Everywhere we went in Germany, everyone was wonderful to us. I was having a hard time reconciling the sweet, genuine people we met everywhere with the horror stories of the Third Reich. It almost seemed rude to think about it. True, this was a different generation, greatly affected by what had gone before. The German flag today flies only over government buildings and soccer games. The former concentration camps have been turned to memorials, and all German schoolchildren are required to tour them.
On this Tuesday morning Franher and I set out to visit Dachau.
As we entered the camp I took a photo of the gate with the German words, “Work Makes You Free.” After that I didn’t feel like taking pictures. I think Faulkner wrote that the past is not dead; it’s not even past. Walking through Building Z, with its gas chamber and ovens and hooks for hanging people, I was reminded of another quote, from the movie Runaway Train, when the girl says, “You’re an animal!” and the guy answers, “No, worse — human.”
One image that stayed with me I paid little attention to at the time. Among the stark, chilling images on display in the museum was a hand-drawn card showing a group of prisoners in striped uniforms with their heads shaved, smiling broadly, playing accordions and other musical instruments and wishing someone a happy birthday. The faces were obviously caricatures of real people known to the birthday girl. Even under the most horrific conditions, life went on. Not so, though, for millions.
Franher and I didn’t talk much on the road to Ingolstadt.
Our show that night was sold out, with people seated in chairs right up to the front of the stage. It was an excellent crowd, very attentive, and we gave them our best. For an encore I did a solo of “Plantation Song,” a song about being from the South and dealing with our legacy of slavery and racism. My second string was out of tune. The audience was paying such rapt attention that I plowed on, improvising a new guitar part to make the best of the situation and trying to put into the performance some of what I’d felt that day. At the end I was sure I’d made a botch of it. But after the show one German guy shook my hand and said, “That song about slavery was very moving.”