Formal wear at Rideau Hall, naked in Dachau

Barely in the country from our family holiday in Germany, and not really fully unpacked in our Hamilton condo, the kids continue to live in what is their never-ending Holiday Land.

They’ve been back to school this week in Canada, sure, sure, but just for three days, before tomorrow morning, right around sunrise if Yours Truly is successful, we’re all on a family road trip up the long Ontario highway.

At the other end is Rideau Hall and the Governor General and smiles and handshakes and formal gowns and black ties. (I personally have a morning suit lent to me — thanks James — by my British brother-in-law.)

This all for the life honour that The Children’s Mothers so richly deserves and is now receiving.

This is the Order of Canada, news that was first announced in this space some time ago and elaborated to the broader world here in this Spectator piece.

This weekend My Bride officially receives it all, and what better weekend for this than Mother’s Day?

Especially for Jean, recipient for her tireless work as founder and quarterback of Save the Mothers, and her love and commitment to this family of travellers.

School, really, couldn’t be as good.

More, I’m sure, to report from all this sooner or later.

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The only other item that comes to mind from our recent working holiday in Germany is the girl with the pony tail, blonde and slender and intelligent – I could see she was a bright light in just how she said hello to me — this girl along with her father, walking through the somber displays at Dachau.

This was a trip I took myself (The Children and Mom were shopping back in Munich) on a short 30 minute train trip to the 1,200 year-old town of Dachau and its concentration camp memorial.

As part of remembrances for the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, the former Dachau camp was also visited by dignitaries last weekend, none of whom were more dignified than survivors who are still living, still dying in a way too with every memory of that particular school of horror.

And this is where I saw the girl. She was about the age of Liz, and with her father, a New Yorker, a man doing his best to find that balance between giving too much and not enough information.

“She’s asking the right questions,” he told me before we wandered in different directions.

As do many of the other school children, German school children (and those from across Europe) who are a little older than this girl, and Liz, children who routinely visit the memorial as part of their studies, children who weren’t there, not really, but, in way, will never forget.

Looking at it all from the viewpoint of a ghost of Dachau, here’s more from this past weekend’s Spectator, or below.

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Where angels and devils collide

(Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, May 2, 2015)

We’ve come to know Man as he really is. After all, Man is that being that invented the gas chamber of Auschwitz; however he’s also that being who entered those gas chambers upright with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

— Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

DACHAU, GERMANY ✦ I may be a ghost you don’t even believe exists, but before I get there let me tell you about this scene in the Arthur Miller play “Incident at Vichy,” where there’s a well-to-do professional, (like I was when I lived), standing before the Nazi authority now in town.

The man, dignified with degrees and references and these sorts of things, presents what he has to the Nazi who then asks, “Is this all you have?” The man nods. “Good,” says the Nazi, throwing it all into the garbage. “Now you have nothing.”

Robbed of the respect that he’d always enjoyed, the man is left adrift and lost, not much different, really, than what I was when I arrived at Dachau, that haunting and strangely holy place, that school of terror that did what life often does: gives the test first and the lesson afterward.

You may know that this concentration camp is a memorial museum now, visited in recent decades by many thousands, German schoolchildren especially, and, from everywhere else, the tourists, yes, tourists: Who of Dachau’s prisoners, more than 200,000 during Hitler’s reign, ever imagined the tourists?

You may also know that this weekend, 70 years after this camp was freed, survivors and liberators and others are gathering in this old Bavarian town under blue skies and singing birds to remember victims of this gateway to hell.

Hell, and yet from this vantage point I can now also say that we prisoners had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked selves: splayed and cut open and laid bare from the first day our very names were stripped away, just numbers now sewn onto those crazy striped pyjama rags.

I can tell you that we dreamed of just a little more bread, just one night without screams of delirium, just a small measure of warmth in the snow or the sweet comfort from even a few puffs of a cigarette.

I can say that our Nazi taskmasters gave unbearable loads and beatings (and occasionally kindness), while, my friends, hollow-eyed, showed me great sacrifices and unexpected humour (and occasionally betrayal). Even in a concentration camp, the angels and devils are never who you expect.

I can report that many comrades acquiesced to suicide, something I considered often-enough. But with my body wasting, proteins feeding on themselves, I eventually realized I need not bother.

But I think that you somehow know these things, too.

What you may not know is that even the grim shock of death everywhere — be it by gas or hanging or gunshot or just garden-variety starvation — wears off. Death is all it is and nothing more. Eventually it can be looked in the eye with no more fear than you’d have for a train ride across a peaceful border.

So there’s no reason to feel sorry for me or others who perished like me, even if it was lack of hope as much as lack of luck that often did us in. This is what one prisoner (his name was Victor but we later called him Victory) reminded my block on one particularly hard night.

You should never imagine that your suffering detracts from its meaning. Suffering is meaningless only if you allow it, Victor said, quoting Nietzsche, that if you know the “why” of it all then you can somehow tolerate the “how.”

Victor then told us of a friend, a prisoner who’d made a pact with Heaven, that if only his suffering could save another’s life — he thought often of his wife — from a painful end, then he could accept whatever may come.

That gave this man’s death, and his life, tremendous dignity, great meaning, the sort that nobody could ever take away, that human something that’s more, that’s divine, that’s the strange mystery and light that I felt holding up my own spirit through even the most insufferable darkness.

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