A feature of Jeffrey’s work from Ukraine is published in this months issue of Life Force magazine. Life Force is a relatively new publication that is featuring the work of photojournalists, young and old, from all over. There are lots of beautiful photographs and interesting photographers to find here. Take a look.
Ashe and I made are way from Kitzbuhel to Munich with some of our friends from college who are now living in Munich.
During my time in Ukraine I researched a lot about the history of world war two in the area I was living, south of Odessa. During that research I often came across the Dachau concentration camp. Many people from Poland, Romania and Western Ukraine were sent to the camp during German invasion in 1942 and 1943 and Eastern Orthodox Clergy Members were grouped there.
Dachau was not a death camp so people were not “Gassed” there but approximately 25,500 people are estimated to have died there and another 10,000 in the surrounding sub camps. The horrors are so endless that no one could ever comprehend them and any attempt at conveying the entirety of those horrors could only scratch the surface.
So I will tell you about my experience in visiting the camp and hopefully convey what I felt.
“Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not to Dachau come”,”Lieber Gott, mach mich dumm, damit ich nicht nach Dachau kumm”. A children’s rime heard as early as 1935 two years after the camps founding by Heinrich Himmler.
Entrance is free and the walk from the parking lot to the front gates was a chance to think about what it was I was going to see and remember all of the things I had read about this place.
The front gates to the Dachau concentration camp are infamous, they read “Arbeit macht frei”, “work make free” or “work shall set you free.” In touching these iron letters, which had warmed in the sun, and crossing the boundary into this place my state of mind changed immediately and I became truly aware of where it was that I was standing.
The camp has been turned into a museum and what used to be a bunker and staff quarters now hosts several exhibits. We walked the grounds first. Past where lines of barracks stood and around the front courtyard where prisoners were counted. The gravel crunched under our feet and the feet of groups of kids on school trips. Several monuments now sit in the courtyard that once hosted daily executions. It is an open space surrounded by the front gate on one side, barracks and fencing on the others. Guard towers line the permitter that is made up of a ditch, once filled with water, and then an electrical fence. Very few people, if any, ever escaped this enclosure.
In walking through the grounds we saw the recreation of the barracks, toilets, and washing quarters. When the camp was founded it was intended to house 5,000 prisoners and the bunk houses were quite spacious but eventually bunks were squeezed so tightly together that it would have been hard to even get a human body into the space. In later periods of the war the camps population rose up to 15,000 people.
The place is clean and well kept. Prisoners were beaten, often to death, for even the smallest flaw found in the living quarters. The washing area is just as it was and near the door there is a picture of an emaciated man who has hung himself from the sink. It is impossible not to imagine his body hanging just in front of you, close enough that you could reach out and remove the towel from around his neck.
At the far end of the fenced enclosure there is a small building. It is the gassing chamber. Made of several rooms, a waiting room, and changing room where prisoners could be instructed to undress before entering the “showers”, the gas chamber was never put into use at this facility.
Beyond this building there is another small gate, it opens to a wide path lined with trees. At the end of the path is a small brick building a bit like a cottage with a large brick chimney. It is the crematorium where thousands upon thousands of bodies were burned. When there where a lot of bodies to be burned they would be put into the chambers two at a time.
If you just stop for a minute you can hear the sounds of a stream that runs not far away.
We then entered the museum area that is in the former guard quarters and mess hall area of the camp. It details the lives of many of the camps prisoners and their paths through imprisonment in the camp. There are records that detail the lives of the guards and medical testing that was undertaken during several periods. It is a very informative exhibit and hosts some tangible objects from life in the camp.
It was a long day and I am grateful to have had the chance to see this remainder of the holocaust.
In thinking afterwards about the experience I feel that many people who I saw walking through the camp did so without being as effected by what they were seeing or saddened as I was. Maybe this is because they do not fully understand what it is that they are seeing.
There is a block in learning about the holocaust that is difficult to cross. It is difficult to comprehend, to fully understand, how something like this could happen when the reality is so far away and so long ago. But after doing some focused research about this period of the war visiting places like the holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. or entering this camp will bring that comprehension right to the front of your mind.
Dachau, and concentration camps all over the world, are a place where people suffer endlessly. They are hell on earth.
