honest history and intelligence of the memorials and museums that chronicle the crimes that culminated in Hiroshima, open up inquiry as to how to avoid a repetition. I think the Holocaust is currently more of a political football, and its history is too much in the control of people who are afraid to let other human beings think freely about it or come to it freely. They want to insist that not only you go, but that you leave with their thoughts about it, not your own, which is why the relatives I mentioned above avoid them, almost on principle. (They're Jewish.)

One other thought: I found going to Pompeii gave me nightmares for several days. If you are sensitive and imaginative, you are under no obligation to go to places that are going to sear images of horror into your brain that cause you pain that is wholly unrelated to being a moral person. And you shouldn't let yourelf be bulled into it.
zeppole is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 04:01 AM
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Hi J,

Do you think that watching the movie "Summertime" is the same as visiting Venice?

> I am frankly abhorred by the thought of what happened and can't imagine going to these places.<

In which case, don't go.

OTOH, you might find that facing the reality of it gives you a better insight into why it shouldn't be repeated.

ira is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 04:20 AM
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Was the analogy crafted to be insulting or just inept?

I've never visited the death camps, so I don't what I would learn if I did. I'm sure I'd learn something. But I'm equally sure seeing one is not going to make think the Holocaust was worse than I currently think it was, and I already know why it shouldn't be repeated.

Even when I was first told as a child about the Holocaust, I understood right away that it was a horrible crime. In truth, nothing I have seen in the way of memorials since has added anything to the moral dimension of my understanding. It's added to my understanding of how it was done. But I already knew it was heinous.

On the other hand, there is a least one Holocaust memorial I visited that I'm really surprised people don't protest. The idea is to take people down increasingly narrow corridors, or momentarily trap them in elevators -- supposedly to give them a feeling for the "experience" of an extermination camp. To me that's truly misleading and a travesty, I wouldn't want my children to ever think going to such a memorial gave them a "feeling" or an "experience" of "what it was like" in the death camps. That to me is worrisome development in education, to theme park everything, even things that can't and shouldn't be theme parked.

zeppole is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 04:48 AM
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When my wife and I went to Dachau and Auschwitz we felt as if we had gone on a pilgrimage, something we owed to the thousands and thousands who had gone to their deaths. We were paying our respects to the innocent.

We are not Jewish nor do we have any of the other "qualifications" set up by the Nazis for incarceration or death in those places. We are simply human.

Unpleasant places? No doubt. A warning lest it all be repeated? No doubt. Instructive and chilling? No doubt.

As Harry Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."
USNR is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 05:11 AM
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I had not visited any holocaust sites until our 2-week trip to Bavaria and the Mosel River in 2002. We did not plan to visit any on that trip. I thought it wasn't necessary because I understood what terrible things had been done during the holocaust.

Our last day in Germany on that trip, we stayed in a hotel near Frankfurt airport in the north end the town of Walldorf. Mid summer and there was still plenty of daylight. We asked the hotel owner if there was anything to see nearby.

He said there is a lesser-known holocaust memorial wood just a few blocks away. We went. It is a wooded area that held a slave-labor camp used to house Hungarian Jewish women who worked on the runways of the airport--to make them usable for the jet aircraft Germany started to deploy at the end of the war.

It's just a path through a lovely little wooded area. There are observation points along the path that explain what happened to these women. Photos, letters, diary pages, etc. Almost nothing is left of the camp.

In spite of my having been certain that I understood the enormity of horrors that was the holocaust, just walking that path where these women had been used and abused heightened my awareness immensely. And made it clear to me that however much I read about it, however many documentaties I view, however many camps or holocaust sites I visit, however many tears I shed that evening, however much I ache inside for the victims--I will never come close to touching their experiences.

