When I walked through the pine forest between Salaspils and Riga, I could hear nothing but the wind blow through the tree tops. Still, I had a heavy heart, as I was about to visit a former concentration camp. The entrance gate is impressive enough - a huge slab of concrete diagonally across the forest, on one side resting on a black block of granite in which markers indicate the number of people killed in the camp, and on the other side, on the ground. On the concrete, big letters saying "AIZ SIEM VARTIEM VAID ZEME" in Latvian, or: Behind this gate, the earth groans. It is a line from a poem by a Latvian poet who also lived in this concentration camp. I entered the small exhibition of the camp, with some grim black-and-white drawings depicting the hardships those unfortunate enough to end up here endured at the hands of the Nazis. I walked up the stairs, and through the Way of Sufferings, exited at the other side of the concrete tunnel.
From a distance, I could already hear a peculiar sound, and when I got closer to a rectangular slab of black marble, on which I saw flowers, and a small doll. From the opening below, the sound never stopped: a heartbeat, going on forever. It gave the open space with the few memorials an almost haunting feel. I walked a large circle around the concentration camp of Salaspils, where the barracks have gone, but the foundations remain, as well as parts of walls with pointed bars in them. Even though I was not able to see what the barracks had really looked like, the hint of their presence was so strong, it was perhaps even more impressive. The numbers vary widely, but it is believed that between 2,000 and 100,000 people perished on these premises, undoubtedly leaving the survivors with a trauma for the rest of their lives.
There are several places and memorials where people have left flowers or fluffy animals, all of them are low-profile. One remarkable feat of Salaspils concentration camp is that giant statues have been erected on the middle ground. They represent the forces that made people survive the brutal camp experience. One is a man half lying on the floor, but with his upper body raised, supported on the ground: the Defiant. There is a strong woman with child: the Mother. Three men with determined faces, raising their arms to the sky: Solidarity. And one on his knees, the Defeated. Their rough appearance and the material they are made of, make them anything but fine samples of sculpture art; rather, they impress precisely by their harsh appearance. The silence, the space, the statues had all combined to leave a lasting impression in me.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Salaspils concentration camp (Latvia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Salaspils concentration camp.
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