At Dachau doctors infected fathers of the Orthodox Church with malaria to see how long they would live untreated. They put people in tubs of ice water to see how long it would take them to freeze to death. People were left in train cars just outside the facility until they starved to death or froze. People did unspeakable things to one another that are so astonishing in any normal circumstance that they seem almost unreal.
But these places are real, they are evidence of mans ability to do great evil.
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 to 1945 because they resisted nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.” – Memorial in the courtyard at Dachau
There is an exquisite alpine flower garden on the Kitzbüheler Horn near Kitzbuhel Austria. It is home to alpine flowers from mountain ranges all over the world including the Himalayas. The flowers, though small, are very beautiful and are backdropped by alpine peaks. The path is steep but they have food and beer at the top.
We had researched as much as possible for this trip, tried to plan as best we could and get off the beaten track as far as possible. And I think this is as far off of the beaten track as we could’ve got.
We found out that there are “huts” in the Berchtesgaden national park that people hike to, stay at, and then go from hut to hut or summit the surrounding peaks. We found one called Blaueishütte that was a reasonable hike in, in a gorgeous spot, and looked incredible.
We called and made reservations, it was quite hard actually, many of the people who picked up the phone at these huts didn’t speak any english and were seemingly quite put off by having an american calling them. But we connected with a woman where we ended up staying and she gave us a lot of information.
We hiked in, Ashe having felt super sick from some bad food or something, with the minimal gear we had which pretty much consisted of jeans, a rain jacket, and t-shirts and arrived at the hut mid day. We stopped halfway up at a smaller hut owned by an older woman who serves beer and desserts through a fold down window. Everything was cooked on wood heat and her cabin looked so inviting- a large stack of wood outside, cast iron skillets hanging on the walls and wonderful food being cooked on the stove. We both talked about wanting to be able to live like that one day. Once we got up to the hut people reacted like they had never seen a foreigner before. We were in “locals only” territory getting dirty looks from everyone and not making many friends. For two nights we sat at a group table with everyone speaking in german and no one talking with us. Finally Ashe broke the ice by asking one of the guys she saw rock climbing earlier that day about a knot he had tied that we had never seen before. Suddenly- our whole table was speaking english with us and we were trading stories and learning about what everyone does in their regular lives when their not just hiking giant peaks in the Austrian alps and practicing their climbing techniques. We summited one of the smaller peaks nearby called Schärtenspitze which was amazing, but will have to take on Mount Watzmann, germany’s third highest peak, next time.
These huts have great food and incredible beer for the right price, it’s brought in by helicopter. There is a bavarian beer called “weissbier” which is a wheat beer that’s light in color but thick in texture. It is unpasteurized and unfiltered, creamy with a thick head, and tastes great. I’ve sampled a lot of beer in my time and have rarely come in contact with stuff as quality at this. We drank it by the liter for the rest of our time in Bavaria.
When it was time to hike down, neither of us were really ready to go. Even though it was cold, sitting out on the deck with a beer and slice of strudel when the sun broke through the clouds was incredible. We admired the way people spend their free time, hiking and doing other healthy outdoor activities, and hope it inspires us in the future.
Lake Königssee in the Berchtesgaden Land park is an incredible place. It is a glacier lake of crystal clear water surrounded by steep mountains and forest. There is a funky little town at the base of the lake where there are boats that take you across. The town is like a little ski resort full of expensive shops and people walking around on side walks with trekking poles, quite the “scene”.
But once you get out onto the lake the feeling of the atmosphere turns etherial. There is a tradition done where the boats stop in the middle of the lake and they play a trumpet. The sound of the trumpet echoes through the surrounding cliffs and it feels as if the whole basin is ringing.
We had been hitchhiking around the “Berchtesgaden Land”, despite scowls from the german tourists. And unbeknownst to us we were in for yet another hitchhiking adventure, this time in the back country.
We had taken one of the later boats out onto the lake and once we reached the far side decided to make the 45 minute hike from Königssee to Obersee, just a way up the trail. We dilly dallied our way up to the lake admiring the views and the tiny cabin surrounded with cows. We finally decided that we had better head back since about an hour had past and we hadn’t seen anyone else. Once we returned to the dock on the far side of Königssee, we were greeted by a nice romanian migrant worker who informed us that we had missed the last boat. He helped interpret for us as we asked some young women in charge of a local farm if we could stay there for the night. They were not at all interested. We asked some boat drivers making a late delivery to the farm if they could give us a lift back, but they too were vorboten from providing any assistance to american tourists. No one, except the romanian seemed too eager to provide us any help. They informed us that we could hire a private boat for 290 euros to come pick us up. At that point we were preparing to sleep on the dock until the early morning boat came by- except we already had arrangements of where we were going to stay that evening and plans the following morning.
