It’s been just over a week since I wrapped up my wanderings of the streets and mountains of central Europe. The vacation, which I booked months ago when I’d been planning to move forward in a career providing housing to terminally ill homeless people, wound up being the transition point as my role at Solace Friends just ended and I leapt into the unknown. My last day with Solace Friends was December 28th, 2022. That was also the day I hopped on the plane to Frankfurt, Germany.
There are a lot of stories and nearly 600 pictures from the two weeks that I spent on that tour bus with that amazing and unique group of people I’d never met before from every corner of the United States, traveling through Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Slovakia, and finally Hungary. I’ll get into those stories and pictures in the coming days and weeks. For now, I want to just look at one day and one picture.
We were roughly midway through our adventures when some of us made the trip that I had been most waiting for. We visited Dachau, the first of the Nazi concentration camps. I think we were all nervous, even afraid, to just set foot on this sacred ground that was liberated nearly 78 years ago on April 29th, 1945. The stories remain so alive even as the generation that knew them disappears, at least it did for us.
As we came toward the gate, I stepped away from the group and stopped to offer my prayer. It felt necessary to begin my walk with honoring those who’d been imprisoned there, who died there and those who sought to free them and to end the genocide. We passed through those well known gates with that now terrifying phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” and quietly went our own ways to explore the grounds and come to know the place in our own ways. I turned left and began my walk past the site where the barracks had once stood. With each step, my heart filled with memories of the many people who’d touched my life. Each footstep acted as a continuation of my prayer, connecting me to the place and giving space to offer thanks and honor the past and the present.
I came to the end of the area that had been the barracks and turned to the left again. Ahead of me lay the path to the crematorium. It was as I came to these ovens that my heart broke completely and the tears that I’d been choking back finally began to flow. Out of my heart and soul poured the reality that not only could these ovens have burned my friends, my family, but they did and they continue to. As I stepped out of the crematorium building, I saw the cedars growing. I offered thanks and picked a tiny piece rubbed it in my hands and lifted it to my face to smell. Here I was reminded of the medicines, that we can heal. That we will heal when we are ready to do so.
I was struck as I wandered the grounds of Dachau at how many people there that day didn’t seem to fully connect with where they were. There were people chatting happily, taking fun photos of their kids, few tears, more looking at cell phone screens. We are in a dangerous time when this happens. It hurts to feel sometimes, but feel we must. When we stop feeling, only more pain will come until that pain breaks through our barriers. Allowing ourselves to feel, to face the sorrows is the only way to heal and to create a new a way, a joy-filled way, a way that can be sustainable and peaceful, a way that can honor all those whose lives were lost in those ovens.