World War II


Birkenau (Auschwitz I)

Birkenau (Auschwitz I)

Today, (6/26/15). We went back to Birkenau and Auschwitz I. On the way, Alex shared another Eva story. Apparently, in the frames after the part of the liberation video that is usually shown, when you watch the end of it, Eva sticks her tongue out at the camera and laughs. Knowing Eva as we do, none of us are surprised.

When we arrived at Birkenau, we had the choice to go on the guided tour or explore on our own. I did a little of both. One of the things I had noticed is that for me, going on a tour is fascinating as far as the information you receive, but it doesn’t allow everything to really hit you.  Walking around with other people, rushing through exhibits, etc., isn’t conducive to reflection and understanding the gravity of the situation and this place.  I wanted to allow myself time and space to truly be impacted by what is here.  So, I opted to keep my headset on when I was with the group and wanted to hear what was being said, but also have the freedom to walk away when there was a shot I wanted or time I needed.

Szymon returned us to the barracks showing the living conditions of prisoners. 100_4484He shared that people in Birkenau considered Auschwitz a spa. Though people in Chelmno considered Birkenau a spa. It’s all in your perspective. Looking through the barracks, I was amazed to see a bird sitting at the window seemingly looking out. It sat for a minute, gazing out through the bars, then flapped its wings.  I was reminded of two things:  First, Mia Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  In it, she shares some of the horrors of her childhood and explained how much she was touched by beautiful things as an escape to the terrors around her.  Second,  I was reminded of an interview in Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah.  A woman recalls her experience being on one of the cattle cars and peeking out of the top window and seeing birds fly by.  She remembered envying them their freedom.

Eva sitting at the ruins of her barracks

Eva sitting at the ruins of her barracks

After the barracks, I left the group to go around  a bit on my own. Eva was back at the foundation of her former barracks, and there was a small group around her as she again told about her days in the camp.  She pointed out the remains of the stove they used too cook “organized” (stolen) potatoes on (End of the bricks where the flowers are sitting in the picture).  The girls in the barrack used to take turns standing guard while one of them cooked.  It was only after the liberation a friend had told her, “How did you manage to not get caught?  Boiled potatoes have a smell.”  Eva was surprised, so she boiled a potato to see, and sure enough, the girl was right.  Eva speculated that it might be because Dr. Mengele admired people who were strong and resourceful.  He despised pathetic people, so perhaps he had told them to not interfere with those who had managed to acquire something to help themselves.  Another group member asked if Eva had ever seen the giants or dwarves Mengele kept.  She said she had seen both.  Mengele was trying to figure out what caused all kinds of genetic mutations in his quest to create the master race.  He also practiced different methods of sterilization on some of the twins and other subjects.

Eva speaking to Israeli Students

Eva speaking to Israeli Students

Then, it was time for our candle lighting at the Victims’ Memorial. When we arrived for the celebration, we found Eva sharing her story with a groups of Israeli students, all draped in Israeli flags. She challenged them to never be a bystander, to never give up, and about the power of forgiveness. As she shared her story, one sweet girl sat with years running down her cheeks. “It’s alright,” Eva said, “I made it. And you will too.”
Finally, Alex was able to drag her away, and we went to the monument. One by one, each of us lit a candle and shared who we were lighting it for. Eva lit hers in memory of her family, Alex in honor of the grandparents he had never known. It was an incredible time to hear which aspect of the Holocaust was memorable to whom.

Remembrance

Remembrance

Team members honored their own family members, members of resistance movements, those still surviving in countries affected by genocide, and those who sacrificed their lives for others. I lit mine in memory of Maurice Eisenstein’s family (a member of our Chabad community whose whole family perished in the Holocaust), the Ten Boom family and others like them who risked their lives to hide Jews and paid the ultimate price. After that, a rabbi with us led us in the mourner’s Kaddish. Definitely a moving time.

Then, we left Birkenau for lunch at Art Deco and then to Auschwitz I.

