Terezin and Children’s Poems

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sunday brought a trip to Terezin, a concentration camp about forty-five minutes out of Prague. I have a lot to say about it.  A lot of my thoughts I haven’t even put into words yet, but I will say that it was powerful. There are a few thoughts I had that I want to highlight.

First, after we arrived at the small fort, we found out that there was a fee to be able to take pictures of the location. I didn’t ask why; I guess I like trying to figure it out on my own better than being told an answer. I wondered whether it was simply to raise extra funds toward maintaining the place, or whether maybe there was another motive: trying to discourage taking pictures of such a painful place, or at least trying to discourage those who were not serious enough about taking pictures to pay the fee.

I chose not to pay the fee. At first, I didn’t know why I made that choice either. I decided to sketch sights that struck me instead. But there are two reasons I’m taking pictures in Prague.

One is to augment my own memories.

The drawing, I think, might work better to augment my own memories anyway. Moving my hands through the shapes helps keep the memory in a different place than it might have normally been kept. Looking at the sketches and trying to work the (badly drawn) scenes back into photo quality also helps getting more areas of the brain working than just looking at a photograph. So that might work to my benefit.

The other reason is to share sights with my family of the places I have been.

But I wonder if I want to share this concentration camp with them. I was looking around and it seemed like everyone on the tour was very internal, experiencing the places in their own way. It was very personal to me. I got things out of it better, I think, without worrying about what was important to capture for posterity. Any way I’d try to explain it in the future would have come out distorted by my own lense of view anyway, so perhaps it is better to leave such powerful sights for personal experience.

The other experience that I want to highlight was the children’s museum. There was a girl’s school in the city near the big fort where a trunk full of children’s drawings had been discovered not long ago and turned into a museum. They drew pictures of their old life, their new life, fairy tales. Mostly things that any child might draw. They were a little eerie. What struck me most, however, was a poem in a room made of walls covered in names:
A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses.
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.

A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more.

by Frantisek Bass

Flowers, in my mind, are so fleeting. They wither when their season is over, sometimes even before winter. They die soon after you pluck them up from the earth. Boys, on the other hand, are hardy and filled with so much potential for life. They have a long time to live ahead of them. But there, in the place that I visited and little Frantisek Bass had to live, flowers were outlasting little boys. It’s hard to swallow.

And it reminds me again that writing is words, but the writing is not in the words. The writing, the meaning, what we communicate is what is between the words, what it means that “[w]hen the blossom comes to bloom,/ The little boy will be no more.” Or what it means when the book of poems in the souvenir shop is titled “I have not seen a butterfly around here”. There is a lot of power hidden behind words, behind walls that without a tour guide might not hold knowledge or change. I hope that you and I can find at least one moment where we can write something as powerful as what that little boy wrote, and maybe in the future someone will read those words, and we will move them.

 

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