Matthias and I are busy packing all our things, and it looks as though we’ll only have to ship two boxes to Japan. While we still don’t know where in Tohoku we’ll be living, if we absolutely cannot find anything in Ishinomaki we will consider the option of living in Sendai for a short time before moving to Ishinomaki so that I can attend Japanese language school. In the meantime, we look forward to a visit to NJ to see my family on Tuesday morning.
In my last entry, I mentioned that our trip to Buchenwald concentration camp was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. My interest in the subject of the Holocaust began in high school; as an adult, I have continued to regularly read many books related to the Holocaust, the most recent being The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust by Michael Hirsch.
My main reason for reading about such a dark and unpleasant topic is a small attempt to honor the victims. “These victims of Nazi atrocities hid fragmentary records of their experience, they scratched words on walls, they died hoping the world would some day know, not in statistics but in empathy. We are charged to listen.” (Meyer Levin)
During our visit to Buchenwald, I found myself thinking many times about the residents in Weimar who were living so close by and yet claimed to not know what was going on. From the books I’ve read, liberators described their intense rage aimed at the local German citizens who were so close to the camp and yet did nothing to stop the murder. (This begs the question of what they could or should have done – what would I have done? Would I have risked my life to do something, anything for these people?)
A quote from the famous photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, about the citizens of Weimar: “The several hundred other spectators who filed through the Buchenwald courtyard on that sunny April afternoon were equally unwilling to admit association with the human beings who had perpetrated these horrors. But their reluctance had a certain tinge of self-interest; for these were the citizens of Weimar, eager to plead their ignorance of the outrages…With Olympian wrath, Patton ordered the townspeople to bear witness to what their countrymen had done, and what they themselves had allowed to be done, in their name.”
I sadly recalled a grim story I heard about the liberation of the Ohrduf concentration camp. “General Patton brought the mayor of Ohrdruf and his wife to the camp to see the camp for themselves. That night, the mayor and his wife hanged themselves. Their suicide note read, “We didn’t know! – but we knew.”
The entrance gate – the clock on top of the gate house is stopped at 3:15 p.m., the exact time that the prisoners were liberated on April 11, 1945
“to each his own”
the crematorium building
The “strangling room” – condemned prisoners were dumped alive into a concrete shaft – after falling about 13 feet down onto a cement floor they were hung on these hooks on the wall and strangled to death and their bodies incinerated.
I imagined that the prisoners of Buchenwald looked at this same beautiful sky and longed for freedom from their Nazi captors.
Diagram of patches for prisoners
Are there words to describe a visit to Buchenwald? Silence seemed to be the most appropriate thing to do in such a place. I remembered Anne Frank’s words” “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Sorry, but I don’t agree with dear Anne. At Buchenwald, I saw a horrific glimpse into the capacity of the human heart (and of my own heart!) to commit the worst kinds of evil. Jeremiah 17:19 seems an appropriate verse from the Bible to close this blog post: “The (human) heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”