Wall Art from the Gypsy area

Wall Art from the Gypsy area

Here, we went to see the typical barracks. Then, we headed to the Museum dedicated to the memory of the gypsies.  This was another fascinating area.  One of the coolest things was the artwork on the wall.  There was a painting by a prisoner that was actually done on the wall and protected by glass, but there was also an art display by a prisoner whose art talent literally saved her life.  Additionally, it was fascinating to read the stories of a number of children who had escaped.  It may just be my imagination, but I could almost tell from the eyes of these children which ones would succeed.  They had a defiance and a determination that looked different than the others.  What courage it must have taken, just like little Eva, to have the will to survive that will help you do whatever it takes to stay alive.

Children's drawings from the camp (Yad Vashem exhibit)

Children’s drawings from the camp (Yad Vashem exhibit)

A difficult area to visit was the Yad Vashem exhibits.  This was an incredibly well-organized exhibit that really makes the experience real for those who visit.  One of the things nearly every member of our group mentioned was the room with children’s drawings.  A number of children drew images from the camp–some ghastly like hangings or shootings, some beautiful like hearts, stars of David, and a bird singing–ironic in light of my experience that morning.  Another one that touched me the most was the image of a little girl sitting alone on the train platform with a suitcase with the word Terezin, 1943, and a number on it (Possibly a relative’s prison number.)  Another was the image of abandoned toys.  It’s very interesting to view an atrocity though the eyes of a child.

Book of Names room

Book of Names room

Another area that was extremely moving was the book of names room.  In three languages, it states, “The names of the murdered are inscribed in this book as an eternal memorial.”   Then, it quotes Psalms 139:16, “And in your book, they all will be written.”  Like no other area, this room strikes you with the sheer mass of people who were murdered,  I took the opportunity to look up my friend Maurice’s family, as he had mentioned they had been wiped out during the Holocaust.  I thought I might find a relative or two.  There were two full pages (3 feet of type each!) with name after name of people with his last name.  It was horrifying to see the devastation of this one family.  Another team member had found that her family name had three pages.  It brought home the fact that the Holocaust truly wiped out entire family lines!

Sabbath service at the Galicia Jewish Museum

Sabbath service at the Galicia Jewish Museum

When we returned to the hotel, a group of us were scheduled to head into town for a musical Sabbath service.  So we caught a cab downtown for a little over $4.00 total for the four of us, and waited for the service to begin.  We had previously had dinner here, and it was a cool venue.  The group here is really a grassroots group trying to interest seekers and make traditions more palatable for a younger audience.  With my normal experience in Judaism being with Chabad, it was WAY different.  They had a female rabbi, played instruments throughout, and didn’t recite the normal prayers, though there were people who did it.  However, the music was well done, they had Siddurs available for the visitors, and Kiddish was sensitive (both wine and grape juice) with the most amazing hallah I have ever tasted.  Just not what I’m used to.

When we arrived at the hotel at 10:30 PM, Eva was just heading into the lobby.  She sat on her walker and shared with us–stories from her past (returning to their family home to find it abandoned and neglected.  She teared up discussing her mother and how it felt to realize by the tall weeds and neglected appearance that her parents were never coming back.  But, she soon changed to the humorous as well, laughing through the tale of her husband getting trapped in his new used car because he didn’t know how to get out without setting the alarm off.  We laughed and cried and just thoroughly enjoyed being in the presence of Eva Kor.  Finally, we headed back to our rooms, shocked to discover it was midnight, and we had spent an hour and a half sharing with her.  What an incredible time!

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Abbey at Tegernsee

Abbey at Tegernsee

We had decided to take it easy and pack in a leisurely fashion on our last two days. The weather was predicting clouds and rain, so we had made sure to do all of our “must sees” before that time. Anything left would be a bonus. Thursday (8/8/13) was a cloudy day, but we opted to take an afternoon drive into Tegernsee just to check it out.

Lake Tegernsee

Lake Tegernsee

We had driven past Tegernsee many times on trips to and from other places, but had never stopped. This beautiful village is on the shores of Lake Tegernsee and has an Abbey dating back to 746 (not a typo–there’s no 1 in front of that…) The Abbey and the town derive their name from old high German “tegarin seo”, meaning “large lake.” It was also one of the last stands of the SS during World War II. The SS had retreated here to defend against the American forces advancing from Bad Tölz. The Abbey was later adopted as the summer residence of the Bavarian rulers. The Abbey was closed when we were there, so we didn’t get to explore inside (if the public is even allowed in.)

