I’ve been wanting to write about my experience travelling to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Germany for over a month and a half, but until today the time hadn’t been right. I’m on my way to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC – a trip that I’ve had to show considerable resolve and independence to make. Changed travel schedules, and health problems for my travel companion, have meant travelling by myself, or not making the trip at all.
The last long train journey I did was between Berlin and Celle – I want first to ‘reshape’ some words that I wrote on the bottom of my Deutsche Bahn travel itinerary while on that train… | fertile | deep pile | covering | windmills – stifling atmosphere | moving stale air around | forests | copses | hunting platforms – prey | lookout towers | flat expanses | moody sky | lines meeting | crossing points | junctions | mother earth – clothed – barley corn potatoes wheat |
When I wrote those words, I knew they were notes for a poem – and that poem has just been written – the first half on the way to Washington, and completed on the way back to Philadelphia.
Polished steel rails, laid in long straight lines, across flat expanses of farmland and moorland, determine and predestine my route through luscious German countryside. Across fertile mother earth, covered in the deep pile carpet of grasses, potatoes, barley, corn and wheat; interspersed with forest copses, punctuated by hunting platforms. From their high lookout towers, keen eyes mark their prey, and do not stop long to consider what grief their gentle squeeze will trigger – how bereft and woe begotten will be the offspring and partners of those ‘non-human’ forms of life.
…And witnesses they, …those tall thin trees at forest’s edge, their shame unhidden by parasite creepers as they nod their heads in turgid submission to the serried ranks of sentinel windmills striding across the land, pushing stale air around the flat expanses of moody sky.
…But in that stifling atmosphere, none of those who stand by tracks that cross should dare to speak, neither those with asphalt skin or gravel surface, nor those with metal rails or muddy tracks dare to mention spirits who’ve passed through, or those who depleted, lay down to take their final rest. None of those will tell of journey’s end and what may be around that track that bends between the trees.
Poem written by Ian Fleming
Having read about the holocaust for the last 3 years, I have developed a strong desire to understand the German people. My emotion has always pushed towards mistrust and hatred, but my logic cries for moderation – firstly I recognise the need to separate ‘then’ from ‘now’ and appeals for me not to apply the masque of 60 years ago to the faces of today. Secondly without the courage to enquire, those seeds of hate will go unrecognised and perhaps germinate and spring forth as choking parasite creepers of fear.
Today in Washington, I spent 5 hours in the Holocaust Museum. I read in detail every text and watched in total every video/slide presentation up to the point where war broke out – where Germany invaded Poland in 1939. My experience seemed to be unique – several dozen of the groups that are ‘filtered’ into the museum by time release, zoomed past me, uninterested, unwilling or unable to devote the time required to follow every detail of how the foundations were laid – of how German civilization ‘putrefied’ in the 1930s.
Museum exhibits are usually designed for a ‘skim reading’ approach – grazing here and munching there – and gradually a taste of the subject builds up in the ‘diner’s’ mouth.
My approach led me to spend 90% of my time on about one third of the story, and then as I did at Bergen-Belsen, I spent a small, and what could seem an ‘irreverent’ amount of time moving through the exhibit. But I already have much of the ‘knowledge’; I didn’t visit Bergen-Belsen or the Washington museum for knowledge. I visited to begin a process of cultivating understanding.
I shan’t say much more now, the poem deals with my journey from Berlin to Celle, and I still need to speak of my journey to Bergen-Belsen – perhaps after that I’ll be able to write about being there.
Wednesday 13th August 2008
Location: Return journey on 183 NorthEast Regional Train Service between Philadelphia and Washington, USA
Typed, supplemented to and uploaded from: Strasburg, Virginia, USA
Originally posted: August 16th, 2008 | fine art practice, journal_ianf