The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Europe for a second time. This time, we traveled to Italy (my favorite), Austria, and Germany. The first time I went to Italy, our travels included Rome and it's surrounding suburbs, Florence, and up into the Tuscan countryside... on a side note....it was there in the little town of Montecatini, that I had my first taste of socialized medicine, when I developed a horrible skin rash due to a knee brace I had been wearing over my linen pants (the knee brace was from a 4 wheeling accident I had been involved in 2 weeks before my Europe trip!). And I had to go into the city to the local hospital, have x-rays, antibiotics, blood cultures (the doctor was worried I had developed a blood infection), and then sent to the local spa for a short round of physical and warm water therapy. The spa trip was quite the foray. There I was sitting in a hot tub wearing a swim cap (it was required, trust me, I wasn't wearing that sucker for it's stylish charm ), surrounded by pleasantly plump, older Italian women. Who chattered non-stop, and kept looking at me, to see if I agreed with whatever they were talking about. Thankfully, smiling and nodding in feigned agreement is generally, universally understood regardless of one's mother tongue. Anyway, it was quite the experience. One of which my parents paid less than $50 for, in the form of a new leg brace that could be worn under my linen pants, and a tube of cream, whose name, ingredients, and instructions were in Italian, and therefore I had no idea what it's purpose was. But the pharmacist made a rubbing motion with his hand hovered over my knee, so I got the point of what I was to do with it. These were purchased over the county at a small pharmacy. Everything else was..."free." I didn't have a long wait, the doctors I saw were very thorough. They called my parents to update them, and check on me. All in all, a much more pleasant experience than I have ever received at any hospital here in the States. I'm not saying socialized medicine is perfect or the answer to the problems in today's US healthcare crisis. I'm not educated enough on the subject to have a very valid opinion, but I will say the experience was very interesting.
Wow. I got a little off topic here. So, where were we? My first trip to Europe was amazing, and fun (this was the trip that included the gypsies). But it was the second trip where we visited Venice, that I lost my heart to. I'll talk more about Venice later.
The point of this blog is to tell about the place I visited on that trip, that invaded my soul, and has lingered ever since.
It is entirely strange that the two words that I would use to describe the atmosphere at that Holocaust death camp on that day, would be, both peaceful, and haunting. It is estimated that anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million, men, women, and children walked through the gates of that camp, to their ultimate deaths. My mind cannot comprehend that. I can sit here and type out those numbers, and not truly understand what that means. My husband. My mother. My father. My brother. My friends. Everybody I love. Myself. If we had happened to have been there, under those circumstances. The odds are, we would be dead. We would be there as each of us were divided into categories, and separated. More than likely, my parents at the age they are would have been sent straight to the gas chambers. My husband and my brother would be sent to work digging ditches for their bodies, or for their ashes. And me? what would I be doing? Would I have been worth anything to keep alive for a bit longer, to waste away until I was nothing but skin and bones, or would I have been taken to the "showers" and done away with as well?
In the cruelest sense that is hard to write, it's hard to read, it's hard to think of. So, we don't think of it. And maybe it's because we can't, maybe we can't think of and reflect on things like genocide because it's simply too hard to comprehend without going a little insane at the basic, primordial evilness of it. But it is important to remember. It's important to reflect on what damage and devastation, pure hatred, nonacceptance, and corrupt and evil power can do. Because it could happen again. It does happen. That was somebody's husband, somebody's parents, somebody's brother... and friends and loved ones. Somebody's.
Peace. That's a hippie word right? Tree huggers, and vegans, and liberals, and people who home school their kids, and push coexistence, peace is their word right? wrong. peace is something that every human being on every inch of this Earth should strive for, and be accountable for. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big believer in the Second Amendment. I support our troops. I sing the national anthem with abandon. I'm conservative in many of my beliefs. But I also pray from the bottom of my heart that my children would be able to grow up in the world where madness, and violence, and hate, and dominating power were not the driving forces of so much in this world. The Holocaust is the prime example of what can happen when these things are left unchecked, and when peace is not looked to as the answer.
We walked around the grounds that day for hours taking pictures, and reading plaques and monuments. We went into the memorial museum, and looked at the pictures that were blown up to poster size so the viewer could see the look of desperation on the faces of the men and women standing behind the razor wire fences... there were no children....But more times than not, it wasn't desperation in their faces, it was a vacancy. A total lack of life and energy. And doesn't that make perfect sense?
There was a reverent quite there that day. There were little groups of tourist here and there, from every walk of life, from every different country, speaking different languages, and yet we all wore the same mantel of grief for those who did not get to get back on a bus at the end of the day, and drive back out of the gate, and continue on with their lives. There were birds chirping, and singing, and squirrels that ran this way and that, and there was a peaceful calm that seemed somewhat ironic and out of sorts for the magnitude of what took place there 60 some odd years ago. Yes, it was peaceful. And calm, and haunting, and breathtakingly sad.
Well, now I'm depressed. Sorry if you are too. I didn't intend this post to be so dark and gloomy, but once I started thinking about it, and remembering. It just naturally took me there.
Are people really good at heart? I'd like to think so. I hope so. I pray it's so.