Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Meeting after meeting...

I've been here just over six days; it feels like longer. The last few days have involved meeting after meeting, information booklet after information booklet followed by long (if necessary) explanations of what I am to do. We had our first Teamanbesprechung on Tuesday, where I met my new colleagues at the Versöhnungskirche. All of them are extremely friendly and, thankfully, speak at a speed I can just about cope with! As it was Irina's birthday, we had cake and sparkling wine to celebrate, which isn't a bad way to start work.

There was a moment when, slightly tipsy on my third glass of wine, I walked outside and suddenly remembered I'm working at a Memorial Site. I have a feeling I'm going to have more of these moments.

Yesterday I had my first day of work at the Gedächtnisbuch (Book of Memories) project, where we discussed possible projects and avenues of work for the year. My work will most probably comprise of compiling a biography of a survivor, as well as attempting to find places in the UK that would like to host the exhibition. My first feeling when we left the office three hours later was one, I admit, of panic. Here I was about to start work in which I would probably have trouble in English, let alone in a language in which I still find it hard to communicate. All will come in time, I'm sure, though it doesn't make the work any less intimidating.

Today we were taken round the memorial site for the first time. I have already wandered among the concrete rectangles that represent the now demolished barracks, but had spent most of that time looking at how other people act on the site. There are tour groups, mostly English, discussing various aspects of the camp's life from 1933-45. There are Americans in baseball caps and checked shirts chatting to their group leaders. There are tourists posing for photos in front of the famous 'ARBEIT MACHT FREI' gates at the Jourhaus. Right now I'm more facinated by these people than judgemental. I have no idea how to act in a place where 41,500 people died; it's a question I hope to understand better as the year goes on. I'll tell you more about the tour in a couple of days, when I've had time to digest it.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to fathom when you think about it like that.

    As part of my MA I had to look into what's termed 'dark tourism' - concentration camps are probably the best examples of this but there are of course others, such as Ground Zero.

    People don't see their motives as 'dark' when they have a photo taken in front of the gates or the rubble, but you're right, it is fascinating because reservations about smiling or posing have probably never entered their head and you do wonder how they see their motives. Sites like Dachau aren’t just for people to say ‘I’ve been there’, but even when you study something like dark tourism, motivations are still murky and difficult to unravel.

    One of my projects involved looking into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which is an amazing place in Washington. It was created as a living memorial – to make people think about the holocaust in terms of the present and the future as well as the past, encouraging them 'to act, cultivating a sense of moral responsibility among our citizens so that they will respond to the monumental challenges that confront our world.'

    It's so important that people are able to see these sites, and the holocaust itself, for themselves in these terms, as history is not just about what happened, but also about learning from it, to prevent these things happening again.