Saturday, 2 October 2010

Waldfriedhof

I have been thinking more about the last pages of Raphael's memoirs, in which he describes the last days in the camp between liberation and his journey back to the Netherlands. As with a lot of the book, he refers to places that still exist today but are not actually on the memorial site, and thus receive next to no visitors. Whether that's a good thing or not is not for me to say.

One such location is the Waldfriedhof, the Woodlands Cemetary, where around 1500 men who died in the days after liberation were buried. While those corpses discovered in the first days after the Americans arrived at the KZ were buried en masse for the simple reason of a lack of manpower, the Americans decided that those who died as a consequence of their treatment during their time as prisoners would be given an individual burial. They were laid to rest by local farmers, whose knowledge of the events in the camp is still debatable.

When you arrive, the place looks like any normal cemetary; in fact it is a functioning cemetary and there are plenty of ornate memorials with photos and flowers. However, then you notice an open space, where you see hundreds of stone slabs. They mainly bear Polish names, every so often a Star of David, and sometimes for people whose name is unknown there is only a cross to their final resting place.

When people talk of World War One burials, they often refer to the endless lines of graves bearing 'Known Unto God' at Tyne Cot. We rarely have the chance to have that same emotional effect where concentration camp victims are concerned, as they were treated merely as numbers right up to the point of their mass cremation or burial.

I said a quiet prayer and left. I liked the fact that the place was empty except for mourners. Unlike so many victims of KZ Dachau, they were laid to rest with the dignity and peace that many of us will take for granted when we finally pass on. They lie alongside Germans as residents of Dachau.

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