There are events in our lives that should be revisited. It’s a nostalgic and in many ways a therapeutic trip to past experiences which ultimately have an effect on what makes us who we are today. I am in no way a psychiatrist but I can from a recent personal encounter affirm this to be a fact.
The trip I took back was a location I lived in at age four. It was a small town in Germany that has a frightful name. The town is called Dachau. I lived in that town after the war ended.
I vowed I would never, ever, return to this country that had inflicted such pain and sorrow to my family, nor to the town with such a dreadful history. But recently I wound up doing exactly what I promised myself I would never do.
I have two relatives who still live in Munich. As their health is declining they pleaded I come see them. Guilt has proven to be my motivator many times.
As I made my plans for Munich I experienced the strongest desire to also visit the town where I lived for four years. Inexplicably I had to also see the house I lived in and the surroundings. There was only one problem. I did not have an address or the names of the people who owned the house we lived in. All I had was a vivid picture of the road that led to that house.
As I landed in Munich and heard the language that I had spoken fluently so many years ago, I found this not to be as strange as I imagined and to my surprise not terribly uncomfortable. Seeing my relatives assuaged the negative feelings that still rested within me.
A few days after I arrived, I bought a train ticket that would take me to Dachau. It was a troubled ride. I had mixed emotions throughout the ride and while on board I thought this an exceptionally stupid idea. Still I went ahead. I arrived 30 minutes later at the Dachau station. It was not at all as I remembered it, but then 60 years later it had gone through several transformations.
There were three different paths I could take to exit. I decided to take one of them. I walked for a few blocks but nothing looked familiar. This was indeed a stupid idea. How could I ever think I could find this house? Still I kept walking. My feet seemed to know where they were going. Then I caught sight of a canal. I remembered that was the way my parents and I would walk home. I turned towards the canal and continued walking.
I passed a tavern which I remembered was near the house but I continued to go on when out of nowhere, a church bell chimed. It only chimed once as if to tell me I was going too far and I was passing the street where I lived. Instantly I recalled there was a small white church opposite the house. I retraced my steps and walked back to where I thought the bell chimed. And, as I continued, there to the side of the road was that very same small white church and across the street, there was the house! The church was the same; the house was the same too! I could not believe it. I stood in the middle of the street for quite some time taking in what I thought I never wanted to see again.
I didn’t go into the house or the church. I didn’t have to. I got what I came for. I was driven to find my past that for so many years was nagging me to return.
This town, as so many in Germany harbored an extermination camp that was blight on humanity. I lived here after the war. I lived in a house where the people knew that just a few miles away innocent people were brutally tortured, starved, and exterminated and did nothing to prevent it. My father was one of the inmates liberated from this evil. Even at age four it disturbed me that we were living under the enemy’s roof. I forgot this until I stood in front of this house again. It is amazing how much can be understood and also suppressed at that young age.
As I was standing on the street where I lived so long ago I realized I am the last generation in my family to be witness to this era. I am a Holocaust survivor. In my lifetime I never thought of designating myself as such. After all it was my parents who were Holocaust survivors; I was just an infant when the horrors of that period were unfolding. After so many years of denial, it took this trip to give meaning to who I am.
I would not have thought to write this narrative had it not been at the urging of a dear relative who insisted this should be my next blog. So to him I say “thank you” for suggesting I put in writing my recent visit back to my past. In many ways this written exercise has proven to be as much, if not more, liberating.