At this point the nice romanian guy went from being a helpful interpreter trying to find us a way home to the weird guy hitting on my girlfriend and offering to let us stay with him for the night. While he was helpfully informing us of his “open relationship” with his girlfriend and asking us what kind of arrangement we had, we heard the motor of a far-off boat quietly echoing across the water, much like the trumpet, though somewhat less etherial.
An older guy came who was delivering some supplies to the young women on the farm. We spoke with him, through our romanian friend who was back to being helpful, albeit shooting Ashe too many lingering glances, and… “Ja” (yes) we were on a boat back to where we had boarded earlier that day. The driver of the boat didn’t speak a word of english. We didn’t speak a word of German, but somehow we still laughed at each others jokes and I think he understood when we thanked him profusely.
Unfortunately, all of the buses had stopped running for the evening. We were a 45 minute bus ride from where we needed to be and it was getting dark. We stuck out our thumbs as compact German cars whizzed by. Finally a really friendly guy from Slovakia picked us up in his Volkswagen Golf and luckily heading through Ramsau- our starting off point for our hike in the alps the following morning. Unfortunately we had him drop off us too soon and ended up walking five miles on rural farm roads to our place. We got in around 9pm after talking about dinner for the last half of our walk. The restaurant had just closed and the giant women running the place did not want to serve us. We gave her our sob story though and she ended up bring us a big bowl of spaghetti and some other random pasta dish, both of which we scarfed down in a hurry. We hit the bed as soon as we walked into our room, Ashe groaning as I asked her what time we should set the alarm for the morning. Fog rolled in and enveloped the nearby farmhouses in a sleepy looking layer. We watched the lights of other far away houses twinkle in the dark and the smoke bellowing from their chimneys. A small farmhouse in rural Austria with a couple of goats was not looking like a bad idea.
We were happy that the day ended well.
Dankeschön older Berchtesgaden park guy bringing us home and la revedere to the romanian.
Kehlsteinhaus, known during WWII to the allies as “The Eagles Nest”, was a retreat built at the request of Martin Bormann for Adolf Hitler as a 50th birthday present. It is located on Hoher Göll a mountain above Berchtesgaden and now included in Germany’s Berchtesgaden Land park.
The retreat was part of the Obersalzberg complex, a central operating point of the third reich and military headquarters during WWII for Nazi Germany. The Obersalzberg complex was mostly destroyed at the end of WWII but the Kehlsteinhaus was allowed to remain as a land mark. It now serves as a tourist attraction and any mention of the history at the site has been redacted to a few photographs hanging in one of the balconies. And of course, there is the famous gift from Mussolini, a red marble mantle to a large fireplace.
Mixed feelings filled our minds once we finished the long elevator ride to the top and were greeted by such stunning views. A lasting mark of a terrible time in Germany’s history has been turned into a tourist restaurant with reportedly less than enjoyable food. “Where is the museum?” we said to each other. Germany has had to overcome a past that really belongs to a previous generation. The Berchtesgaden park is one of the countries main tourist attractions and people go there to enjoy themselves and the view. They do not want to be constantly reminded of the Holocaust.
Time must go on though and the views are good from The Eagles Nest. The historical photos are great. But even if you sneak into the cafe, take a look at the Mussolini fireplace and the photos in the hallway it’s impossible not to take a minute to realize where the leaders of a country sat while millions suffered at their behest. It can’t be forgotten.
After taking a long ferry from Naxos back to Athens, we flew into Vienna, Austria and caught a train to Salzburg. We had been dreaming of Austria for over a year and and wanted to spend time in some of the smaller cities. Jeff and I watched The Sound of Music while we were still in Ukraine since I’d never seen it. It was filmed in Salzburg about fifty years ago. Salzburg was gorgeous and green.
Castles and churches, nunneries, mansions and palaces, the beautiful steeples and domes that make up Salzburg’s skyline are unforgettable. A tumultuous past has endangered the city many times, so rich in history, we are lucky it remains.