This is not a picture of Buchenwald.
We did go to Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp (of the labor, not extermination, variety), after we went to Weimar. But I didn’t take any pictures there. What does one do with a picture of a concentration camp? Frame it? Hang it up? Show friends while passing around the photo album?
I don’t really care to blog about our visit to Buchenwald. About how jarring the juxtaposition between the sunny weather and the stormy past was. About how I thought that I would lose it, and didn’t, and how and why I think that’s the case. About the extent to which I drew a mental distinction between this and other concentration camps, and the shame I felt for it.
But I do want to blog about our tour guide.
Before the tour, I was thinking about who becomes a tour guide of a concentration camp. Of what it must be like to get up every morning and explain the unexplainable to gawking guests.
I don’t know how our tour guide would have responded to my pondering. But I do know that he worked for thirty years as an engineer. That his wife had long been involved in the pedagogy of Buchenwald. That he speaks fluent Polish and had long studied the camp. That he used to give part time tours of Weimar, but that he quickly came to realize that you could not know Weimar without knowing Buchenwald, and that thus decided to commit himself to being a full time Buchenwald tour guide. That it is his last job before he retires. That he told us, again and again, that the people who said that they did not know must have known, and that the Polish survivors to whom he’d spoken said they felt like failures, because they vowed to build a world of peace. That he told us, very matter-of-factly, that our takeaway from the visit should be that “we don’t need war, and we don’t need camps.” That he brought us to the top of the Memorial, to the tower, and told us to look out (we did; hence, this photo). That he took the tour seriously. That he took history seriously. That he took us seriously. But that, above all, he took seriously that each individual human has to live in accordance with dignity and decency, and to remember those who tried to do that, and those who did not try at all. And those who perhaps did not succeed, but who did their very utmost to do so.
Which is, I think, the sort of person our tour guide was.