Thursday, July 2, 2009
Exploring the Holocaust
It has taken a while to decide how to classify my recent trip to Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The trip was a paradox. While it was exciting to visiting these sites of such enormous historical importance, it was sobering to realize that you were actually walking in the footsteps of over a million innocents who went to a premature grave in the name of a racial vision. I will still stand by earlier statements, the holocaust is the most understood-least understood topic in history. It was amazing how many of the "professional" local tour guides were so lacking in their knowledge of the event (i.e. the Warsaw guide informing the group that the Zyklon B was administered through the showerheads). Regardless, walking the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau filled me with a sense of awe. It was a trip I will never forget and to be honest, has re-energized me to teach the subject. This was my first return to Germany since 1990 (the summer after the wall came tumbling down). I was amazed at how the Germans are beginning the confront the ghosts of the Nazis as opposed to ignoring it. There are numerous sites dedicated to a confrontation of the past (i.e. the Topography of Terror in Berlin; the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; the Documentation Center at Nurmeberg). On my first trip to Nuremberg (June 1990), when I went to the tourist information center (seeking directions to the stadium-site of the infamous Nazi party rallies of 1934-1935) the lady chewed me out for wanting to see the "Nazi" sites instead of focusing on the German cultural sites. This time there seems to be a feeling of exploring the past for the purpose of never allowing it to happen again. In the end, we as Americans seem to get carried away with this notion of the Holocaust being a "German" event. We must never lose site of the fact that if it could happen in Germany (at the time arguably the most intelligent nation in the world), it could happen anywhere. That sobering truth makes the need for these types of trips essential. I stated earlier that I wasn't sure if I was up to the trip to Birkenau, I'm still not sure that I was. May we never forget the innocents who perished and the evil that made it so.