Remembrance Includes The Pain

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October 15, 2021- In the fall of 2020, there were protests against keeping the statue of Juan de Onate, one of the Conquistadores who re-established Spanish hegemony in what is now the American Southwest, after the Indigenous Peoples’ Revolt of 1680. The statue still stands at the southwest entrance to Old Town Albuquerque. As painful as much of Spanish rule was, for both the Puebloan and nomadic tribes that were subjugated, that collective pain and the response to it-including the retributive pain meted out by the rebels upon the Spanish settlers are cautionary tales-two among many from which mankind is learning, ever so slowly. The horrors endured cannot be wiped from memory.

All across Europe, there are reminders of the grim events that forged that continent’s present state, from the Museum of Torture, in Bruges, Belgium to the preserved concentration camps of World War II. In Africa, the dreadful remnants of Slave Castles and places like Ile Goree, remind residents and visitors alike of the widespread culpability for this most heinous sustained and codified injustice. Hiroshima and Nagasaki bear witness to the ultimate fate that awaits the worst of ultranationalists, along with the millions of innocent victims that their excesses cause to be brought down with them.

Here in North America, it is surely tempting to “correct” history, by eradicating statuary that reflect the erroneous notion of one racial subgroup, or ethnicity, being superior to others. Indeed, statues of Confederate leaders and slave holders scarcely have any place, standing in communities that abolished slavery, to the extent it ever was practiced in them, well before the onset of the American Civil War. Ditto for the Stars and Bars.

I have visited places associated with controversial, even unsavory, historical figures and events, from the Confederate Cemetery of southern Maryland to the site of the Silver Creek Massacre, in eastern Colorado-and will continue to do so, for the purposes of my own understanding. I do so, knowing that I will never subscribe to either heinous mistreatment of other human beings, or to the systems that spring from it.

Careful, measured and accurate presentation of unpleasant to horrific episodes of our history, and of the blinkered systems they produced, is however part of learning. De Onate’s role in the suppression of both indigenous peoples of New Mexico, and of the lower class settlers (including Afro-Spaniards, many of whom were enslaved) needs to be kept in mind. Seeing his likeness on horseback, upon first entering Old Town, is a suitable prompt in that regard. It also brings forth further contemplation, as to the role of the clergy, including the founders of the nearby Church of San Felipe de Neri, in the oppression of those viewed as of a lesser humanity. Again, gratuitous statuary in places not associated with a given figure of history- as in a statue of Christopher Columbus in, say, Portland, Oregon or of Robert E. Lee, in downtown St. Louis, serves no purpose other than to gratify that figure’s local admirers. In such a case, those admirers should be free to keep their memorabilia on their own private turf. For the rest of us, history presented in its true context will suffice.

Those are my thoughts, after visiting Old Town Albuquerque, before heading back to Home Base.

The Road to 65, Mile 213: Manzanar

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June 29, 2015, Lone Pine-   Today is the last day of my second long road journey of this year.   Like all trips, it has been less of a “vacation”, (though to some, any time spent away from one’s home town is a vacation), and more of a time of self-discovery.  I learned that I could handle the worst of circumstances, with help from the spirit realm and logistical support from steadfast friends.  I learned that there are those who will love me, regardless of what condition I am in and that there are those who will despise and avoid me, no matter how humbly I approach them.  I learned, again, that there is no Final Destination, and that, no matter how far one goes, there is that one step beyond.061

My last key destination on this road trip is a place of national shame, and of continuous soul-searching.  Fear itself drove Franklin D. Roosevelt to order the removal of Japanese-Americans from the immediate Pacific Coast and of smaller numbers of German-, Italian- and Romanian-Americans from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, from 1942-1945.  These American citizens were interned in what the President himself called “Concentration Camps”, though there were no pogroms planned or carried out against any of the interned.

Manzanar was the largest of the camps, with the Sierra Nevada serving as a wall between its Great Basin location and the western 2/3 of California.  People were rounded up, without explanation, by the FBI and the military, early in 1942, from places like San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle, and transported in buses and trains to this desert camp, and several others, such as Poston, AZ and Tule Lake, CA.  There are two ironies here:  The camps were often close to, or on, Native American reservations, though Manzanar was not- as the reservations in this part of California are on the outskirts of small Great Basin towns.  Manzanar was a small collection of farms and ranches, such as Wilder Farm and Shepherd Ranch.  These had been abandoned, before the U.S. government took over the area.  The second irony is that, in 1944-45, internes were recruited into the U.S. military, for service in the European theatre.  Many Japanese-Americans distinguished themselves in military service, including the late Daniel Inouye, who later served several decades as a U. S. Senator from Hawaii.

The Visitor Center at Manzanar National Historical Site has elaborate displays of both the Internment Period and of the history of the region.  The other big conflict between ordinary citizens and the governments, both state and Federal, involved water rights in this region, the Owens Valley.  The City of Los Angeles has bought up the lion’s share of water rights and built a pipeline, to meet much of its water needs.  There is ongoing discussion with Owens Valley residents, from Bridgeport and Bishop, in the north, to Lone Pine and Lee Vining, in the south, about how to strike a balance with the City of Angels.

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Here is a scale model of the Internment Camp, at its peak.063

Some dormitories are maintained, by the National Park Service, to show just what living conditions were for the detainees.  Remember, in 1942, there was no air conditioning, such as we know today.

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The dining halls were crowded, and there were few safeguards against infestations by vermin and scavenging insects.

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Ruins of several areas are accessible.  Here is what’s left of the house at Shepherd Ranch.

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This was once a koi pond, maintained by the internes.

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They kept up a splendid “city park”, on the north side of the camp.

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Yes, it was called Pleasure Park.

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This part of the park is sealed off, to prevent injuries to the public, and defacing of sacred inscriptions.

