We were now circling above Reykjavik Bay. Keflavik Airport where we were due to land was some twenty minutes behind us. That well known smoky colored water had turned into the somber grey of a tombstone. That fifty year awaited holiday in that magic place was about to end differently. While awaiting the captain’s voice detailing what awaited us, there seemed no purpose in fantasizing about the glaciers and geysers that we would be leaving behind. My life drifted before me and came to an abrupt halt: How I wished that if we had to drop out of the air it could have been over the Great Australian Bight. At least my sons could have driven to the steep cliffs that met it and said ‘that is our mother’s grave’. Fortunately the plane’s other wheel did come down as did its passengers, somewhat numbed by the notion that we were still alive. As evening came and the agitated numbness began to abate the imagery of the glaciers and geysers did not return. Dinner with my Icelandic friends had enlocated me but something had changed.
My thoughts returned to the first three years of my life: A time that I remembered with many emotions but few tangible thoughts or images. It was a time when death had stalked us day and night. I wondered how many times our parents pondered how they would visit the graves of those that succumbed on the journey and wished that their loved one’s graves would remain accessible for visiting. I too wondered how many times they had also faced that near moment and had to deal with the numbness of having beaten fate again.
I remembered a motor accident some thirty years ago when survival was but a chance occurrence: My thoughts at the brief but endless time had become focused on how my son who was also in the car could be spared. Fate was kind to us. How neither of us was scathed I will never know. Again my thoughts quickly veered to the journey of our parents through the wilderness of war. How countless times they must have been faced with that decision of how to spare their children: perhaps left to wonder for the rest of time, was there anything more they cold have done.
The imagery of that journey continued, and I drifted to sleep with the powerful realization that one never really understands what another feels until one comes face to face with such a predicament.
The return to Geislingen in September this year brought the same realization. While I had visited Geislingen on three other occasions during the last decade it was always alone. In retrospect it was somewhat in tourist mode: Since Geislingen had physically changed there was little to connect it with my past. Our people were not here, the waterfall was not accessible and I was no longer the gazelle that could bound up the steep hillside to the castle ruins.
This time there were people present: people whose lives had been fractured at the same point as mine: People who had seen Geislingen through children’s eyes as I had. As the place came to life I became increasingly aware of the wonder of our parents’ journey. How incredibly brave and resilient they had been. How difficult it must have been for them to encourage us to find hope when they were struggling with the same journey.
I realized how powerful the bonds that bind a group with a shared fate are. Most of us who attended the reunion did not have memories of each other as children. Yet the symbolism remained right: we all seemed to have found something that we had not met at that time gone by. We now too traversed Geislingen in the shoes of adults and fitted our learned life experiences into the diorama of that town.
The camp visits as part of Esto 2009 are an activity that I can recommend to everyone. Many of next year’s delegates would have been children when they lived in those camps. Others will be children of the children who lived in those camps. For the former the visits will provide a warm closure to a past event: for their children a living diorama of their parents’ and grandparents’ journeys.
To make these visits meaningful takes some careful planning. There is a need to know the following:
• The number of people who are interested
• Their approximate ages when they lived in the camps/ the age their parents were when they lived in the camps
• Which camps they lived in and which camps they would like to visit.
There is much to be learnt from comparing and contrasting life in the different camps. At the Geislingen reunion we did this with the three different cohorts of children who had lived there. Those born before, during and after WWII saw many things quite differently. Their representative speakers at a dinner made for a fascinating evening.
While visiting every camp venue would not be logistically realistic, planning well ahead will allow the visits to be optimally representative.
If you are interested in travelling through the retrospectoscope please let Andres Vainumäe from the organizing committee know by ,
phone: +49 (0)40 494 111 until 31.01.09. He will forward the details onto me, to help plan that event.
Retrospectoscope: At Esto 2009