I conclude this account, as I closed the trip itself (click on link towards the end of this entry to join me for that moment at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial ), on a very personal note. Yes, I came to this part of the world as a writer following the footsteps of an historical individual—a mystic, a Grail hunter and a member of Himmler’s SS—quite focused on refashioning him into the protagonist in my novel in progress, The Perfect. And in this I succeeded well enough, although the bulk of the book, the proof, remains to be written.
But every journey worth taking has twists that surprise, sometimes as delight, sometimes as pain. This was a trip worth taking and, if you’ve accompanied me so far, you have shared several such twists, some delightful, some quite painful. But it was only on that final day, after I had spent a couple of weeks crisscrossing the country of my ancestors and days on Berlin’s streets and in its museums, including the touching Jewish Museum Berlin , that I allowed myself to put the face of one human being to the more objective history of this blood-stained land. And that face was of a blind old woman named Fanny Moser, whom her daughter, my grandmother, sequestered in supposed safety in Holland before she herself departed for America to be with her children. But, as in The Diary of Anne Frank, the Nazis came to Holland and found Fanny. They had no pity for her age and physical condition much less her humanity. They saw only that she was Jewish and so she had to die.
As my last act on the trip, I found the courage to take myself with full awareness to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, a vast field tomb-shaped of concrete , without names or symbols inscribed, on the avenue between Potsdammer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. There I allowed myself to re-member. Not just Fanny Moser; not just the other family members who perished in the camps; not just the Jewish people who died by the millions; not just the disabled, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Freemasons and the many other classes of human beings the Nazi considered too inferior to live; not just the captives and prisoners of war of many, many nations who died in the war; and certainly not just the perpetrators: the SS men, the Nazis themselves and all their collaborators, most of who have now passed on.
Holocausts can only happen to “others,” plural, I understood as I meditated in and above that monument, brilliantly designed to evoke feelings so deep that they can’t be forgotten. In order to kill or hate or punish, a human being has to separate himself from the intended victim and then generalize the victim as “just one of those people.” Pastor Martin Neimoller, (I saw his prison cell in Dachau) supported Hitler at first; but when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion, he became disillusioned. He spoke out and was arrested in 1937 for the crime of “not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement”; he was confined in Sachsenhausen and Dachau until he was released in 1945 by the Allies. To conclude, I coopt Neimoller’s famous poem, which in few words summarizes how and why holocausts, whether of one or millions, come about:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Click here to join me at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial on You Tube.
And there you have it, my blog on Travel Europe 2011. I’ll close with what I wrote in conclusion, a prayer of thanksgiving (appropriate as I am concluding this work on the eve of Thanksgiving 2011), the morning I packed to fly back to New York: “OK, won’t belabor the farewell here. After all, I am taking the words in the journal, the photos and the memories with me. No matter what, I will never be quite the same again… . I’ll end with gratitude: that I had the opportunity, including the time, finances, strength and personal freedom without attachments to do this as it needed to be done. Amen.”