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These are scenes of the hospital zone.  There was a full medical facility, separate doctors’ and nurses’ facilities, and as was the wont of the internes, a garden.

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There was also a cemetery, and this cenotaph stands today, in honour of those who died during internment.

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At the southeast corner of Manzanar, there is this slab, the remnant of a camouflage tent factory, where many internes worked, “for the war effort.”

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This time in an American government internment camp was nearly as jarring, and as thought-provoking, for me, as my visit, about this time last year, to Berga, Germany, where Jewish-American and Hispanic-American POW’s were kept, in slave labour conditions, during the last months of World War II.  The difference was that the U.S. was, and is, a representative democracy, and Germany knelt to the whims of a few. The similarity:  Bigotry called the shots.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan formally apologized to those interned, and to their families, and signed legislation which authorized $20,000 to be paid to each surviving victim.  This was the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

I drove, purposely, with the windows rolled down and no AC, from Manzanar to Prescott.  Stopping for lunch and a copious amount of iced tea, at Totem Cafe, Lone Pine, set the stage for this.  I came in to the pleasant establishment alone, but was followed by 28 other people, within ten minutes.  The couple running the place managed to keep everyone pleased, but I had some concern fro the wife, who had to brace herself on the back cabinet and apply a wet towel to her forehead, for several minutes.

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My heart goes out to all those who work in the hospitality industry, during these days of triple digit temperatures, in so many places, around the globe.  I also stopped at Juicy’s Famous Riverfront Cafe, Needles, for an early supper, before heading on across the Colorado and back to base.  Juicy was a stray dog, who attached herself to the fire company in Needles, and to the hearts of the entire town.  That, alone, made it worth the stop.  The service is excellent and the food fine and dandy.

I got back to Prescott at 9:40 P.M., exulting in the drizzle and cooling temperatures, no worse off, for the heat, having plied myself with lots of iced tea and cool water, along the way. Oh, yes, and plenty of sunscreen was applied.

An Eastward Homage, Day 32, Part II: The Two Faces of Berga

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June 27, 2014, Gera- The wait for the train to Berga, while standing on the platform at Gera Hauptbanhof, was almost as long as the time I actually spent in the former prison camp town.  It was due at 1:15, and came at 2:15.  In the meantime, I was amused by a man chasing his 9-year-old son around the platform, as the child giggled and hid behind the concrete posts.  This became the child’s fault, when the train actually did pull in, and Pater-Meister was embarrassed that the boy was almost hit.  The boy took his tongue-lashing quietly, but I could tell he had no idea what he had done wrong.

The Jews who were taken prisoner, and given unwanted special attention by the Nazis, had no idea what they had done wrong, other than to be distantly related by blood to the Rothschilds and a handful of money lenders and grifters, who had contributed somewhat to the collapse of the European economy- a collapse which would have happened regardless of the level of mercantilism in any one country.

I digress, however. Berga, a small town southeast of Gera, was a satellite station of Buchenwald, the much larger Concentration Camp in northern Thuringia.(Photo courtesy of http://www.freerepublic.com)

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Here were brought Jewish soldiers from the US, Canada and Britain, especially after the Battle of the Bulge, in late 1944, when Buchenwald itself was at saturation point. One of these was my future father-in-law, Norman Fellman, 6’3″ tall, weighing into the camp at 175 pounds.  He was part of a group assigned to work a gypsum mine.  He and his fellows walked up a trail like this, (Photo courtesy of http://www.thirdreichruins.com)

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through a door like this, (Photo courtesy of http://www.kilroywashere.com)

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to a place like this (Photo courtesy of http://www.tripmondo.com), every day, for a hundred days. When General Patton’s men found him, in April, 1945, he weighed 87 pounds.

Old gypsum mine, near Berga

They spent time, after coming back from the mine, in this “work station”. (Photo courtesy of http://www.thirdreichruins.com)

Old dormitory  for prisoners, Berga

The camp where they were held, from their capture in the Vosges of southern Lorraine, to the date of Gentle George’s arrival, looked something like this. (Photo courtesy of http://www.channelnationalgeographic.com)

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Now, the area looks like this. (Photo courtesy of en.immostreet.com)Prison camp for Jews, Berga

I walked around this decrepit, southern edge of Berga, even walking the periphery of the abandoned V-1 Rocket Factory, now closed off by a fence, with only a small security team allowed inside. (Photos courtesy of andrea-kublitz.de)

V1 Rocket factory, Berga

Old rocket factory, Berga

Understandably, Pop never went back to Germany, and the less said about that country in his presence, the better.  I told him, two months before he passed on in May, that I intended to go to Berga, to try and put the ghosts to rest.  Ghosts, demons, visionaries of Hell- they seem to hang over this part of the town, in a way that the giggling school children who were waiting at Berga Train Station can only dimly imagine.  The kids, of course, were waiting for their families, from the north end of town.  Few people live in the old camp zone- a farmer or two, perhaps even an aging former guard, released from prison to live out his ignominy.

Berga today remembers its victims and its enslaved “guests”, with this memorial. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

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North of the train station, Berga could be Everytown, Deutschland.  There is a bright, red Rathaus. (Photo courtesy of http://www.commons.wikipedia.org)

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A small town square sits in front of the Town Hall. (Photo courtesy of http://www.stock-clip.com)

Village Square, Berga

Not far from here, I guided a mother and small child to an ice cream parlour, where I had just stopped, perhaps to comfort myself and return to the more benign reality of this “new” Berga.  There are churches nearby as well.  I can only imagine what the churches, and the schools, impart to their patrons. Below, is the legacy of Marxism for Berga.  These apartments are still highly occupied. (Photo courtesy of http://www.amberrom.org)

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