Sunday, February 17, 2013

Munich and Dachau

We began our Saturday once again treading through falling snow in the pre-dawn to reach the train station. We had packed suitcases with the intention of spending the weekend in Berlin, but at the station we learned that we would pay a hefty fee for not booking our ticket in advance. We made a last-minute change of plans and hopped a train for Munich and Dachau instead.

Immediately upon arriving in Munich, I remembered that I am not a city girl. My idea of a nice day traveling includes cozy villages, street music, family-run bakeries, and open-air markets. Munich was full of well-dressed Germans hastily slogging through the gravely slush that coated the streets, tall buildings, and noisy cars. On the bright side, the pedestrian avenues were richly scented with the aroma of roasting nuts, and we bought pretzel that was far bigger than my head. After a few hours we were on our way to Dachau.

Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. The thick iron gate guarding the entrance is inscribed with the phrase “Arbeit macht frei”: work brings freedom. Touring the camp was a sobering and difficult experience. The museum offered information about every aspect of the camp, the prisoners, and the historical events of the time period. The gruesome horror of the treatment of the prisoners was disturbing, but what haunted me most were the photographs of men, women, and children before they were taken as prisoners; a photograph of a happy family on a picnic, a laughing couple at their wedding, children on bicycles, a handsome young man with hope and fire in his eyes. These people were just like you and I before they were ripped away from everything that they knew and thrust into a living hell. We toured the grounds and structures, and by the time we arrived at the crematorium I felt thoroughly nauseous. I heard a little girl ask her mother “how could this have happened?” I wanted to know too.

In the bookstore afterwards, I found a beautiful little amulet that I fell in love with immediately. It is a Hamsa, a Jewish token that is said to grant protection and happiness. It is richly colored and engraved with little fish and an open eye, and the back is engraved with the Traveler’s Prayer in Hebrew. To me, the amulet represents faith, hope, and love, all of which seem to remain, enduring, even through the most horrific of human experiences.  

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