It is fascinating sometimes how history defines a region, city, or village. Sometimes, the past comes to life in modern times, celebrated by all who live or visit there. Certainly, much of Bavaria can be described this way, from the big cities of Munich and Nuremberg to the smaller retreats like Dinkelsbuehl and Oberammergau. But other times, the present completely masks the past. The denizens might want the past to go away, and visitors might have to dig to discover it. Flossenbürg, a small town near the northeast Bavarian shopping haven of Weiden, fell in the latter category. This was the site of a Nazi concentration camp that was hidden away in a forest, out of sight and out of mind. While the camp has become a museum, the town itself has moved on. If you didn't know that the camp was there, you would likely not figure it out, unlike the better known camps at Dachau near Munich or Auschwitz.
Flossenbürg was indeed a small town. A drive-through took mere minutes, and it occupied little more than fine print on most maps. It was mostly residential, with the token church, handful of shops (butcher shops and groceries), and guesthouses with restaurants. It's very quiet. I only saw a couple people walking around.
The small plot of land that served as the town square played host to a Bavarian Easter tradition, shown in the first photograph -- a decoration made pine-branches fashioned into a sphere or some other shape, covered in yellow ribbons and Easter eggs of various colors. The modern tradition became that the eggs were mere plastic shells, but in past centuries they were real eggs. This decoration normally stayed up from Easter Sunday through the Pentecost several weeks later. Such objects can be found in many town squares in Bavaria.
Flossenbürg had all the markings of a typical Bavarian town. It had the (almost obligatory) set of ruins atop the highest hill in town, as seen in the second photograph, taken from the main street. These ruins of the town's ancient castle were accessible by road or footpath, but I didn't have time to climb up there. The town center had the usual places -- the metzgerei (butcher), backerei (baker), gasthaus (inn), and biergarten (pub). Yes, on the surface, the town of Flossenbürg was rather unremarkable. No one would think that anything really bad ever happened here. But, it did. Although I was sure that the residents would rather not dwell on that fact, I was struck by the obviously large amounts of resources that went into making the concentration camp museum presentable. Indeed, there was clear intent to want to remind the world of the tragic events at the camp in hopes of averting a repeat.
The third photograph shows the entrance hall to the concentration camp museum, which unlike other such sites, was accessible for free. Because it was in a very out-of-the-way corner of Bavaria, it was neither overrun with tourists nor teeming with overly-helpful tour guides. The quietness gave this camp a very eerie, lonely feel. Yet, as I followed the walk from the crematorium to the church, shown in the fourth photograph, I was reminded how over 76,000 people were murdered there -- murdered through hard, inhumane labor.
The mound in the center of the fourth photo was made of ashes. Before it lay a symbolic plaque which appeared to be some sort of tombstone. Behind the mound was a plateau where one large tombstone had been laid to represent each nation from where its victims came. For example, the Russian tombstone was engraved with a number 26,750 representing the total number of victims of Russian origin.
At the end of the plateaus were plaques commemorating the two American divisions who liberated Flossenbürg in April 1945. Directly above it was the church, which was rebuilt and redecorated in recent years. I believed the renovation included the crucifix which appeared new and untraditional, but I did not know that for a fact. The crucifix included additional figurines. To Jesus' left was a man brutalizing a hobo, while on Jesus' right was a couple almost prostrate to grant mercy to the victim and forgiveness to the brutalizer. The question I asked myself was whether this was a new item, which commemorated the victims, or was it a recreation of an original Nazi crucifix where the couple on the right were showing approval to the evil-doers' ethnic cleansing? I assumed the former.
There was a small museum in one of the remaining camp buildings, a theater, and a synagogue. The museum included a full depiction of the entire camp when it was in service. Some buildings were totally removed while others had only their foundations remaining. Memorials, such as that found in the final photograph, were numerous and scattered throughout the complex. Most were multilingual -- usually French, Russian, and German. Also, below the grounds of the castle ruins was a very large and decorative cemetery. Truthfully, I was greatly impressed with the condition of the grounds, and I recommend it to anyone willing to make the trip.
That said, it was perhaps a shame that Flossenbürg was not mentioned in most travel guides of Germany, printed or online, that I read. Apart from Dachau, few preserved concentration camp sites were advertised. I considered myself lucky to have found out about it word-of-mouth... which is why I gladly included it in this website. So, now you know.
Trip taken 13 April 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin