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From Dachau to Sunbury

Friday, January 07, 2011
I don't remember the exact date, but I remember everything else about the day very clearly.  The skies were grey and there was a light mist of rain.  And it was as quiet as a funeral viewing.  I was at Dachau in southern Germany, the first Nazi concentration camp that opened in March of 1933.  It was horrible and I was mesmerized.  I'm not quite sure what that human phenomena is; the one where we tend to be riveted to looking at and hearing about the atrocities of the world without turning away, but I experienced it then and all of these years later, I experienced it again today while on a visit to Sunbury Plantation House on the island of Barbados in the British West Indies.  What an afternoon.
Looking back on my experience in Germany, I'm not sure what I was expecting at Dachau (or Sunbury for that matter), but I do remember being unprepared for the flood of emotion that knocked me over while looking at gas chambers and crematoriums and prisoners barracks.  I cried softly during the tour and for days afterwards.  And if I think about it long enough, I could very easily cry again.  And here we are many years later, with today being more of the same. 
Sunbury Plantation House
I went to a former plantation today; a standing reminder of slavery and its evils and my happy-to-be-on-the-island disposition went downhill fast.  Unable to really focus on the architecture, I stopped talking and could actually feel the furrow on my brow while looking at the splendor of the mahogany furniture, the cleverness of the his and hers planter's chairs, and the 2.5 foot wide hurricane-proof walls at a 300 year old sugar plantation that housed over 200 slaves at one time (and then for 2 years after slavery was abolished).  I admit that I had a limited amount of empathy for the plantation owners' wives who were treated poorly and often relegated to cellars.  I simply had more empathy for Sunbury's slaves and wondered if my great great grandparents were slaves here; and how my White Bajan grandfather fit into the equation.  Like I said, I don't know what I was expecting, but I can tell you for certain that I certainly wasn't prepared for this. 
I do believe that places like Dachau and Sunbury and the Colosseum in Rome and the Door of No Return on Goreé Island are important pieces of history that exist to remind us of the horrors of our past so we do not repeat them.  I get that.  I also believe (as you probably know) that no matter your cultural or ethnic background, we all share a relatively common history; one that is filled with both joy and pain.  Tomorrow, however, I think I'll just go to the beach.



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