Instead, we browsed around the stores selling Dirndls and Lederhosen, and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. I think this is the biggest adjustment I will have to get used to back in the states. Here, regardless of how big a crowd there is, the noise isn’t very loud. Down by the Abbey, mom commented on the crowd of people at the restaurant who were somewhat loud. Still there were about 200 of them, outside, and I’d say it was quieter than a room of 30-40 in the States.

Additionally, Tegernsee, like most of this area, has beautiful gardens and the Lake. We found a local Gelato place (Eiscafe Cristallo) for one last Gelato.

Gelataria

Gelataria

This place actually had Red Bull Gelato–no, sorry, we didn’t try it. I don’t like regular Red Bull, so I wouldn’t waste a gelato on Red Bull. I had two flavors I couldn’t identify, but looked good. One ended up being a peanut butter and chocolatey flavor, while the other which I thought was Dark chocolate, was actually dark chocolate with black licorice. I hate black licorice, but it wasn’t too bad, once you got over the “Whoa, that’s not chocolate!” response.

Traditionally dressed family

Traditionally dressed family


Finally, the inevitable–it was time to go home. Now, as I sit here, we have finished the bulk of our packing, and are finishing up our stores of food and the last minutes to prepare us to leave tomorrow. When I get home, I will have one week until school starts, and another whole slew of adventures begin. This summer has definitely been a journey–From school ending, to Russia, to Gettysburg’s 150th, to Europe, and full circle to school again.
Rainy Day in Schliersee

Rainy Day in Schliersee

I deeply appreciate those of you who have come along for the ride. The thing I think I will go home with is the blessing of getting to know the people who lived here, struggled, were creative, overcame obstacles, and brought something beautiful to the world. I may not have met them personally, but their stories have impacted mine. And that, I think, is the true meaning of leaving a legacy. So, as this journey ends, I will continue to hunt down the legacies of the men and women who have shaped the world by the light they left behind, all the while trying to shape my legacy to inspire others the way they have. Til then…

Entrance to Dachau:  "Work makes you free"

Entrance to Dachau: “Work makes you free”

We set off this morning (8/5/13) for Dachau. I was really looking forward to this trip, as morbid as that sounds, as I have had an interest in the Holocaust since I was in junior high. Finally, I had the opportunity to be there in person and hopefully grow in my understanding of the experience.

I had been interested to see on the website that the time they recommended for you to stay at the site was “All day.” Being there, I can easily see why they stated this. We opted to take the English tour for 3 Euros each (Parking was also 3 Euros for the day), and let me say, the tour was a worthwhile investment. (Mom and I each gave our tour guide an extra 20 Euro–she was amazing–and a volunteer!)

"May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because they resister Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.

“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.”

The tour started at 11:00, and since we had gotten there at 10, we explored a bit on our own before time for the tour. At 11:00, we met Franziska who would guide us through the experience. The first thing she shared with us is that the tour would last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours, depending on how fast we walked and how many questions we asked. This may seem like an extensive amount of time to be just walking around, but it was an incredible experience. Franziska took us through the life of a prisoner, from arrival to death. It was truly unforgettable.

Design copied by other camps

Design copied by other camps

First, we walked through the entrance gate where the prisoners would have been taken. The gate sports the traditional Nazi slogan: Work makes you free. Dachau was actually the first concentration camp to be opened (1933). It was intended as a place for political prisoners (Translation: anyone who stood against the Nazi party.) Therefore, when you hear the stories of Dachau, very few of them are Jewish. They are mostly European and Russians political prisoners, including a large number of clergy. The Jews who were there were in transit to another camp. According to the statistics we heard, the youngest prisoner was 7 1/2 (kept alive because he had small hands which were suitable for reaching down to plant crops in small holes) while the oldest was 92 (and incidentally survived Dachau. He was an intelligent man who was utilized as a tutor for SS children.)

