New discoveries of the old

looking into camp buildings

Most days I drive the streets of the county I live in thinking of the day’s activities, where we need to go, how late we are running.  Always in a hurry, I give little thought about the surroundings I know so well.  I drive the kids to school, drive around for work, take the kids to their activities, all the while passing homes and farms and buildings and stores without notice.  When we go to a new location my eyes are open taking everything in; it’s all so new and exciting.  “I wonder what that building was originally used for?” or “Where could that trail lead?” or “How old is that house and who might have lived there?”.  But here in my own county I know have seen it all, heard it all, I know the history and events of the area.  I take the kids to a park and they run around in the open field, climb around on the monkey bars, my son plays hockey with his friends, we have a snack on a picnic table without a thought to what might have been there.  I guess if I would think about it, perhaps the playground was once a farmer’s field or a wealthy homeowner’s  property deeded to the town.  But who has the time to wonder about the history of a playground, I need to gather the kids into the car and hurry home to  make dinner!

But, I do love history and this past weekend while searching online for some information about a different possible adventure to take the kids on, I discovered the history of that exact park!  The one mentioned above that I have been to numerous times, talking to other moms while our kids run around and have fun.  They play and laugh and run on the same property where, sixty-some years ago, different children met, only their reason was much more sinister. It turns out that the park was once a German Bund camp endorsed by the Nazi party in Germany!  The Bund opened in 1937 and hosted numerous gatherings, including camps for children where they were indoctrinated in the Nazi ideals.  I was shocked!  I have read about other Bund camps like this in the area, but never dreamed that there had been one so close, and at a park we go to quite often!  The ruins of the camp were still there so it was time to explore.

I found much of the information, including some pictures, on a web site that, I guess, is connected to one of my favorite magazines to use to find places to explore, Weird NJ.  The web site had a great summary of the camp so I printed it out and off we went, back in time, to explore the playground/Bund camp.  I always wait until we arrive at a location before I read whatever information that I have about the area.  It makes it so much more real when you are looking at the actual location.  This time the kids played on the playground while my husband and I read the history of the camp.  We had explained to the older kids that it was a Nazi Bund camp and followed that with a discussion as to why the Nazi’s were wrong (we discussed the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address state all men are created equal and the Bible says in Acts 10:34“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.”).  They understood, but were most interested in exploring old buildings and ruins.  I had copied a couple of the pictures and we were amazed that the main camp building was still standing almost exactly as it was!  It is now a town building used for community events; wedding receptions perhaps?  I wonder if the people who attend realize that there are possibly swastikas under the painted walls!  Interesting, but now it was time to hike back and find the rest of the camp ruins.

It was cold.  The first five minutes were spend distributing hats, gloves, zipping coats, wiping noses, putting up hoods, but finally we were ready.  A quick walk across ball fields brought us to a trail leading into the woods.  A right hand turn off of that trail brought us to what was left of the camp.  We were hardly the first people back to the ruins, but I wonder how many people know what they are.  For acres there are the remains of buildings, foundations, pipes that lead to what was once a water tower, rusted bed springs, busted porcelain from toilets, and metal debris everywhere.  There is a wooden flagpole that made us wonder what flag had been raised each morning to be blown in the wind while campers played beneath it.  On the top of a knoll are the remains of a burnt building with only a stone chimney left standing.  The camp directors home?  Further down we found a concave glacial erratic which looks to have been the site to many camp fires over the years.  Could this have been the location of the Bund camp’s great bonfires?  There are rock ledges scattered throughout the area which have crumbling rock foundations at the top.  Maybe patios?  It was fun to imagine what this camp might have once looked like.  It was also fun to climb up the rock ledges and fallen trees.  My girls are climbers, if there is something they can scramble up they do so and require a picture to be taken to commemorate the conquering of each and every rock and tree.  It was slow going but kept everyone warm.  On the way out the kids discovered a bleached deer skull and decided to each take a tooth from it home.  After much wiggling we had four teeth which I’m sure I’ll find in the washing machine at some point as their jeans are washed.  We hurried out and into the warmth of our car where everyone discussed what we had seen and a desire to go back again to explore some more.  A successful adventure!  And a reminder that you never know what has happened, good and ugly, at the places that you go to and drive by every day!

Exploring what once was the camp