As we drove away from the car park, two camper vans arrived to park up for the night where, only a few minutes before, a crowd of shining Goldwings had lazed, soaking up the heat, waiting for their black leather riders. I can imagine few more awful places to spend the night.
The camp is laid out on a plateau dug into the side of the mountain. It is very quiet, and, on the afternoon we visited, it was warmed by late spring sunshine. The air is clear and fresh, much colder than down on the plains below. Visibility is excellent. The view extends for miles into the setting sun, to the other side of the deep valley, to the forest-clad hills roundabout. A woodpecker is busy somewhere in the silence, and solitary small birds call out of sight. Everywhere is green, well kept.
Some of the wooden longhouses have gone, but a few remain. Round the perimeter there are still lapped timber watch towers on each corner straddling parallel barbed wire fences. There is a gallows on the drill yard, and above the levelled site a thousand or more graves cling on to the incline – identical white crosses, mostly with a name, but some without, and engraved with the place of death.
A sign points downhill to the commanding officer’s house. It is only a few yards away, but far enough to sit in its own clearing in the trees. The swimming pool has long since emptied and is full of rusty leaves. The house is tightly closed but empty inside. A holiday home requisitioned when the need arose. The green lane that leads to it continues downhill to the gas chamber.
Nacht and Negel. Night and Fog. Thousands of prisoners passed through here, bearing their colours to denote their crime – Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, ordinary civilians convicted of crimes. Men, women, children. They worked in the quarry and died or survived and were moved on. And then those that nobody was to know about, those whose names were written nowhere, who ceased to exist long before their life was snuffed out. They, too, were brought here, up the steeply winding road, away from prying eyes. At the dark of night you can imagine that people might not notice the trade in people and bodies, so far away from anywhere, in the dark and in the winter fog.
School children come now, to see for themselves. They bring floral tributes as wide as a the span of a man’s arms, emblazoned with sashes bearing the name of their schools. They leave them at the foot of the towering stone monument, a sign for those who come after them. They have seen. Another generation learning how evil humans can be: another generation learning that if good people do nothing evil is allowed to flourish.
We walked around the outside of the fence, wandered up and down the rows of graves, and stood and admired the huge view. Such ugliness mocking such beauty. We listened to the bird song and then we left, with heavy hearts, and the camper vans had the place to themselves for the night.