Dachau was also a model camp in many ways. First, its structure (rows of barracks with a central roll call area) was copied in all the other concentration camps. Second, this was the camp they showed off for propaganda reasons. The Red Cross even visited 3 times, and made glowing reports about the camp. The only problem is they were shown the SS officers in prisoners’ clothes in the “Living Room” area of the barracks, drinking, laughing, and playing cards, while the real prisoners were away at work.

Dachau beds in the early years

Dachau beds in the early years

Initially, though, before the war broke out, Dachau was not “that bad,” though as early as 1935, there was a jingle people used to say, “Dear God, make me dumb (silent), that I might not to Dachau come.” In 1933, the commandant Hilmar Wäckerle seems to have been a good man. Prisoners worked two days a week in a factory (usually BMW or other car manufacturers who paid the SS for the use of the prisoners, especially once the war preparations started as their labor force had been decimated due to military training.) These factories were largely the reason Dachau was one of the first to “vote brown.” The business generated by the SS and the “free” labor of prisoners must have been a hard offer to resist. Unfortunately, like many people today, they were willing to vote for whichever candidate best lined their pockets instead of considering the principles and character of the person in office. Prisoners might also be hired out to farmers in town. Those who worked on farms often were healthier because they received rations from the farm, but the other prisoners received a piece of bread, butter, and soup for the day, and could buy other items at the canteen. Additionally, medical staff was on hand to deal with any prisoner who had been injured or was infirm. Wäckerle had a little over 50 men to a room, and each bed had dividers between it and the one next to it. They were a meter wide and two meters long. At this time, there was a 99% survival rate in the camps. Since this was a prison and a camp for political prisoners, occasionally, those who had served their terms were released. Those who did not survive were usually the ones interrogated for information or charged with high treason.

Bedding Stage 2.

Bedding Stage 2.

All of that changed when Theodor Eicke took over. Eicke, who would eventually be placed over the entire concentration camp system, was a World War I veteran whom Himmel rescued from a psychiatric ward, where trouble with a local had sent him on the charge of being a “dangerous lunatic.” I’d say they had him pretty well pegged. He instituted a series of changes that gave the SS full range for brutality. Prisoners could be shot for disobeying an order, whether it came from an SS officer or the kitchen staff. He also instituted punishments such as having a prisoner stand on a chair, placing the prisoner’s arms behind his back, tying his wrists to a rope that was suspended above him, and pulling the chair away, thus dislocating the shoulders, or worse. Unfit to work, the men were usually then sent to other camps to be killed. Another punishment was essentially an extreme corporal punishment. The prisoner would lean over a table, while an SS guard (or a family member if one was on hand–chosen as a dual punishment), would beat him 25 times with a whip supposedly made of a dried ox penis. This was designed to humiliate the prisoner even further by implying they weren’t even worth a traditional whip. The prisoner had to count in German as he was being whipped. If he didn’t know German or stumbled on the numbers (or passed out), the count began again.
whipping table and whip

whipping table and whip

Also, guards had prisoners do menial tasks that would steal the less than 5 hours a night they had to sleep (usually 3 or 4). They had to polish the floor until it shined, make their beds so the checked squares were opposite from one bed to the next, forming a continuous pattern, or pull all the brown and yellow leaves off of the trees lining the roll call area in the fall.

Additionally, Dachau accepted more prisoners, and expanded the camp so the living conditions changed. Rations were cut approximately in half. Beyond that, beds were made smaller and with more people in them. (By the end of the war, there were three men to a bed less than a meter wide, sleeping head to foot.)

Bedding final stage

Bedding final stage

Because of these cramped conditions, disease was became rampant, so much so that SS guards refused to work in the barracks for fear of catching the diseases. Rooms and prisoners were disinfected, and conditions improved slightly, but never fully. One tour member asked how many concentration camps there were. Franziska explained that this is a difficult question to answer because, “What defines a concentration camp? A munitions factory (Like in Schindler’s List) utilizing prisoners can be considered a concentration camp–so can a farm with prisoners working it, or the area of land where they’re forced to sleep because the camp wouldn’t invest in barracks. The numbers are tricky.”

