Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Nazis were not alone


In my dad’s house there is a beautifully carved wooden box that has always fascinated me.

“Your great grandfather made that in the concentration camps,” my parents tell me. Only, they don’t know whether he was a prisoner, a commander, a Nazi or a Jew.

So, on a recent trip to Munich I decided to visit Dachau, one of the most notorious of the German prison camps. This is also my heritage, I think, as I slowly feel the vomit getting stuck in my throat.

The more I listen to the former prisoners' stories on the audio guide the more I start to feel different. Not only does my body go numb, but different things start to matter. My own insecurities and worldly desires evaporate and instead I feel this overwhelming need to be a good person, to love, to love, to love. Even if I don’t agree, understand or identify.

When I reach the incinerators my body refuses to take me inside. The tears well up but then I take a deep breath and walk that walk of death. The prisoners were told that they were going to shower. First they had to take off their clothes and hang them up. Then they walked into the ‘shower’ where they were gassed to death. The bodies were piled in a room and then burned in the ovens. Grim.

However, while Germany’s concentration camps are the most well-known of its kind, it was not the only place in the world where these horrors occurred.

In his account of travels through China, Green Dragon, Sombre Warrior, Liam D’Arcy Brown relates the discovery of a 1930’s army camp museum in the city of Harbin: “Pingfang. Its jaunty name did not have the ring of an Auschwitz or a Dachau … Like Auschwitz it was also equipped with railway sidings and an incinerator and an airfield was constructed nearby.”

He goes on to explain how the Japanese experimented on Chinese prisoners with “almost the entire known range of those organisms that civilisation fears on a most basic level… Once infected… the victims were observed as the diseases took hold… All had been previously healthy; a prerequisite for their selection…

Prisoners were electrocuted, drowned, scalded, boiled alive or slowly desiccated in ovens... They were given full transfusions of horse blood to see if this could provide a plentiful supply for the front line. Nerves and arteries were severed, air and urine injected into veins.”

What happened in China may well be on a smaller scale, but it’s the same kind of thing and even if this happens to one human life it’s too many.

These wrongs are also running through my veins. What should I do now that I have stood on this tainted ground?

“Just love,” the voice in my head answers clearly. Easier said than done.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You can't leave us with the Nazis the whole week!!!! Mich

Mona Lize said...

Sorry Mich, I promise to post a new entry as soon as possible. Sometimes a week goes by so quickly! Happy that you look forward to reading my blog, I do try to update every week.