With the anniversary of the beginning of WW2 today and regional elections, where brown-ish parties have a far too high chance of joining the state parliament, approaching, I decided that it was about time that I posted this second part 2 of my Journey through a bit of Germany 2014. If you remember from part 1 did I try to do something different and selected destinations for the end of the day and stopped wherever I felt like it on my way there. Unlike the first part is this just about one stop, as it deserves its own post.
Day 1/2 – Stop 7: KZ Ravensbrück
As part of my Journey Through a bit of Germany 2014 I made a stop at the Memorial for the Woman’s Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager – KZ) Ravensbrück near Fürstenberg/Havel.
Like I told you with my last post, did I want to explore a bit on my own and Ravensbrück became my first major destination for that and I had made arrangements for accommodation there. After I arrived during the evening, I got my keys and had a brief look inside my room before I set off to Himmelpfort (see last post). When I returned it was still early, but already too late to properly have a look around the exhibitions, so I just strolled a bit through the grounds instead.
Simple yet horrifying
All around the area they have small and large markers telling you what a part used to be. One of the first that caught my attention was for a small way between two buildings. It doesn’t look like anything special, just a plain, small way, brought enough to stand in, that for me became one of the places I felt tears welling up inside me: This simple way was used for executing hundreds of women (“Erschießungsgang” in German). I took a photograph to show you the contradiction of this, but I deleted it, as it didn’t seem appropriate to keep.
Just beside the way was a building that didn’t look like anything special either that housed the crematorium. Three iron – I guess – ovens standing in line, silently telling of their former use. I am honestly one of those people that couldn’t care less about other peoples – at least those I never knew – miseries, but I was barely able to step inside that room. I only had one foot inside and I retracted it as soon as I had seen everything from the door. My deepest respect for those who were able to get inside to put paper crane chains, flowers and other things on the fence that cut off the room for the audience. I couldn’t bear it to get any closer.
A little behind the crematorium is a prison complex. Again I only took a few steps inside to see that it was part of an exhibition and decided to look at it the next day. Just with this short look I already had a feeling of dread and the need to get out again, before disturbing the place any further.
Right beside the complex and across from the crematorium starts a long wall with iron lettered names of several different countries. In front of it is a field filled with small gray pebbles and signs claiming:
“This was the place where the gas chamber stood that took the lives of thousands of women and children from more than twenty different countries”
Four memorial plates are put onto what now became a grave field. The first two telling what I wrote above, the third remembering the Sinti and Roma and the fourth remembering the Jewish victims. The field stretches as long as the wall with the country names that beside Germany include: France, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Great Britain, Spain, Romania, Hungary, Poland and more.
Behind the field is a wall that closes off an actual graveyard, but I only had a look at it from afar.
If you think the contradiction of the way was bad then I probably shouldn’t mention that the first picture on the side is right across from the grave field. A beautiful lake side with Fürstenberg in the background. It is partly morbid, partly fascinating how something like that can be at a place so horrible.
Not really a walk in the park…
When I had looked at the prison complex I had seen a field behind it and on my way back I went off to look at a few more buildings and found the entrance to it. Across a vast field that took about twenty minutes (This is about the time that past from when I last talked about the time with a woman from the staff until I checked it later; it makes more sense that only so little had past, but it felt way longer) to cross, lay the ruins and dug out remnants of the other complexes: Working offices, canteen, prison blocks, roll call area and right at the end a dressmaking shop, one of the few buildings that are still standing. Unlike my initial intention to only have a look at a couple of signs I walked all the way to the last building, trying to not let the bizarreness of the situation and the weird feeling I had, get to me. The field is covered with different kinds of pebbles: Small dark ones marking a pathway, grayish larger ones everything else. Where ever there used to be a building there is now a depression in the ground and there are many (about twenty in total if I remember the sign correctly).
When I reached the dressmaking shop I had a look at my watch, as I knew the exhibitions would close around six. As I still had about half an hour left until then I went inside and was greeted by creepy statues, created by an artist to symbolize the different inmates. With an even stranger feeling I crossed the whole hallway as well and only had a peek into the adjacent rooms, not daring to get inside. With a feeling as if someone would lock me in any minute I went back to the entrance as soon as possible.