I was not aware that Dachau was an entirely male camp until 1944 (aside from the 7-13 female prisoners kept in “The brothel,” for obvious use.) Men were granted visits to the brothel, glasses, or boots in exchange for giving information about another prisoner. Fewer than one percent of the camp ever received such a bonus. Most who did chose the brothel because it was secret and didn’t advertise they had ratted someone out. Another way the Nazis kept resistance down was by constantly rearranging the barracks. Nationalities were mixed and parts of barracks were moved regularly in order to insure that no prisoners spent enough time together to really form bonds. This made the experience even more lonely and difficult.

Roll Call area

Roll Call area

From the barracks, we moved into the area where roll calls were done. One tour member asked Franziska how the Germans felt about this, while another questioned how strange it is that a site of such horror is a tourist attraction. Franziska answered both questions, giving a perspective I had never considered. She talked about the fact that Germany focuses on the Holocaust so much because the rest of the world continues to punish them for it. She explained that as a child in Hamburg, her school took her on trips to concentration camps 8 different times. In one instance, her teacher made the children stand motionless for 2 hours in the roll call area so that they would have a small taste of what the prisoners experienced. Even today, when she drives into another country, her car is not safe for 15 minutes before someone will have scratched a swastika on it because her license plate has the DAH of Dachau. She’s been refused service in restaurants in Italy because they saw her drive up in a car with DAH on it. Like so many cases of racism, each person assumes the other is racist, which is a form of racism in itself. I think this is the biggest “take away” for me. I remember being in high school when the Berlin wall came down. I remember the fear people felt because of what a unified Germany would mean to the world (while, in fact, the unification of Germany made it harder for those in the West because they had to absorb and remedy the problems of the East.) That fear led many to judge the German people unfairly.
Shooting Wall

Shooting Wall

Franziska went on to explain that she has heard former SS leaders give school talks with great remorse for the role they played. They explained how they had been convinced that they were doing the right thing. When you understand that German students started math problems in elementary school that said something like, “If a handicapped person costs the government $30,000 marks a year, how much will the government spend by the time that person is 30?”, it’s easy to see how some of the thought process came to be. In point of fact, there’s a larger Neo-Nazi group in America than in Germany. And many items that have disappeared from Dachau (Shower heads, faucets, etc.) have turned up on Ebay in America, Canada, and Australia. Additionally, the Allied forces were not entirely innocent. Some shot surrendering SS members, even in hospitals as well as family members in the SS area outside the camp. Others used extreme forms of interrogation and forced soldiers to confess to crimes they may not have committed. (These crimes were uncovered in 1991 and had been covered up by General Patton.) I’m sure each side thought they were doing their duty, or avenging others, but it does bring to mind the question of what is justifiable force in dealing with an enemy–a question we still haggle over today.

Special Prisoner Holding cells

Special Prisoner Holding cells

From the roll call area, we went to the shooting wall. This is the place where political prisoners were executed. Interestingly, because Dachau was so close to a town (The SS quarters and their families are just past the prison wall), the officers used to shoot prisoners on Sundays when the church bells were ringing and the noise wouldn’t be noticed. Those accused of high treason, which interestingly enough included SS soldiers who had helped prisoners or tried to let them escape, were executed immediately.

Just beyond the shooting wall is the holding cells for “Special prisoners.” The prisoners thought of this as being a safe house from which no one returned. What I mean by that is the prisoners were given decent food, didn’t have to work, and were kept alive–until new batch of political prisoners came in to “replace” them. The special prisoners included men like the former chancellor of Austria and several prominent clergy members.

Crematorium

Crematorium

Having finished our course in the life of prisoners, we walked over to the crematorium area. While the crematorium was used at Dachau to eliminate bodies of those who had died of disease or starvation, the gas chamber located there was never used. One interesting fact is that the crematorium was located outside of the camp and facing east. This way few of the prisoners and none of the town knew what was going on. Those prisoners who worked in the crematorium were killed every three months to keep news from leaking. Eventually, though, use of the crematorium stopped as well, due to the coal shortage. It is for this reason the U.S. soldiers who liberated the camp found 11,000 dead bodies there and in almost 30 rail cars outside the camp. Quite a staggering number! Because they were unable to identify the bodies of the dead, they cremated the bodies and put the ashes in a mass grave with the monument of a coffin and the sign “Never Again” in five different languages. (I was touched by the fact that
Mass grave of 11,000 unidentified dead

Mass grave of 11,000 unidentified dead

as we walked by it, one of the young men in our group added a stone to those already on top of the monument as a sign of remembrance–he couldn’t have been much over 20. Please note, the monument is just in front of the museum building which used to be the former check in area and showers (real ones). The roof in the picture belongs to this building, not the monument.)

