Posted by: wheelsandfeet | January 24, 2011

and even DEEPER…

here’s the intense editorial…sorry for all the loose connections. I wrote this over the course of 4-5 days or so and my thoughts are pretty random in the first place!

The Rose Hill Plantation was not what I expected.  I expected something a little different.  The guide was sure to inform us that a plantation isn’t what most people think in that what defines it is the multitude of productions taking place on the same farm.  I tend to think any farm back in the day, north or south, needed to have a multitude of productions. No, this was a little different.  The slave trade wasn’t mentioned.  Not once.  I was most curious about that little tidbit.  In 1994, I spent a semester studying in Germany.  While there, I studied, more specifically the German language including literature and grammar as well as Hitler, the Nazi propaganda machine, and a German religion class covering everything from The Anabaptist movement to Martin Luther.  When I visited a concentration camp in Germany, I expected to see and learn more about the third reich, Hitler’s propaganda machine, and the paralyzing situation created by a huge mess of different variables.  I didn’t expect to see simply where people had lost their lives…and I didn’t.  I walked alone around the compound of Sachsenhausen, a relatively small concentration camp or work camp only about an hour outside Berlin.  One of the first things you see is the big black iron gate with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (work will make you free or literally translated is work does freedom or something along those lines) bent and twisted into the iron at the entrance.  I was ready, mentally prepared, and had a healthy curiosity brewing about that part of human history.  I walked around the area inside the gate on a cold and dreary late winter afternoon.  The sky was grey and there was a bite in the breeze.  I was glad to be alone although I had ridden the train to Sachsenhausen with a couple of classmates.  I just wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone or worry about what they wanted to see this time.  There were four black iron ovens set on brick that opened on one end.  Protected by a steel shelter maybe 15 feet above, if I remember correctly, to spare them from erosion for the time being.  Each oven was about the size of a coffin.  This is where the dead were burned.  Imagine having to be the person whose job it was to load the ovens.  Well, that’s what I thought about at the time.  It didn’t take long to see enough of that and move on, take a wander and a breath of fresh air (the entire compound was outside).  My spirit was rejuvenated enough for my curiosity to come creeping back into my brain after a 10 minute stroll.  There in the near distance I noticed a little white building with the word PATHOLOGY painted on the sign outside the front door.  I hate to admit it, but at the time I didn’t really know what that meant.  In this context, it just didn’t register.  “Pathology, hmmm…the study of…the study of medical stuff?”, I thought. I realized my blunder shortly after opening the creaking front door.  The room was about 20 feet wide and 20 feet long.  There were two ceramic tubs set up diagonally that were about 10 inches deep with a drain on one end.  These tubs were on legs that brought them up to about waist level.  Tools were on a table adjacent to each tub.  Tools…including those that you would see in an operating room: a scalpel, a Kelly clamp, forceps, gauze, etc.  I remember pictures of Doctors in a glass case.  Everything was written in German.  There may have been English translation, but all that I remember is German.  I was standing in an operating room.  This close to Berlin, I wondered if the University of Berlin was involved.  The Nazis were known for their wildly inhumane medical experiments.  I remember the floor was a black laminate tiling like that of a kitchen and the walls were an unspectacular white with a few windows in the room.  I noticed a stairway leading down in the corner of the room.  After a few grounding breaths, I proceeded downstairs.  There was nothing.  The room was about 20×20 if I remember correctly, the same floor plan as the upstairs.  The floor, the walls, even the ceiling was covered in the classic small clay colored tile like most industrial bathrooms.  But why were the ceiling and the walls tiled in a basement?  Why were the support posts also tiled?  Why were there rays of light shining through the back door when I had just walked into a basement below ground?  I walked over to the source of the light and noticed it was coming from the windows of two side by side doors painted white inside and out both of which hinged open to make enough room for even a car.  I looked through the windows outside and doors and noticed a ramp with deep grooves dug into the cement driveway.  Initially, I thought maybe the doctors used this ramp with their car and parked it down here using the basement as a garage.  I walked back to the middle of the room and leaned on one of the tile covered supports to soak in the moment.  Each breath could be seen as the warm air met the chill of early spring.  The moment I thought I’d seen enough, I stepped back ever so slightly with my right foot ready to head back up the stairs to continue touring the grounds.  My worn out brown leather boot planted on a drain had shifted the drain cap just enough to hear the metal to metal clink.  It was at this very moment that my life would take a major emotional shift.  It was exactly then that I realized the room I was standing in was used to store bodies.  My body went completely numb.  My eyes filled with a teardrop and infinite condolence.  That was my experience at a concentration camp or what can be referred to as a work camp during the Nazi reign.  The learning experience becomes more than figuring out who’s fault it was that these circumstances came to be.  The learning experience is about the capability and limits of human nature collectively and what future generations need to do in order to avoid such horror.  The history needs to be confronted, discussed, and experienced.  I saw, felt, touched, smelled, and heard to the best of my ability a tangible slice of the time, the zeitgeist of The Third Reich. It was an experience I will never forget.


Slavery existed in The States a century earlier.  It was also a very dark time for The United States and the backbone to the civil war.  Buying and selling humans.  This idea today seems completely preposterous.  Of course, there were humane plantation owners.  There were even black slave owners.  According to Wikipedia, by the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.  1860.  4 million.  Why is it that we don’t learn more about this dark time in US history?  Defenses are still very high and not open to discussion on most counts.  As a matter of fact, the State Park Ranger who gave Nicole and I a personal tour of the plantation didn’t mention slavery once.  This plantation had about 9000 acres during its peak years.  It doesn’t matter if slavery was in the north or south.  If not for Lincoln and a very well established industry not to mention how far from a safe port where slaves were bought and sold (Savannah, GA ,for example), the north was no different from the south.  We were and are all Americans.  Even Lincoln had slaves.  There is a slave museum in Charleston, SC that we visited.  It was very nice and informative.  It had one attendant and the dimensions were about  20ft x 40ft x 2 floors.  There was a woman visiting the museum while we were there who was asking the attendant why some slaves after the abolishment of slavery still lived on their plantation owner’s land.  The attendant explained that after slavery was abolished, the slaves were granted land on the plantation.  They owned it.  Where would they go?  How could they sell the plot?  It was there own land and they were gonna keep it.  The visitor had the hardest time trying to understand why the slaves wouldn’t want to move away and forget that it ever happened.  Well,  as a culture, that’s what we ARE doing in a lot of ways.  We’re forgetting that slavery ever happened.  People don’t talk about it much.  The real spirit of slavery is definitely not taught in school.  It’s too bad, really.  It’s not about whose fault it was because no one alive is at fault.  It’s about learning from history, discussing history, and sharing what we learn with each other and our kids.


I guess I could’ve just said the south has been interesting.  I guess I’ll have to get to what we’ve done the last couple weeks in the next couple posts!


YIKES! that was quite a sidetrack…that is if you’re wondering what exactly it is that we’re up to…






  1. I am so jealousy. It sounds like you guys are having fun. Enjoy.

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