I live in a small village in Bavaria. It’s peaceful and beautiful here, and I love it.
Not far from my house, however, are dark reminders of a turbulent and troubling past. Flossenbürg concentration camp is a twenty-minute drive away. Memorial Day 2021, my husband and I visited the camp but there was so much to see and take in that we decided to do it again.
So we took another walk through the Valley of Death on this Memorial Day.
The Valley of Death
Right outside the walls of the camp, beneath one of the guard towers, lies a stretch of ground known as the Valley of Death, dedicated to the memory of those who lived and died at Flossenbürg.
The site is laid out to resemble a Christian Stations of the Cross, and begins at the crematorium where dead prisoners were first harvested for the gold in their teeth or anything else deemed valuable by the SS and then stacked like firewood awaiting the ovens.
As I walked across this swath of land, passing graves and memorials, I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings and the feeling of reverence that pervaded the area. In the center, is the Pyramid of Ashes, built from the charred remnants of former inmates to stand as a witness that they are not forgotten.
Further along is the Square of Nations, two rows of grave markers representing the different nationalities of fallen prisoners. And—in at least one case—those who fought to free them. One of the markers is dedicated in memory of two unknown American pilots killed while fighting for the liberation of oppressed nations.
Two chapels, side by side
At the far end of the Valley of Death, the Catholic chapel rises to meet the sky. It’s a solemn edifice, constructed with stones from the demolished guard towers. Next to it, a small and simple Jewish chapel sits beneath the spreading branches of birch and oak.
Both years, when I’ve visited this chapel on Memorial Day, I’ve found a single nest filled with a mama bird and several silent babies. They peer at us from their high, protected ledge but make no noise, as if preserving the peace of the monument and its message of hope and refuge.
Beneath the chapels is a stone wall with three bronze plaques. The central plaque is dedicated to the memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who never flagged in defending freedom and human dignity and was hanged for it at Flossenbürg about a month before the camp was liberated.
On the left, hangs a plaque in honor of the 90th US Infantry Division which liberated Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 23, 1945. And to the right, an acknowledgement in gratitude to the 97th Infantry Division of the USA 3rd Army.
A fitting way to spend the day
We were fortunate to meet a wonderful tour guide who took us on a short hike up to the quarry where prisoners were forced to mine granite stone to supply the voracious building demands of the Third Reich.
Here, inmates were worked literally to death and then discarded. Conditions were hazardous, the labor difficult, and it continued day after brutal day.
It is still a working quarry today, though now there are large machines to do the work and safety measures in place. It’s strange to see ordinary houses on the hill overlooking the camp where the barracks used to sit. A residential road runs right through the camp on its way up the hill to those houses.
How strange would it feel to drive through a concentration camp on your way home and to see it out your window every day?
It’s an amazing world we live in, full of the wonderful and the horrendous. Often side by side. The wheat and the tares.
All in all, visiting the camp at Flossenbürg seemed a fitting way to spend the day and I’m grateful we had the opportunity to do it.
How about you? Have you been to a concentration camp or a Holocaust museum? Tell us about it in the comments.
Thank you for sharing. I visited one of the concentration camps many years ago .I can’t remember exactly which one, but it was very moving. I think everyone should experience seeing one of these camps so we know how important it is not to allow anything like this to ever happen again. Reading about it doesn’t have the same impact.
Hi, Linda. You are right. I’ve been to Auschwitz and Birkenau, Dachau, Flossenbürg, and a little-known concentration camp in Denmark. It’s always a rough visit, but an important experience to have. Remembering is vital. Thanks for reading and sharing your comments.
Thanks for sharing this! It’s so important to remember, as a way to assure that it never happens again. i just finished reading Chancellor by Kati Marton about Angela Merkel and how committed she was to Germany’s remembering the Holocaust and atoning for it.
Hi Erika! Thanks so much for reading and for sharing about Kati Marton’s book. Yes, it’s important to remember, though understandably painful. There are many areas in Germany where the memories have been largely rubbed out and it’s difficult to find reminders. I understand the desire for that, but it is vital for the world to remember and, as you say, do what we can to ensure history doesn’t repeat. I’m currently reading Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, about the French Resistance during WWII. Fascinating and chilling.
I have never visited a concentration camp. I enjoyed your post. It’s so sad to read about those people who were completely innocent and died for what? It’s even sadder to think of a god who sat by and let it happen. And continues to sit while horrible things in this world happen. It’s good that we can honor these lives and keep some hope.
Thanks for sharing.
Hi, Judy. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your comments. It’s definitely sad and difficult to visit these monuments and think about what happened here. There is some hope that by remembering we can prevent a repetition of such atrocities. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Joslyn, thank you for sharing such a beautiful piece. I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. It was an unforgettable experience, yet filled with knowledge that every individual should have the chance to learn of and from the horrendous and unjust treatment of human beings. I believe we can’t successfully move forward without knowing our past no matter how painful it might be. We have come far but still so far to go. Debra
Hello, Debra. Yes, you are correct, and thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!