From the area of the crematorium, we walked back over the bridge and stopped beside the electric fence. Here, we heard the stories of why no escape from Dachau ever succeeded by going over the fence. Between the barracks area and the fence is a strip of grass, nicknamed the “Green zone.” Any prisoner who stepped in this area would be shot immediately. They were not shot in the head, which would have been an easy death, but either in the shoulder or the stomach, which were slower and more painful. Past the green zone, there is a ditch about 5 feet down and 6-8 feet across.

Measures to prevent escape

Measures to prevent escape

On the other side of this ditch was first gravel, which would have caused a noise to alert the guards, and then on top of the gravel, coils of barbed wire which were arranged in approximately 1 foot squares, all electrified and going up higher the closer one got to the fence, which was also electrified. Franziska informed us that it is because of this that prisoners who wanted to commit suicide, usually did it as they were returning to the camp by throwing themselves against the fence from the outside.

This referenced a monument she had shown us earlier. After the war, Dachau had been used as a holding place for German prisoners associated with war crimes. Then, it became a place for refugees. While it was still being used for this purpose, a contest was held among survivors to create a monument to be used in Dachau. Sixty-five entries were made. From these, this sculpture of Nandor Glid’s was chosen.

Memorial Sculpture

Memorial Sculpture

Glid himself had not been at Dachau, but instead at a labor camp where he had joined the National Liberation Movement to fight against the Nazis, and was later wounded. He chose the design for his sculpture after talking to numerous others who were at Dachau. One of the most striking images they had communicated was this fact that some, wanting to choose the time and method of their death instead of having the Nazis do it for them, had chosen to throw themselves into the electric fence. The Nazis would leave the bodies there until the rotted, which in winter, could be months, so workers would have to pass by the bodies on their way to work. That image was burned into the memory of anyone at Dachau.
Protestant Memorial

Protestant Memorial

That is why the judge, himself a survivor of Dachau chose this statue. In it, the hands of the victims make the barbs for the barbed wire fence, and the center person (with his head down) forms the swastika with his body.

Just inside the fence by the green zone, Franziska also pointed out 4 different church memorials. To the best of my knowledge, Dachau is the only concentration camp with religious monuments for faiths other than Jewish. At Dachau, there is the Russian Orthodox memorial, a Protestant Memorial, a Catholic Memorial, and a Jewish Memorial. Additionally, there is a monastery just outside the wall.

Portable Altar

Portable Altar

These memorials are due to the fact that a number of the prisoners at Dachau were members of the clergy who took a stand against what Hitler was trying to accomplish. One interesting item I saw in the “Special cells” was a portable altar to be used by the clergy for holding religious services. It makes me proud that almost 3,000 clergy took a stand against the evils of the Nazi party.

Finally, we made one last stop to see how Dachau was laid out at the time, and compare it to it’s use today. Interestingly enough, the former SS area and training facilities are now utilized by the Dachau police. Apparently, they have gone to great lengths to preserve what they can as a remembrance of the crimes committed here. Franziska told us one last story here. She had recently met a survivor in his 90’s. He shared that he used to work in the area of the camp that made honey for the German officers. He explained that he used to pee in the honey as his own form of resistance. So, a number of German officers received “tainted honey” from Dachau. All in all, our tour had been an amazing experience!

Residence Munich

Residence Munich

We then headed to Munich to the Residence Museum and treasury. Driving around Munich was every bit of the insanity predicted, but we finally managed to find both the Residence and the parking garage right beside it. (Max-Joseph Platz is super convenient, but charges 4 Euro for the first hour and 3 Euro an hour for every one after that.) The Residence is an unimpressive façade compared to some of the other places we have visited. However, this was more the seat of government for the Bavarian rulers and the place where the royals stored their treasures. Here, at last, was a castle in which you could take pictures. Unfortunately, the lighting set up around the area makes getting a good shot extremely difficult.

