Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Christmas Break

Eight staff members from my school took a four day break to Munich, Dachau and Salzburg. As regards Salzburg an interesting site to explore is http://www2.salzburg.info/. The Christmas markets in Munich were excellent as was the shopping in general. We stayed at a very good hotel not too far from the centre of Munich - www.apart-muenchen.de - and we used the U-bahn or underground railway or metro to get around. Needless to say we visited the Marienplatz and viewed the famous Glockenspiel. Thursday was spent touring the main sites of Munich. On Friday we went across to Salzburg, Austria, for the day. What a beautiful city it is with its wonderful architecture and beautiful cathedral. The Christmas markets were superb as were the mime artists in the streets, the musicians, the Christmas carols and the cheer, the food and the interesting ice sculptures. The locals were very friendly indeed - well used to tourists. However, our trip had also a more sombre element to it. On saturday morning we journeyed a short distance by train out to Dachau. The following site is well worth perusing at one's leisure: http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/englisch/content/. When we arrived in Dachau concentration camp we were immediately struck by its silence and bleakness. It was December 10th and I'd say it was about 0 degrees C. The chill in the wind added to its bleak solemnity. One could not walk on the soil of Dachau without being mindful of the thousands and thousands and thousands of poor wretched souls who died so miserably there at the hands of their executioners. "Established in March 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first regular concentration camp established by the Nazis. Initially the internees consisted primarily of German Communists, Social Democrats, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. Over time, other groups were also interned at Dachau such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, as well as "asocials" and repeat criminals... During the early years relatively few Jews were interned in Dachau and then usually because they belonged to one of the above groups or had completed prison sentences after being convicted for violating the Nuremberg Laws of 1935... The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000. The number of prisoners who died in the camp and the subcamps between January 1940 and May 1945 was at least 28,000, to which must be added those who perished there between 1933 and the end of 1939. It is unlikely that the total number of victims who died in Dachau will ever be known. " (Edited from the first page of the following site, q.v., http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005214 ). Five of the eight of us chose to visit this solemn memorial of the inhumanity and cruelty of man to his fellow man. The other three simply had not the heart to face such depths of depravity - they felt they would be too upset!! I can understand their feelings. Dachau, at one and the same time, represents both the heights and the depths of man - the depths of his cruelty (the Nazi guards and the Nazi régime) and the heights of courage and creativity of its former inmates - namely, say Viktor Frankl, one of my all-time favourite writers and psychiatrists who spent years there and survived by writing a few lines of his famous book - Man's Search for Meaning - in his head each day. When he was finally liberated all he had to do was write it out verbatim. This subversive act of intellectual prowess kept him alive in a veritable meaningless hell on earth. This was the whole centre and meaning and driving force of Frankl's therapy - the need for meaning is the greatest and most important need for the human psyche. If even he could find meaning in such horrific suffering - if meaning could be found even in meaninglessness - then meaning was surely available to all no matter how horrific their plight! Many thoughts went through my mind - from all those books I had read as a teenager by former inmates of different concentration camps to the famous film by Stephen Spielberg at which I wept and was proud of it - Schindler's List - to Primo Levi's wonderful book called Survival in Auschwitz (Se Questo e' un Uomo). Tears came to my eyes again as I viewed the exhibition of the clinical cruelty of the Nazi machine. To think that human beings had actually thought up all that depravity is mind boggling. I thought of Paul VI's famous words to the UN in the post-war years: "Never again war. War never again!" Yet, we have never learnt, have we? Wars go on and on and on. Neither have concentration camps died out with the Nazi holocaust of the Jews and other unwanted kinds. I stooped down and picked up a cold stone from the shingle that covered the famous roll call square of Dachau. It was in the shape of a heart, and it was cold in my hand until the warmth of my fingers dispelled it. I will put it beside my incense burner to remind me of all those haunting faces who lost their lives. They have not died for nothing. Long may their memories live. I enclose a picture I took with this sombre post. Amen!