How terrible it was--and human beings, children, men, women, families in various locations around the world at various times since then have and are experiencing similar tragedies.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 05:16 AM
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I have to agree with USNR I visited Auschwitz with a friend two years ago. We agreed beforehand that wwe not use cameras, (they are not allowed anyway) but for us as two English ladies born just postwar it was prinarily a pilgrimage, and it turned into an educational visit. Nothing can prepare you for the mountains of clothes, shoes, luggage complete with labels that are there in the huts. The atmosphere was one of reverence and calm so much the opposite of what happened there. We said we wanted to pay our respects, we did and while I don't want to go back I am glad, although that is not the right word, that I went. I am also glad that we made the visit on the first day our trip to Krakow and were able to go on to the other sights on subsequent days.
tipsygus is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 05:54 AM
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Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. I'm seeing things on other posts like, "It took me several days to recover from my visit." One of you wrote here, "There is such a feeling of sadness when there. The vast horridness of it all is something I think people should experience if possible."

Well, I'm already sad and horrified just thinking about these places. Frankly, right now, I'm not planning on visiting any of these sights but could change my mind while I'm in Europe this winter/spring.
Safe Travels...
jumbonav is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 06:11 AM
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Your language is ambiguous as to how your relatives think the concentration camps are being misused.

By the way, I have a Larry David sensibility but it did not surface at Auschwitz. Additionally, the day after our visit we took a train to Prague. In our compartment was Sol, a Holocaust survivor, his second wife, his son, and a German doctor. Sol told us how he hid in the woods for years and yelled at the guide at Auschwitz when she denied the Poles were complicit. The German doctor was knowledgable of the camps and sensitive to Sol.

To the original poster:

If you are an educated person than you understand the significance of the camps. Why should anyone visit a museum, the home of a signifcant person, or something was not originally intended as a remembrance? What do you expect to see? What to expect feel? I am actually confused that the question is even posed.

It was eerie to see the siding and the gate where the trains originally entered and lives were decided immediately but what effects everyone I know who has visited Auschwitz are the exhibit cases.

There are simple glass cases with glasses, hairbrushes, suitcases, and other personal effects and that more than the remnants of gas chanbers or the siding make people emotional.

Aduchamp1 is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 06:42 AM
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I've read about the Roman Forum; no sense in seeing it in person.
I've seen pictures of the Louvre; no need to experience the surround-sight of beautiful are.
I've seen a movie about Normandy; no purpose served in viewing the heights that were scaled, the hedgerows that held snipers.

Sorry, that's the feeling I got from reading your post.

I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC after visiting Auschwitz the year before. I didn't experience the sorrow some do, but I was struck by the stupidity and thoroughness of the Nazi's hate.

I'm not Jewish, I'm almost 70, I consider myself very well-read. On a appreciation-of-the-Holocaust scale from 1 to 10, if being an Auschwitz survivor is a 10, and being a skinhead neo-Nazi a minus 10, and being merely a well-read geezer was a 3, I'd say that the Holocaust Museum was a 4, and Auschwitz was a 7. In short, the experience was more than worthwhile. Another analogy; one can read about good French food, and silently wonder how it could really be any different than American. But after 2 weeks in the south of France, you truly know the difference. Hope this is helpful.
tomboy is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 06:42 AM
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Hi Everyone,
It is ultimately a very personal decision for each and everyone. My mother, as a young child, vividly remembers her father's brother begging for help in escaping Germany and the threat of the concentration camps. As hard as he would try my grandfather could not raise the money needed to bring his brother and family here to the US even as the begging and pleading continued from his brother in Germany. Eventually the entire family was sent to various concentration camps and never heard from again.

The reality of that situation stuck with my mother to her dying day. She visited Europe yearly but she had absolutely no desire to visit any concentration camp or the Holocaust museum in Washington DC. It was too real for her. She said her family had lived it and I felt it was just too much for her to visit these places as it would make it too real.

I , on the other hand plan to visit Dachau later this year. It is part of my family's history. Reading about it is not enough. We took our children 5 years ago to the Holocaust museum in DC. I felt it was important for them to understand a little bit, even on their level what happened. Reading about it in a book was nothing compared to visiting the exhibits.

