Thursday, April 14, 2005

Another good evening of baseball. Not only are the kids playing well, but the manager actually rotates the kids equitably, in stark contrast to last year's manager who played his son and the two coaches sons every inning of every game.

But more than that, I've had the oddest thing on my mind this evening--ghosts.

There's a Victorian-style house down the road and as we passed it The Bear asked me if it was haunted. I assured her that it wasn't and that in fact there is no such thing as ghosts.

But maybe there is. There are places where the history is almost palpable. It can almost envelop like a cloak.

When I got married I was stationed in Massachusetts and my wife worked for the Dept. of Defense far to the south . My unit had a forward battalion in Germany and amazingly she could be assigned to a field station very close to the forward battalion. We both put in for transfers and managed to get the assignments. After nine months of marriage we were finally able to live together.

My duty station had been an officers' academy for the notorious SS during WWII. Later in the war it also served as a rehabilitation center for German soldiers who had lost limbs. To make things more interesting, it was listed as a sub-camp of Auschwitz and maintained a contingent of 40 concentration camp prisoners. The fate of the prisoners remains a mystery, but during construction of a new road bypassing the nearby town 40 sets of remains were unearthed.

Now that's a place where the ghosts walk.

The kaserne was shaped like the outline of a square, with a quadrangle in the middle. A basement corridor followed the square shape. At intervals the corridor doglegged off center, the ceiling became very low and the corridor became narrow. These were obviously bomb shelters--it doglegged off center so a blast couldn't shoot down the corridor. It became slightly claustrophobic in these areas, but I always had to linger. Because it was most of all in those places that I could feel the ghosts of the past. Men running into the bombproof and waiting it out while Allied aircraft flew overhead. I could smell the sweat and the cigarette smoke and see them leaning against the wall, waiting.

We did have a ghost story on post regarding the tormented spirit of a Nazi political officer who murdered his family and committed suicide rather than surrender to US troops, but I never gave that one much thought. It was the history of the place, enveloping me like a dense fog, that I felt the most.

My wife's station had once been a Luftwaffe air base. Aircraft providing support for the invasion of Czechoslovakia flew from the base at the beginning of the war and it later served as a training base. After the war the US used it as a housing area for the thousands of displaced people in post-war Germany.

Not so dramatic as the SS Kaserne, but steeped in history nonetheless. The gymnasium was a converted aircraft hangar and the control tower still stood. Standing beneath the control tower I could see ME-110s and Bf-109s rolling down the strip, off to join the blitzkrieg attack on Czechoslovakia. I could see the officers and men in the control tower, watching the aircraft and speaking calmly but urgently into radios.

I once managed to make my way up into the top of the control tower, only to discover that apparently the teenagers on post had known how to get up there for some time and had engaged in a variety of activities, leaving plenty of evidence. Disappointing, but it didn't dampen the historic aura I felt there.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

I have a question for you (as I do for everybody :) Do you have any favorite WWII reading material? Any books, specific authors, documentaries, movies? And why? I've got quite a list compiled from all the people I've gotten answers from.