Monday, March 28, 2011

Concentration Camps, Excluding Germany

As an outsider, living in Europe can sometimes feel like living in a haunted house. This could be, perhaps, said for any landscape with a brutal history -- only sometimes, the people living in that landscape seem a little numb to the ghosts around them. And by ghosts, I don't mean whispy boo-monsters. I mean "ghosts" in a kind-of metaphorical sense.

Sometimes, when a person has lived in a location long enough, they become numb to their history. This is especially evident in the American southeast, in places like The Carolinas, Georgia, and so on. However, to an outsider, these "ghosts" become painfully evident.

This is something I know rather well, having grown up as an ex-patriot. Every place is new to me, and I have no "home" in a traditional sense. Still, this role of history is something I have been seriously considering as of late. For both nostalgia and research-for-writing, I have often looked back at my life in Europe. Specifically, at everything I missed while being a beer drinking and punk rock loving teenager. Sometimes, you find out things that you well didn't know.

Case in point: I was accutely aware of the history of Holocaust in Europe. When I was very young, my parents took me to Dachau as a "tourist." What I saw there has long since stayed in my mind. I had since returned to Dachau much later, with the same horrifying response to the imagery.

Still, even visiting Dachau will never give a person a full understanding of Nazi atrocities or to the extent those war crimes were spread across Europe. In the years since, comfortable in my home in New Jersey, I was shocked to find out how much so. Concentration camps were never just locations within Germany. There were others located closer to the countries I lived in, like Breendonk in Belgium, as well as one in Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

History can never be reduced to gross generalities. True, one should never forget, but also, one should never make the mistake of understanding the pervasiveness with which it touches everything.

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