Dachau Daisies

(c)Dachau DaisiesNFS, oil on canvas, 2007


Dachau Daisies

11″ x 14″

Oil on Canvas


Shelley Irish

Today I am sharing my painting, Dachau Daisies, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is a painting I did based on what I saw in 2007 at Dachau.

I went to Germany with my mom and our family friend, Joe, who is an Irish Jew. We went to the Holocaust Museum and to Dachau. Not too many people know this about me, but when I was in my undergraduate degree I minored in international studies with a specialization in international gender politics. I come from a military family and three of my five male cousins are currently involved in the armed forces. Being a pacifist, this part of my family history and current family relations has been something I spend time on in order to understand how I got to be who I am and where I come from. Many of my professors at DU were Jewish and they taught from that perspective. I am not Jewish and do not know of any Jewish blood in my blood line. However, I have always felt a connection with Jewish culture. My best friend growing up was Jewish and I had the privilege of witnessing some of her families rituals. I believe this is part of the start of my path toward nature spirituality, I loved the ritual aspect of Jewish tradition and that the elements and seasons are incorporated into observances. I have had many Jewish friends over the years, my God Daughter has Jewish blood of ancestors killed in the Holocaust and after being so immersed in studying the Jewish viewpoint in my college courses, I came to an understanding of my connection with a world view that closely mirrors my own. In college I analyzed Jewish history in relation to art movements, I analyzed what it is like to systematically feel like and be treated as the ‘other’ and delved into Jewish landscape and death/remembrance landscapes. I have always felt like the ‘other’. I relate to that because of being an only child of divorced parents, always feeling like a group family dynamic was something that I am one step removed from. I feel like the ‘other’ because of being an artist and not living my life to the status quo. I feel like the ‘other’ because of my ecclectic spiritual views and not ever feeling like I fit perfectly into any one group. These aren’t things that bother me, they are just part of my experience and I feel something that has blessed me with the ability to stand back and observe and be able to reflect on that perspective through my arts. It is something that connects me with Jewish culture and a relation to it that made me spend quite a bit of time studying Jewish culture throughout history. I recognize myself as an outsider that studies the outsider, the ‘other’ that studies the ‘other’.

While visiting Germany it was very important to me to visit the Holocaust museum and Dachau. I had been studying these things from afar in my classes and very much wanted to experience this study in real life and real time. I believe it is imperative for us not to forget the past, to learn from it and as painful as it is, to be present with it and learn how to heal and move forward. When we first arrived in Berlin we spent time in the Neue Wache building which houses the sculpture, Käthe Kollwitz. This sculpture is a depiction of a mother with her dead son and speaks to the deep wound of the Holocaust to the German people. We walked to the arch and saw the chariot carry the symbol of the eagle instead of the swastika. We were immediately confronted by how ingrained in German culture this healing from the Holocaust is to this day. I have German ancestry on both sides of my family, both sides leaving Germany about 75 – 100 years before the Holocaust. The Holocaust not only destroyed the lives and culture of many Jews and others, but also destroyed Germany as a whole and I am thankful that my family left before Hitler came to power. To be with these very poignant art pieces that greet travelers right away upon arriving gave me a sense of comfort that the German people decided to not sweep the experience under the rug but be bold and honest about what happened and express the pain openly. Visiting the Holocaust Museum was a powerful experience as well.

Visiting Dachau was the most powerful for me personally. We went through the gate I had seen so many pictures of, that states “Arbeit macht frei” which means work makes you free. What surprised me the most is that there are houses right at the edge of the Dachau property. So someone’s backyard looks over into the old concentration camp. This disturbed me beyond being able to describe in words. I have no understanding of how someone could live next to a concentration camp. We walked around and toured the buildings. We stood in the rooms with bunks where they slept. We stood in the poison shower rooms. We stood facing the gas chambers. I felt incredibly disturbed but also a little numb. I think all of the studying I did desensitized me in a way, I was looking at all of these things I had seen in books, videos, movies and classes, and all the rage I had felt leading up to seeing these things in person I feel tempered in a way for self preservation, where I could emotionally go through the motions of seeing them in person. My mom and Joe toured around more in the buildings but I had to get outside for some air. I walked around in the back, between the buildings and the temples on the outskirts of the property. I sang one of my favorite chant songs, “We all come from the Goddess, and to her we shall return, like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean. We all come from the Sun God, and to him we shall return, like a spark of flame, riding on a sun ray.” I sang this and paced and got my breath back. There was a Jewish temple and a Christian temple on the back of the property. I went into the Jewish temple and said a silent prayer.

As we were leaving I saw some daisies growing in the lawn in front of the bunker building. I stopped and touched their delicate petals. Flowers were growing here, I almost couldn’t believe it. It seemed so surreal that amidst all this horror that something sweet, tiny and beautiful could actually exist. I squatted down with these daisies and realized this is what I came to see here, nothing else. These daisies brought me to weep. These daisies brought me to smile. These daisies had the face of the goddess in them staring at me telling me to see that the goddess is there too. She was telling me to recognize that even one of those tiny petals is immeasurably stronger than Hitler and his henchmen. That those tiny stems reach up and are reclaiming the land that was desecrated as the people were desecrated. That she is taking back her land, taking back her people into her loving arms, that she has the power to destroy also. That she is actively destroying the horror that was enacted there and turning it into light and growth. At that point these daisies became all I could see. These daisies are mightier than the history, and they are mightier than the future because they are there right now growing and recycling that energy into life and breath and beauty. To this day, these daisies give me tears and every time I get emotionally worked up about war, murder and injustice in this world, I think about these daisies and I think about the goddess and I know in my heart that humans will learn to unite, and to live for love and to progress and grow together. The mighty daisy, she showed me so and I have faith. Along with all of the tragic stories I hear and the anger and sadness I feel from seeing what horror is happening in our world, my faith remains. These daisies were a blessing to me that day. That blessing remains to this day and the rest of my life. They are what I went to Germany to see.