Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jan. 27-28: On the Road Our Fathers Traveled

Internet access has been difficult. Here's what Miriam wrote two days ago:

The cold mist hung like a grey curtain about twenty feet above the ground. It wasn't the greatest for pictures of distant landmarks, but then, there weren't many there to view in the midst of the silent field surrounded by fairly-new-growth forest. Each footfall made a jarring crunch in the mid-afternoon quiet, leaving deep prints that gave three-dimensional testimony to our pilgrimage. Our group of sixteen advanced tentatively, not quite sure of what we would find and how we would react to it. Our guide, Jasek (pronounced "yaa-sick"), led us out into the field carrying maps of Stalag Luft III camp as it was in 1945. We listened with interest as Jasek described the metal cross erected to honor the dead from Napoleon's army. As I (Miriam) finished reading the English translation on the board mounted to describe the memorial to Napoleon's fallen, I was suddenly yanked back to the present as the others called to my sister and me, "Miriam! Diane! This is it - this is where your father lived!"

What a shock to suddenly be faced with personal history amidst the still of the clearing. Jasek was speaking in his thick Polish accent, "This is where barracks 158 was located; where Bender was in combine 13." My sister and I hurried forward, looking about for some sign of the barrack, some evidence that our father had struggled to live here with others like him, for over eight hard months during the war. There was no sign. It was an empty field. We were informed that the West Compound had been cleared very soon after the camp was evacuated, to serve as athletic fields for the Russians who occupied the camp for years through the Cold War. Someone found a brick and then my sister found another. We were told that these were most likely from the foundation pile-ons under the barracks. We would keep them as a memento of our father's history. The others took pictures of us standing on the site of barracks 158, and then the group moved on to find the next former residence. We lingered, taking pictures of the field, turning round to take in the view our father saw then, so many years ago. Marveling at the beauty of the white birch trunks framed by tall pines, cognizant of the fact that his view was much less scenic and included barbed wire fencing and guard towers. We stopped to photograph a stump, as my sister remembered our father relating how many he had removed under the direction of the NAZI soldiers.

We hurried on to catch up with the group. The other sites included many more remnants of foundations and structures, yielding mementos for the others that they clutched eagerly. Some of us still had our fathers, but others had lost theirs within the last decade. Emotions hung in the air like the mist, but at each site, the group encouraged and hugged the person whose father had lived in that barracks. As we moved from site to site, taking pictures and searching for mementoes took on an almost religious quality. We were honoring our fathers - both those still living and those who had passed on. We were on a pilgrimage; a journey. A journey of love...
The link to pictures is here

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