Munich holds a lot of of history for our family. When my Grandmother was only a young girl, her family escaped Hitler’s grasp and the Nazi regime by leaving Munich, as my Great-Grandfather was a judge, and knew to flee the early persecution against Jews. Growing up, I have heard stories of Munich from my Grandmother, and seen her memories depicted in old black and white photographs. She’s shared her love of dark beer, German food and lebkuchen (German gingerbread), and instilled a deep desire within us to see our world. I love you, Grandma!
Until a few days ago, I had never been to Munich, so in a sense, arriving in the city felt like a bit of a pilgrimage to me. I was grateful to see my Grandmother’s childhood home and ramble the streets she fled from so long ago. As sparkly and glossy as Munich is now, you sometimes turn a corner and see a place where Nazi banners once waved and where books were burned. At moments, an eerie feeling hung in the air, knowing that one place could have held so much history.
We did love Munich. We perused the Christmas markets and I deemed myself the official lebkuchen taster. This tasty treat is gingerbread covered in chocolate and marzipan, cranberry or orange, and is so good! We went to beer halls, drank liter beers, and gazed at delightful Christmas displays in store windows. We walked through city parks and Luna was thrilled to find a playground. We even spent a day and visited the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, which is a castle so picture perfect that Walt Disney based his castle at Disneyland on it. Luna was so excited to visit the tower and throw her hair down like Rapunzel.
Yet, there were some difficult moments while visiting Munich as well.
It is important to me to not forget the past. Our joyous travels have been tempered with the hardships of the world, too. Just as we went to Hiroshima where the Atomic bomb dropped, we also felt it was important to see Dachau, just outside of Munich. Mom was kind enough to keep Luna, and Josh and I boarded the train for a 15 minute ride to Dachau. Tens of thousands of people had made a train ride to Dachau during World War II and never came back. When we arrived in Dachau, it was strange to see that life has gone on there, even after the horrific events that took place. A kindergarten stands next to the concentration camp, and people still live in this small town. The concentration camp is very large, and the scope of the Nazi vision was vast. Dachau was the first concentration camp, created to assist in making anyone who opposed the Nazi party simply disappear. There were many Jews taken here, but there were also thousands of political prisoners and over 2,500 priests. We walked the grounds and saw the barracks where the prisoners lived while they were worked to death. I didn’t cry until we got to the cremation room, where they burnt the bodies of over 40,000 people. When they couldn’t handle the volume, the corpses were moved by farmers in their wagons to be buried in mass graves. As difficult as things like this are to see, I believe that it is very important for us to remember these things so that they are never repeated. Never. Never. It’s hard for me to write this, to know that my family was so tied to these events, to know that family members that didn’t get out were lost. Be tolerant. Imagine a world where people were tolerant. Where things didn’t escalate so quickly and turn into war or school shootings and anger making our decisions. Imagine a world where people didn’t fly off the handle so quickly about everything. I personally feel like people’s tempers are becoming shorter as we become less connected to our communities and see the world through a screen rather than with our eyes, and our hearts. So give the world the gift of tolerance this Holiday Season.
It starts with us.