Tales from the Road:Death Camps, conclusion


Beach Hiker

LB 42, Male
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Auschwitz has taken on a particular global notoriety, and deservedly so. The Polish government is vigilant to correct any source that calls it (as does happen) a Polish death camp. It is a bizarre result of history, and the opportune location of the place. But Polish it certainly is not.

The camp attracts its share of strange happenings as well. One of the more unusual was a few years back, when thieves tried to remove and sell the infamous "Arbeit macht frei"(work will make you free) sign that hangs over the gates. Apparently it was much desired by a "collector".

But while Dachau, Auschwitz and Birkenau may be the most notorious of the death camps, it is a much smaller, mostly unknown camp that is personal to me.

A lot of my "bush time" is spent in the North of Poland, in a small fishing village near the Baltic Sea. There are forests that stretch for miles in every direction, and a seaside that has been almost entirely spared from development. 20190418_073439.jpg
In July and August it's packed with holiday makers, but the rest of the year it is sleepy and peaceful.

Just outside the wee fishing village is another piece of grim history, another death camp. Largely unknown, it was called Stutthof. While nowhere near on the scale of the other camps, it has an atmosphere that is unique.

It is quite easy to be hiking in the woods, lost in thought, and then suddenly emerge into a clearing, face to face with the outer perimeter fence. Barbed wire, guard towers, and the characteristic barracks in the distance. It is rather surreal, and the first time I stumbled upon it I had quite a shock.

About 65 000 souls perished here. The camp is well maintained, and attracts a small amount of visitors. Ironically, many of the visitors are German. This whole area used to be East Prussia, and was lost at the end of the war. The Germans come to visit where their ancestors came from, and many of them stop in Stutthof as well.

When I'm at the seaside, I sometimes pass by this camp several times a day. A weird atmosphere seems to linger over it. Entrance is free, so I will occasionally just wander in and quietly walk around the grounds. It's heavy, but somehow clears the mind of things unimportant.

Sometimes the camps and the events that happened there can seem a world away, as if they are from another time, long ago. But it's enough to enter the grounds, smell the strange pungent odour of the barracks, peer into the bunker like poison showers, and shudder at the crematorium, to realise that it wasn't so long ago after all.

One of the consistent arguments for preserving the camps is so that we will learn from them, so that it can never happen again. I surely hope that will prove to be true.