As I didn’t want to return the way I came I left the path and walked behind the building towards were this walk had initially started. Shortly towards the end even came grass again where I could walk beside ruins of other buildings, like a laundry.
When I had left the field I passed a sign that told me that what was around me – the garages – were used by Soviet soldiers after they had freed the camp until 1977 and I remembered my dad telling me that when he was here during his army-time they had to pass these soldiers.
Life beside the camp
Other buildings used by the Soviets were the so-called “Führerhäuser” (Führer houses) that stand on small hills overlooking the camp. Initially the male officers – and I think their families – in charge of the camp lived in them, now one of them holds an exhibition about the houses’ history. The inside of the house was far from what it had originally been like, as the Soviets refurbished and remodelled the rooms to house, I think, up to a dozen men. You could still see the original style – that was frankly quite beautiful with lots of wooden ornaments, but not everywhere.
Between them, the barracks and the field is also a large house with a changing exhibition. I can’t remember what it was about when I was there, I kind of only skimmed through it. The building used to be an office I believe – and it’s still partly used as such.
A bit outside of the ground stand the housings for the Guard women, one of them now holds an exhibition about their way of living, their work and their crimes and the others are part of the Youth Hostel, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
All of these buildings are part of the camp, but yet parted from it through distance, walls and gates, showing how different the life must have been for inmates and guards.
If I haven’t overlooked anything then the whole area holds six permanent and one changing exhibition, but during the night I decided to only look through the one in the entrance building – though I can’t remember whether I looked at the three exhibitions mentioned above after my walk or the next day.
Walking the ground, with nearly no one else to see was strange and unlike my intention to just explore this on my own, I really would have liked to have someone with me. Though I doubt that even then I would have dared to look at the exhibition that would provide me with faces for the victims, I don’t think I could bear that knowledge.
While I wrote the draft for this I sat on my bed in the Youth Hostel (Jugendherberge) I stayed at for the night, in a house that used to house the female personnel of the camp, a Guard House. It was not until I woke up and realized that it was half past Midnight – directly within the ghost hour – and my inability to find sleep again that I decided to type this down right away. Even while my Laptop was making its usual noises I could still hear the unusual ones from outside: Wind or frogs/toads that sounded like broken screams, a dogs bark that reminded me of shouted commands and well the general quietness of the place. It already felt strange from the moment I settled into my room, but during the night it became worse and even though it was nearly half past two I as wide awake and unwilling to return to sleep until I gave in around four.
I glad that I cut out Sachsenhausen as second major destination. If I already want someone with me here I doubt going there would be any different.
In a lot of German schools it is mandatory to visit at least one Concentration Camp – not mine, at least not my class. While I was there, there were at least two school groups, though one of them was probably a bit too young to understand everything (sixth grade maybe?). They ran around playing hide and seek between the Guard Houses, laughed and were generally quite noisy and that just felt wrong for a place like this.
Students have to get an understanding for history and memorials like this, that keep it alive, are an essential part of this. With all the stuff happening in the world, especially the rising influence of brown-ish parties, it’s more and more important that people learn about our past and most of all learn from it to not let anything like it happen again.
On a completely different note: A couple of KZs were also in the news recently as they ordered that you should not be able to catch Pokémon on their grounds. Hunting Koffings or Weezings (Gas-Based Pokémon) or the Gastly-line (Ghost Pokémon) there, is pretty morbid and inappropriate, but also a bit ironic and fitting. It could encourage people to go there, but most would probably ignore the learning aspect of the trip and simply concentrate on the catching.
Well, this concludes this part of the Journey.
Have you ever visited a KZ? What were your experiences?
Do you think it’s a good idea to keep such places as a memorial?
What you can expect from the upcoming posts:
- Day 2: Fürstenberg -> Radis
- Day 3: Radis -> Halle (Saale)
- (The rest of the Journey: Halle, Koblenz, Kassel)
Stay tuned. I hope it wont take me that long to get the other parts up.