I have traveled to places that stay with me for all the wrong reasons. Places that haunt my thoughts with a physical weight of sadness palpable in the air all around. To walk Gettysburg, Antietam, and the Alamo, is to experience tragically beautiful places, steeped in the blood of American history. I used to take comfort in the decades that separated us from our collective past. I used to believe we were wiser and more enlightened basking in the peace of our nation.
A few months ago, I visited a place that I knew would be difficult for me. There was a good chance the mountain pass would not be open and the Alpine snow, even in middle of May, would prevent our group from visiting. Secretly, I was hoping we would not go. The weather cleared, the skies opened into a bright blue, and despite the snow on the ground, the group was cleared to go to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.
As I walked through the 406 foot underground tunnel, designed for Hitler’s car, I caught myself holding my breath. I touched nothing, but looked at the perfectly laid brick work and wondered about the 3,000 men that completed this entire project over the course of 13 months. With the mountain snow trickling ever so quietly, the group took a quick turn to the right, and into a massive golden elevator. Expansive by designed, the elevator was engineered to hold Hitler’s car and transport him to the top of the mountain.
The 400 foot ride up the center of the mountain was quiet, smooth, and a quick. Still to this day, the engineering is considered a masterpiece (and one of the reasons the property was not razed). As I listened to the tour and details of the place, I was drawn to photographs on the wall. I wanted the people to look like monsters or at least as odd as Hitler. Yet, they didn’t. They were disturbingly young, well dressed, and happy.
Finally, I made my way outside, now 6,000 feet above on a summit facing the Alps of Austria and Germany. I needed to fill my lungs with clean air and a minute to myself. As I looked around, none of it made sense. This was one of the most spectacular natural vistas I had ever seen. The views were striking, breathtaking, and pristine. How in the face of such natural majesty could man’s inhumanity continue, proliferate, and manifest into such violence and evil?
The events of the last few weeks have my thoughts returning to my visit to the Eagle’s Nest. There are many things I do not understand. What I do know is that hate, the visible and visceral manifestations demonstrated this week along with unseen subtle and stayed discrimination have no place in our society.
I know throughout history, diversity remains a strength for a community and religious freedom a hallmark of civilized societies. I know there are many lessons to learn from the past. Lessons steeped so deeply in pain, it becomes difficult to revisit and yet necessary to do so. Cicero the great Roman Orator and Philosopher explained, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” Let the record of history be clear, that we the people of this time and place know the worth of the lives lost before us and value the dignity and humanity of all. There are some lessons we must never repeat.