It begins again.
At first its a history tour, a site visit then as the conversations begin and the elements take their toll, emotion and contemporary resonances start to manifest themselves. We hear of a phone call, only yesterday, an elderly woman sharing a childhood experience seeing brutal treatment of slave labourers from the Judenlage, ‘Waldeslust’. One woman was bent over and could hardly stand, the guard beat her and when she could not get up he raised his gun and shot her. The guard then looked threateningly at the girl and she ran away.
There is another kind of memory surfacing here, the child witness who was told by parents and officials to say nothing and not question. As they come to the end of their lives the questions remain and the experience re-surface. We hear a story of children who ran up with food to the death marchers passing their homes. Small and incredibly brave acts of kindness. Dangerous to offer, dangerous to accept. A story silenced for a generation. Perhaps we have been, momentarily, a stimulus for the re-surfacing of that story. Indifference is granular and it transforms as we get closer to individual acts of indifference, complicity, courage and resistance….and childhood trauma
At last through the wind and cold, cold rain across the icy river to Winsen. Over the bridge carrying yellow tulips..not sure if this was a symbol but the yellow stood out, the colour of the star they wore. Over the bridge with flowers and ivy…some distant echo of the original meaning of Wandeslust. A group of us, more than we had expected. Older people networked by our respected and connected Julius Krizsan and informed with such sensitive and lyrical German/English by Irmlinde Florian, a community of local remembrance www.ag-bergen-belsen.de is represented and bears witness in the yellow tulips.
We walked in the cold and rain, we stopped to share and tell our stories. Revisiting the last remnants of the slave labour camp, trying to imaging 400 starving women being worked close to death and trying to survive in such a place. Beating the bounds of the camp and trying to imagine what ghosts haunt the new houses on the site. We stood at the site of the gate to the compound and listened to Esthers voice.
Against all the odds she had lived to tell the story and we were there to witness and re tell it…this happened here. Her story is ground truthed
It felt like the end of the day when we crossed the bridge carrying the yellow tulips. Passing an old redbrick building with two stars of David in relief……no one knows…. To the memorial stone at Winsen. A memorial to a brave carpenter who with the help of others enabled French prisoner on a later death march to escape, he hid them until the British army arrived. We play Paul Robeson singing The Partisans Song in their honour, for Esther and for all acts and actors of resistance. Julius K told the story and then the Mayor greeted us and invited us in to the town hall.
A truly humbling experience followed, we were welcomed with food and cakes tea, coffee and sparkling mineral water. The Mayor read a powerful statement in halting but strong English, his daughter, the same age as Esther would have been, had helped him. As we drip dried and warmed up we heard more of the story of the carpenter told in praise of those who seize the moment, do the right thing, take the risk for justice and human rights. What a man, lets have him as our Mayor!
We finished with a resonance bringing us right up to now, meeting Ismail from Iraq, one of 150 refugees currently welcomed into Winsen, and Karina from Azerbaijan, his support worker. Both had survival stories to tell crossing borders with children seeking safety, underlining the real value of organisations such as UNICEF, UNHCR and the Red Cross. Belonging begins with a sense of safety, in Winsen the welcome is warm. Putting us to shame as UK citizens. As Karina said these are world problems, we are all people we have to work together to solve them. We connected past with present, at least now they communicate.