There is an argument that even horrific legacies are worth keeping intact

st michaels

In my esteem the only questions in life worth considering are those that don’t have a clear-cut answer. From debate can come some elements of truth.

Many years ago, on a European tour, my wife and I spent some time in Munich. We also took a sidetrip from that German city and went out to Dachau – the notorious former concentration camp – one of many such hideous manifestations of human awfulness. We took the train to the little town and as we got off and we walked along the station platform I couldn’t help but wonder what locals thought of their awful fucking place being a tourist destination.

If those locals were past a certain age I only hoped that they felt pretty dreadful about it.

Well, we toured the camp and its grounds – all nicely sanitized those many years after the fact. But, it was still a stark reminder and it burns in my memory bank to this day – much as did the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam that we’d seen a couple of weeks earlier.dachau

I believe such reminders not only keep us connected to humanity’s grim past, they also serve to remind us of where we must never-ever go again. Unfortunately we learn little from history and tend to seek expediency as we face adversaries in the world. But it’s a dangerous path.

So, as I say about Dachau and what I say is that it’s good that it’s there and as awful as the place was in terms of legacy, I am happy I went because I saw it in its reality, it wasn’t just a mention in a history book.

And what I say about Dachau I am afraid I also feel about St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay. The school is slated for the wrecking ball and the majority of people, both white and aboriginal, are happy to see the last of the place with all its charged memories. But, there is debate and even in the Native community there are those of the opinion that it should stay as that stark reminder. A stark reminder of a racially motivated assault on a people whom we, in our white guy, Christian (so-called) ‘wisdom’ had officially decided should ‘assimilate’ and the Church of England and the federal government were dead-set on so doing with that school and others like it. They had already destroyed the potlatch and stolen all the artifacts they could, so why not ‘re-educate’ the people to a new form of ‘doublethink’. arbeit

I must confess I have never been to Alert Bay, but it’s a trip I hope to make. Wendy has been however, and she tells how that frightening old structure looms spectre-like over the town and Cormorant Island.

My opinion on the matter won’t make a whit of difference and I assume they are going to go ahead and raze the place, but I also feel there might be another consideration. Tearing it down lets everybody off the hook kind of easily.


8 responses to “There is an argument that even horrific legacies are worth keeping intact

  1. I feel conflicted about places like Dachau and Auschwitz – not regarding the fact that they’ve been kept. I’m fine with that, and believe that yes, we need to be reminded of these things. However, I don’t believe we can blame those who lived near there and no doubt knew what was going on.

    What, exactly, where they supposed to do? Protest and end up in the Dachau themselves? People aren’t like that – at least normal people aren’t. I’d argue that had you or I been there, we wouldn’t have said or done anything either, not by cowardice, but rather because the survival instinct is strong. To speak up meant you were dead. That simple. It’s easy to judge from our privileged, free speech background, but in a totalitarian state, people don’t have the choices we do. Can we judge the Russian people as a whole (or at least those who lived in Siberia) for the Stalinist gulags?

    I know myself well enough to know that even being against what was happening I would have shut the f**k up, because making it through alive would have been my priority. And I’d venture that a great majority people in such extreme situations would do the same. It doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human.

    As for Alert Bay – never heard of it, but we had the same kinds or residential schools here in Quebec. I judge the church – harshly, but not the people who lived near and were aware of those schools.

    • In fact I fully agree with you. People do what they have to do, and they don’t raise alarms out of fear, and it’s really not up to us to judge how earlier folks handled a distressing situation.

  2. Some things need to be preserved to remind us of the past so it will hopefully prevent repetition.

  3. I think these things should remain. The human mind reverts to dark, cobwebby corners once things are no longer in our minds or in our lines of sight. Every generation before us was somehow different, every atrocity something that we, as modern men, would never do… And yet we don’t change, and the things we thought and feared hundreds of years ago vary little from the things we think and fear now.


  4. Looking at the happenings in Copenhagen recently proves that little has changed…Every blogger I know was writing about Charlie Hebdo but few have commented on Copenhagen, which is a shame.

    PS: During the Holocaust many people literally put their lives on the line, whether they were an active part of the Resistance or took in Jewish children and changed their names and identities…Too many of these have been forgotten or relegated to the pages of history, and they need to be remembered too, especially since the survivors are now very elderly and leaving the planet. Thanks for your well wishes. They are much appreciated.

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