I ride the impeccable Autobahn from Munich to Dachau in 1976 in order to expiate the sin of an abortion. I was my mother's first-born. She was her mother's. This would have been mine. I clasped my belly and crouched to the floor twenty-four hours later as my pregnancy hormones leaped to their deaths and I screamed inside my head, What have I done? I must immediately undo it.
Just like I had felt all my life about the Holocaust, witnessing my parents' suffering, unable to go back and undo the deaths, as if I had caused them myself.
I decided to punish myself by travelling to Germany, my heart of darkness, alone.
I stand in a gas chamber in Dachau with a sign proclaiming "No one was ever gassed here." Ha! My grandfather was in this concentration camp, starving, with people dying all around him, quickly whisked to the crematorium to hide the evidence. These Germans who now manufacture the world's most non-toxic toys murdered my aunts and uncles as children with the world's most toxic pesticides. Of course they are lying. Giving and taking. Preserving history while reducing it to pablum. This is the bare concrete room I have always imagined.
This is the closest I have ever come to a grave of my ancestors. I feel relief in the stillness, the solid reality of this clean room in a white building meant to hold poisonous showers, validating my life-long nightmares despite the disclaiming sign. I can breathe now. It is immaculate instead of filled with excretions and stench. The screams can no longer be heard.
Outside, the lawn between the showers and the ovens is a perfect patch of grass, each blade standing erect like a little green soldier, all alike, very Aryan. Certainly leftover cyanide-based Zyclon-B pesticide from the gas chamber was used to purge the lawn of weeds, bugs and vermin. Very efficient. No waste. Perfectly recycled.
Two children in red hooded ponchos, their backs to me, flank a woman in front of the round metal doors of the ovens of the crematorium. It is a grey ashen scene, a light rain falling. Only their raincoats are in color, slick with rain. I wonder what the woman is saying to them. They are so still and well behaved. I snap photographs to stay grounded, not get sucked into the past, but also to help me ponder the scene for later.
When I get home, I tuck a photo in the corner of my mirror. They are after all Hansel and Gretel, about to be pushed into the oven by the evil witch. Or maybe she is their mother, so weary of her flashbacks and nightmares of concentration camps that she is getting rid of her bickering children the only way she knows how.
“I wish I had died in the concentration camp not to live to have such rotten children,” I remember my mother screaming at me and my sister in one of those very bad moments that marred our externally perfect childhoods. My sister and I raced up the stairs as my mother sobbed at the foot of them. It's your fault. No, yours, we whispered back and forth. We were only six and nine. We hated each other for causing my mother so much pain.
Or maybe the Dachau family are ghosts from the Brothers' Grimm, reassuring me that this was all just a fairy tale gone awry and none of it was real. Not the miserable years my parents spent in camps. Not the phobias and panic attacks I developed thereafter, with no one to help any of us, no one understanding the effects of the massive traumas rippling through survivors' families. Not until many years later. Too late for us. So that all of us, my parents and siblings, the lady with the two children, were completely on our own figuring how to extricate ourselves from the all pervasive Zyclon-B gas still circulating in our bloodstream, poisoning our minds, robbing us of sleep and the ability to feel that we were still alive.
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Published Fall 2012 in the Rose and Thorn .http://www.roseandthornjournal.com/Fall_2012_Prose_6.html