On Thursday we went to the Salzburg Museum, and something about it has impressed me in the days since. On the first floor, just off the foyer, is their most recent exhibition dedicated to citizens of Salzburg that were victims of concentration camps. They have lists of the victims' names. They have the names of Austrians that were not victims but perpetrators involved in the concentration camps. They even have on display some of the torture devices used in the camps- electric shock machines. They even have pictures of the experiments. And I must explain that I was frustrated when I first entered the exhibit because everything was in German without any English translation at all. Why was it all in German? Couldn't I read it, too? Couldn't I know?
I guessed the answer was no.
I walked through the rest of the museum, which currently exhibits paintings and memorabilia from different archbishops and royalty and high profile politicians from Salzburg, dating back several centuries. These floor exhibitions were entitled, "The Myth of Salzburg" and "Salzburg Personalities." Now Austria, up into the early twentieth century had been governed by foreign archbishops that heavily influenced the architecture and layout of the beautiful city of Salzburg. The art that reflected its development gives an ethereal feel to its history and growth. This, hand in hand with the famous composers that occupied the city, including Mozart, Bach, Haydn, etc, created a reputation of luxury and sophistication.
Upon leaving the museum, Professor Hicks was raving about the layout of the museum. "It's the most strategic museum I've ever been in," he said. "Think about it. The 'Myth of Salzburg'? Why did they call it that? And the first exhibit you see are grotesque remnants of Austria's worst moments in history, and then you see all of this ethereal art about Salzburg and it's beauty. Why did they make it that way? And why was the first exhibit only in German?"
The truth is, that the exhibit was for Salzburgers and Europeans alone. The truth is, that Salzburg, for all of it's beauty and how safe it is now, was a myth and still remains so in many ways because it was not unique to or exempt from the pain and destruction of the World Wars. The harsh contrast between that first exhibit about the concentration camp victims and the other exhibits was MEANT as a shock to the system, and truthfully, we English speaking Americans that were baby-booming on our half of the world while Europe was ravaged by the aftermath of WWII are not ever going to truly grasp what it means for this continent to continually pick up and move on. In so many ways, Europe has thrived in the half-century since the wars ended, but they still feel the sting. We will never truly know it. It's a bit like reading a foreign language; we can make out a few of the ideas, but we don't comprehend the depth of its meaning.