Saturday, July 2, 2016

Postcard: Darker Days

Several common themes appeared throughout our river cruise. The one that should not have surprised me did just that, as I realized how far-reaching and deep ran its network of scars.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Statue of Anne Frank
near the church she
mentions in her diary.
Our first afternoon in town we went to the Anne Frank House. It's an informative, thought-provoking experience, especially as you wind your way up and through to the secret annex in the back, where the Frank family and others hid for two years.

One of the last exhibits explains where the inhabitants of the house were taken. Anne's roommate, Fritz Pfeffer (known as Albert Dussel in her diary), was taken to Neuengamme in October 1944 and died there two months later.

Although I haven't read The Diary of Anne Frank in decades, I remembered my sense of it. And I entered the house expecting to be impacted most by the plight of this young girl and her family.

Instead, I stood staring at Fritz Pfeffer's picture and final bio, stunned to find myself visiting here, where he hid with some hope for the future, when only last month I visited Neuengamme, where he labored and suffered and died at the age of 55.

Nuremberg, Germany

It's a shame that the vibrancy of Nuremberg is shadowed by its past, but the truth is the Nazi Party had big plans to make it their center of power, and it feels like the city is being careful to balance the responsibility of educating people about that legacy.

The Nazi Party rally grounds in Nuremberg
We visited the buildings that remain from the Nazi era, the courtroom where the first trial for "major war criminals of the European Axis" took place, and the Dokumentationszentrum--a comprehensive history of the rise of National Socialism. 

Courtroom 600, site of the first and most famous of the Nuremberg trials
Near the end of the Dokumentationszentrum journey, I hit a wall. They were showing footage from concentration camps: naked human bodies stacked like firewood or carelessly tossed into large piles. 

I began to cry. 

In almost every town we'd visited, there was mention of a former Jewish quarter, a marker for a former synagogue, and streets named or formerly named for a Jewish neighborhood. In one city, our guide told us the Jewish population was around 1,500--roughly a tenth of what it had been prior to the war. 

Vienna, Austria
Memorial to victims of National Socialism.
Nearby is a plaque dedicated to Nazi Party deserters.
As I walked out of the main exhibit area, I looked inside the unfinished Congress Hall, adjacent to the document center.

Trees grow in what would have been the building's vast interior. Down the road, another former Nazi building--in a sweet bit of irony--houses the office of immigration.

Instead of tearing them down and pretending they didn't exist, I think it's good that we keep these places. They serve the purpose of all scars--to remind us of our pain and teach us to be more mindful/careful/open/human in the future.

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