30 March 2016

The German translation of Good Friday, Karfreitag, means Friday of grief or lament or wailing (kar is old high German for any of these).
It was a rainy and cold Good Friday this year.  We went to Dachau.
On the way, we had one of our minor squabbles, the way you argue about anything and nothing when you have been married for a long time. We hissed back and forth for a while and then went silent until R cracked a joke and I tried to remain insulted. That's the way we try to hide being nervous.


Two days earlier a friend had given me a beautiful soft pashmina shawl and as I walked across this bare stretch of gravel, I wrapped it closely around my head, hiding inside as much as possible, afraid to be found out. I was ready to deny everything: that I am German, that my grandfather was a nazi, that I loved him when I was small, that my mother was afraid of ghosts all her adult life, ghosts of her childhood in nazi Germany and ghosts of a war that she desperately wanted to forget, a fear she drowned in addiction and hate and cruelty. But none of it has any significance in this place.
And yet, they are my scars and my responsibility. 

The dimensions of this place are overwhelming, trying to fathom the numbers, the lives lost and the suffering, I felt like running and for a while, I lost sight of R and hiding my crying face even deeper inside the shawl I walked around like a lost child among the Chinese tourists texting on their cell phones right below the no phone signs, the Italian families with balloons and prams, having an impromptu picnic on the steps to the infamous wash house, next to another sign in four languages asking to respectfully refrain from eating or drinking. 

No, I did not point it out to them. I did not feel equipped with that kind of indignation. I was inside a black cloud of wailing and lamenting and I did not feel ready to lift my head ever again.

You can spend hours and hours here, reading and gathering information and watching footage and going through thousands of photographs and documents. And we did. We stayed for a very long time. At least that.
And everywhere reminders of what we need to know, especially now, about hate, about xenophobia, about racism, about fascism. These are not innocent times, we must allow history to teach us, we must be aware.


  1. And so few of us are aware. I can't imagine going there. You are stronger than I am.

  2. Brave woman. And it's essential these stories are told. I shall never forget the Killing Fields in Cambodia - nor the survivors' astonishing capacity for forgiveness.

  3. I visited Auschwitz and couldn't speak for a while afterwards. We need to keep reminding ourselves of what happened.

  4. Powerful post. It can be quite complicated being of German extraction...even many generations removed and on another continent. Thanks for sharing this experience.

  5. For some time now on Good Fridays, the death camps have been on my mind. Thank for the link, especially for this:


    Yes. We must be aware.

  6. I went to the camp at Dachau once, 20 years ago, while driving from the Netherlands on a visit to Croatia, it left me bereft of words for a long time. Awful place.

  7. Thank you Sabine, for the reminder.

  8. Thank you for going there, Sabine. My grandmother's family perished in the concentration camps. My brothers are named for them. Your kind tearful compassionate heart is all we can wish for as you walk among those ghosts. Thank you thank you.

  9. I love the way you write, Sabine - this post will stay with me, poetic and chilling.

  10. Wow, I missed this post. What a dramatic visit. The photos really show the sombreness (?) of the place.

    In a way, I like that the Italians were happily picnicking on the steps. Life goes on, you know? We should mark the tragedies but at the same time embrace the living.