Monday, July 13, 2009

Crimes of the past

Not having an actual criminal past that I am willing to admit to on the Internet, I decided to talk about the crimes that started me down the road to publication.

When I was on Spring Break near Munich, I skipped out on Oktoberfest and went to Dachau. Wind moaned through the open wooden barracks. I shivered in my 1980s fashionable black leather ankle boots, transfixed by pictures of some of the greatest crimes against humanity ever perpetrated. One wall held a row of colored triangles: yellow, red, green, blue, purple, pink, brown and black. Above, thick black letters spelled out the categories: Jewish, political prisoner, habitual criminals, emigrant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, gypsies and asocials (a catchall for murderers, thieves, and those who violated the laws prohibiting Aryans from having intercourse with Jews).

Even though I was just a teenager, I’d read enough to know what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Communists, and the gypsies. But I’d had no idea they’d imprisoned people for being gay.

I stuffed my hands deep into the pockets of my too light coat (with rolled up sleeves and the collar up in the back, because it was 1985) and thought about my host brother. He was the same age as me and we often went clubbing in Berlin until the wee small hours of the morning. The subways stopped running around midnight, and if you missed that last one, you were out until five. My brother had perfectly style 80s blonde hair, an extravagant fashion sense, and he was gay into the marrow of his bones. Forty years before he would have gone to the camps for it.

All the way back home I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s been twenty five years and I’m still thinking about it. I wrote my senior history thesis on it, where I discovered that when the Americans freed the camps we sent the pink triangles straight to prison. Because it was still against the law.
Hard to find a bigger crime than the Holocaust, and that’s where my road to publication led me.

* * *

Fun fact for the week: My next book opens with a zeppelin-jacking, so I got to do a lot of research on zeppelins. I’m willing to bet that in terms of miles traveled, zeppelins were far safer than the airplanes of the day. Anyone know where I could track down that statistic?

Images from:


Jen Forbus said...

Wow! What an experience Rebecca! And we still mistreat the pink triangles today.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Jen!

We do still mistreat the pink triangles today. And oftentimes the browns.

Tolerance is a long time coming, but I remain hopeful.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Becky, a nice antidote to the "Free Republic" nonsense...

Re: zeppelins -- it's a tricky statistic, because the Germans kept working on the coating, until they had something that worked great for whatever problem they were trying to solve (strength or something), but what they invented turned out to be rocket fuel. Luckily they didn't know that's what it was, we didn't know until the 1990s, I think. So the closer you get to the "Hindenberg" years, the worse air safety will be.

Stats for this are tricky also because what do you measure -- miles or time in the air or deaths per person etc. In the end, it doesn't matter what the stats prove, people will always feel safer two blocks from their house in their car (where risk is greatest) and scardest in vehicles above the ground :)

However, in the interest of tidbits for book readings and whatnot, you can check out the NTSB, they even have a (brief) report on my Mom's crash. Couldn't find articles on old zepp. safety, but check this out:

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Becks, for the poignant and moving post. I was at Dachau in '83, winter time. There was nothing around except cold and memory. We climbed into one of the wooden "beds" in the barracks ... we wanted to be witnesses, as much as that was possible forty years later.

Later that same trip, I went to see Anne Frank's house. Equally devastating ... especially the tattered, faded and much-loved photos of movie stars still glued to the wall.

Man's inhumanity to man. Something we as writers try to evoke and set right again.

Thanks, sweetie.