Hall of ancestors

Hall of ancestors

We started out in the hall of ancestors. Once can immediately feel the weight of responsibility a young ruler must have felt as he or she walked past all of those eyes staring down at them. There’s even a portrait of Charlemagne and a gigantic family tree. It was an incredible contrast to see the gold and glitz of Munich right after the brick and concrete of Dachau.

From the hall of ancestors, we went into one of the areas displaying the treasures of the king. Here we were confronted with a number of reliquaries. Reliquaries are one of the most interesting things for me to see.

Skull of John the Baptist

Skull of John the Baptist

As reliquaries were supposed to bring blessing to the one who owned them (and even miracles), the king was expected to have the largest collection. While I know historically a number of reliquaries exist that did not contain anything close to what they are supposed to house, there were a few here that were especially interesting. First, there is the ever popular piece of the cross of Christ. Apparently, a whole forest of these were sold at the time. They also had the typical bones of the martyrs. But the things that most interested me were two fold. The first was a crystal casket containing the skeleton of a small child, supposedly one of the children murdered under Herod’s orders.
Public Chapel

Public Chapel

While I think carrying around bones of any kind is morbid, the skeleton of a child would especially creep me out. The other curiosity is the skull of John the Baptist. What interested me most about this is the way they decorated it and put a crown on it. Still, you’re carrying around someone’s skull!

From this point we took in the Chapel for the public. What interested me here is that the royal family sat in the gallery (the spot from which I took my picture), while the rest of the congregation sat below. I guess they wanted to keep an eye on things. Another odd thing is that the gallery area is in the back. Usually, if royals are seated above the crowd, they are often in a prominent position to allow the congregation to look at them. That is not the case here.

Maximilian I's chapel

Maximilian I’s chapel

Additionally, just off the Gallery is an ornate chapel, which was the private place of worship for the king and queen. Maximilian I had it completed in 1607–interestingly, the same year of the Jamestown colony. It is a beautifully decorated area which definitely inspires worship.

We left the chapel to go through a variety of the rooms of state. Here the royals conducted business of all sorts. What interested me the most is the themes of the room are incredibly religious in nature, from the room showing the law of God is higher than the law of men, to the room demonstrating the virtues a ruler should posses, to rooms that remind mankind of their command to subdue the earth. Unfortunately, many of these rooms were damaged during World War II, so the center paintings in each room no longer exist.

Rathaus-Glockenspiel

Rathaus-Glockenspiel

Finally, we left the splendor of the Residence (Residenz) and headed a few blocks downtown to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz. For once, we timed something exactly right and got there just in time for the 5:00 show. Since it only plays 2 times a day (Three times in the summer), this was a rare treat. This breath-taking 105 year old clock tower tells two stories from the 16th century. The first is of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine. They have figures from each country who joust (the one from Bavaria always wins…). The second story is of the coopers who danced through the streets after the Plague. This is supposed to be a picture of loyalty during difficult times.

With that, we called it a day, paid our 10 Euro parking bill, and headed back home. I must say the Alpine Club treats us like family. They’re always helpful and interested in what we have done for the day. It’s a great place to stay.

The image of Hitler as we usually see him

The image of Hitler as we usually see him

Today (7/16/13), we headed up to Obersalzburg in Berchtesgaden, Germany, to the Documentation Museum. I think mom expected it to be a shorter trip than it ended up being, but I have been fascinated with the plight of Jews in World War II almost as long as I can remember. (I did my eighth grade research paper on Jewish persecution.) So, the opportunity to “get inside Hitler’s head,” if you will, was one I couldn’t take for granted. Additionally, understanding ethnocentrism as I do, I wanted to see how the Germans would portray their own history. Would they gloss over the ugly parts? Would Hitler be venerated or despised? It was a chance of a lifetime for me, and I took full advantage of it (about 5 1/2 hours worth.)