I personally feel it is getting farther and farther away from our memory as a world on the whole, and that is not a good thing. It is important to always keep it fresh in our minds, lest we forget.

Take care,
michele_d is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 07:21 AM
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I don't know what ambiguity you see in what I wrote. These relatives believe (and I agree) that no one speaks for the people who died in the Shoah, but that some people claim to and such people try to interpret the feelings of the dead and their wishes for the future. My relatives have expressed the opinion that they feel this is an illegitimate exercise, used to serve political ends that misrepresent what actually happened, make a mythology of it, and which will do nothing to prevent the re-occurrence of genocide.

The question of what keeps history and moral action fresh in our minds is very important one. Serious people can have differing approaches to this.

zeppole is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 07:53 AM
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ZEPPOLE, I think you have a problem with the "in your face" agenda for Holocaust memorials or museums. If you are ever in Budapest try to see THE SHOES MEMORIAL. Enough said. And yes, there are people that can speak for the victims of the Holocaust. Their loved ones CAN speak for them.
zwho is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 08:50 AM
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Please do me a favor. I did not start this post to have people insulting each other. Let's keep this post from either personalizing others' comments or getting in each other's knickers. I knew this was a controversial subject but this time, I was not trying to "stir the pot". Thanks.
jumbonav is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 08:54 AM
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I think I'm the "It took me several days to recover from my visit" poster. This is from the trip report I wrote afterwards for my email list and website:

"...once I decided to visit Krakow I knew that I would visit Auschwitz - for many reasons. I went as a reporter, to describe the experience, I went as a witness, to stand with those who will never forget and I went as a mourner, to honor the dead and the survivors. It turned out that I went also to be counted, as a record is kept of the number of visitors. What if nobody went?"

"What the photos cannot show is the atmosphere that still pervades the place, where even the grass seems reluctant to grow in such tainted soil. The pain and terror are still almost tangible, the screams almost audible. Some things I learned: those chosen to "live" lasted three months on average, Birkenau is more shocking than Auschwitz because it is so much bigger, and there is a grove of trees near the outer boundary of Birkenau that I thought must be postwar, but that were where the condemned waited their turn when the gas chambers were overloaded."

"As I wrote immediately afterwards, I found the experience profoundly upsetting, much more so than I had expected. I think this was partly because of the atmosphere at the site, but also because I grew up with the comforting myth that such inhumanity could only happen "there", but I am all too aware now that that is not true. Seeing the evidence of what was done at Auschwitz makes what has happened since, in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Sudan, somehow more real, and our apparent inability to stop such horror more depressing."

"...the ghosts at Auschwitz are very real. We should all visit. Once."

I should perhaps add that I went alone, and that I have some sensitivity to place - at somewhere like the Duomo in Siracusa, the oldest continuously occupied religious building in Europe, I experienced in contrast a very strong sense of peace and serenity.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 09:43 AM
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Hi Zepp,

Of this was addressed to me:

>Was the analogy crafted to be insulting or just inept?<


I was responding to the OP.

ira is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 10:08 AM
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I actually have a bigger problem with capital letters in posts. I'm sort of fascinated by memorials and museums, and the human effort to reduce unspeakable tragedy or evil to something you can tour in an hour or two, and I don't avoid them or make pilgrimages. I just take them in as I can and think about what I saw. Some are important repositories of historic material.

I dearly hope my LOVED ONES never try to speak for me after I'm dead, no matter how I go -- but, hey, I won't be around to stop them. (Just remember you heard it here, I disapprove. Spread the word.)

I don't think anybody can speak for a dead person, and when somebody begins telling me they do, I'm afraid I just don't put any credit to what they imagine they're doing.
zeppole is offline  
Jan 14th, 2009, 10:14 AM
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I just finished reading Suite Francaise,by Irene Nemirovsky. She was a French Jew and a brilliant writer who died in Auschwitz in 1942. I owe it to her memory to go to Dachau. I cried for 20 minutes when I read her heartbreaking letters to the French gov't, begging for help. Never again!!!!!!
Judyrem is offline  

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