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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Arbeit Macht Frei

dachau-arbeit-56.1.jpgOne of those awful, chilling moments occured to me while waiting for a train on the Munich underground. It was a city I had wanted desperately to visit since childhood; a city which, for reasons lost and inexplicable and unknowable to me now, had fired itself to sparkling glaze in the kiln of a little boy's imagination. And there I was at last, a two-day business trip, waiting to take the train into town for the very first time. Excited too, as always when visiting foreign cities. Standing on the platform waiting for a train. Reading the Munich underground map.

And there it was - on the map - a suburb not 10km from where I stood. There it was, a little to the left, on the "A" line, ringed in blue: Dachau.

Dachau. Jeebus...

I just froze, jaw-dropped, chilled to the heart. Pointed it out to my colleague, squawking: "Look at that! Is that it? Is that the Dachau? F*ck's sake, it's a f*ckin' suburb!" Rather loudly too - loud enough that nearby locals roused by exclamation, all turned away.

One of those "grow-up" moments, the kind that happen at any age, where boyhood illusions are crushed and another little piece of the boy-that-was is lost forever. When the world, once again, disappoints.

Reading Steve Clemons this morning, who dedicates this post to an excellent article by Jacob Heilbrunn in the Wall Street Journal, contrasting the very different ways in which West and East Germany dealt with the memory of the Holocaust:

...The distress is understandable, but the upsurge in neo-Nazi activity in eastern Germany should come as no surprise. It is not simply high unemployment or the memory of the Third Reich that is the culprit, but something else that is frequently overlooked because it's seen as impolite, especially in European socialist circles, to mention: the anti-Semitic legacy of the former East German communist dictatorship.

Unlike West Germany after the war, the totalitarian regime represented continuity, not a break, with the Nazi past. Though the East German communists based their rule on the myth of anti-fascism, they had played a key role in bringing the Nazis to power in 1933 by undermining the democratic Weimar republic. The communists even directly collaborated with the Nazis during the 1932 Berlin Transport Workers' strike to cripple Weimar.

Go ahead: read the whole thing.

Further into it, I was sideswiped by this statement:

The same went for concentration camps; at Dachau, just outside the city of Weimar, there was no real mention of the Jews.
I don't want to appear trivial, or needlessly pedantic, by pointing-out what may be a factual error in an important piece, but I wonder, now, were there two Dachau's?

Perhaps I read it wrong - make no mistake, I am exactly the kind of fool to read a sentence out of context and jump to ridiculous conclusions? I am also the kind of fool who is easily distracted by such trivia, but so it goes.

Ah: the article was a mistaken. Buchenwald was the camp at Weimar, not Dachau. Buchenwald, the other "soft" camp, where inmates were worked or starved or beaten to death, not gassed. Dachau is still at Munich. So that's alright then.

Here's the thing: ever since The World At War, that magnificent series that pulled no punch, that I watched enthralled and appalled as a youth; since before then even, when parents would promise "you'll see the fillums one day, and see for yourself..."; since those very same boyhood days that longed for München and Alps; I'd known about Buchenwald, Dachau, Auschwitz, all. But knowledge is one thing, proximity another. Closeness - even 10km close - and the sudden realization that evil lived here once? That shocks to the core.

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