The unseen faces of Hitler

The unseen faces of Hitler

Rick Steves recommends giving yourself an hour and a half for the tour. I’d say it depends on how interested you are in the subject. We chose to pay the $2 Euro cost for an audio tour (in addition to the $3 Euro entrance fee–parking was free in the section we were in–P2) The audio tour itself recommends two hours. The tour intentionally starts you on a higher, lighter level and then moves you down through time into the dark, dankness of the bunker. A large section is devoted to Hitler’s decision to make Obersalzburg his “second home” and how that impacted the people who were living there. What I appreciated most is that it shows Hitler as an entire person. You see him smiling at children, lounging in his home, throwing dinner parties, studying for speeches, and a million other mundane activities.

Propaganda aimed at young people

Propaganda aimed at young people

But, in the next area, you see the propaganda techniques used to portray these images. It shows the hard truth of how many people lost their generational homes in the area to accommodate Hitler’s compound. It traces his journey from his portrayal of himself as the people’s chancellor to his portrayal of strength and brutality.

Three of the founding members of the White Rose--all were beheaded

Three of the founding members of the White Rose–all were beheaded

Because I work with youth for a living, I was especially fascinated with the role of young people. True, there are a number of images of young people looking adoringly at Hitler, but the displays were also brutally honest about the lengths Hitler went to to court such adoration. For one season of time, it was only the youth who were allowed to visit his Obersalzburg home. Yet, there are also those who stood against Hitler and his ideas. Most notably among the young people were the members of the White Rose, an organization made up of students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor. Hans Scholl (left in the picture) read a sermon by an outspoken preacher on the evils of Hitler’s use of euthanasia and was incensed, as was his sister Sophie. The two obtained permission to reprint parts of the sermon, and the White Rose began. The group believed that if people were informed of the truth, they would do something to change the situation. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. The prominent group members were eventually caught and beheaded by the Nazi party. Hans’s last words were (translated) “Long live freedom!” The words of these passionate young people should challenge us today as our rights are being taken: “…why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right – or rather, your moral duty – to eliminate this system?” (From Leaflet 3)

Entrance to Hitler's Bunker

Entrance to Hitler’s Bunker

Finally, after the exhibits, we made our way into the bunker. It is indeed a creepy place, as one would expect from the location from which Hitler planned a lot of his strategies for world dominance. There is a small display of pictures in the beginning of the bunker which chronicle items found in the bunker when Allied troops arrived. Inside, you are able to see the different chambers where officials stayed, as well as the guard posts equipped with three machine gun holes to “dissuade” anyone who entered the bunker unwelcomed. It was an incredible experience, though thoroughly chilling.

The Eagle's Nest viewed from the Documentation Museum

The Eagle’s Nest viewed from the Documentation Museum

We had the choice (for an additional $21.50 Euros) of going up to the Eagle’s Nest. This house was a gift from the Nazi party (planned by SS leader and Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann) to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday. We opted not to take the trip, since the Eagle’s Nest was only visited by Hitler between 10 and 14 times, due to his fear of heights. His mistress Eva Braun loved to go there and sunbathe. Additionally, the Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant, though parts of the lower levels can be seen on private tours. Mostly, the only thing remaining is a mantle given to Hitler by Mussolini, parts of which were chipped away as souvenirs by Allied troops. The house Hitler lived in which was near the bunker was destroyed by Allied forces, much to the joy of the townspeople.

From the Documentation Museum, we went to Konigssee, where incidentally Eva also liked to sunbathe–apparently, she did that a lot. It boasts a beautiful lake and a boat ride you can take (for $13 Euros) to see beautiful scenery and St. Bartholomä Cathedral. Unfortunately, since I spent too much time at Hitler’s bunker, we arrived just after the last boat had departed.

Front of the von Trapp family home used in the movie

Front of the von Trapp family home used in the movie

On the way home, we decided to drive through Salzburg and try to find the house used for the front of the von Trapp family home in The Sound of Music. This time we were successful! I had gotten the address off the internet, and, after driving down a pedestrian and bikes only lane, we parked on a street we COULD drive on and walked down. The house is The Mozarteum Music Academy, but the gates were open, so we decided to look around 🙂 Another beautiful day!