[Media prompt] Europeans ‘would revive gas chambers if they weren’t ashamed’ – Erdogan.
We left Sofia earlier that day, before light, taking the Trakiya motorway east through flat farmland, sunrise turning it field-by-field a dry yellow, then turned south to follow the western edge of Lake Burgas, its watery top as blue as road signs. After coffee, at a recharging station just opened, we crossed the spit near Lake Mandrensko, wisps of clouds submerged beneath its glassy face, before setting out along a cart track, or a road as narrow as one, which brought us to Veselie. Abandoned now, as are many villages in the vicinity, we lost our way in the backstreets, driving in circles until we saw the barricades. Vincent pulled off the road, onto a patch of grass, and we sat silently in the car for a moment before holding hands and saying a prayer. I could see the Strandja Mountains away in the distance to the south, beyond which lay the lifeless plains where the barbarians lived and toiled.
We walked in silence, our boots cracking on the hard-packed metal, following the path through treeless grassland, some cows and a sad-faced stray our only companions. When we reached the forest, Vincent said we were close. It’s just through there, he said, pointing vaguely ahead. Grey, leafless trees shrouded us, the path ahead leading to a horizon we couldn’t see. I was about to say we were lost when, through the thinning trees, I saw the blue thread of the reservoir, and knew we had arrived. There it is, said Vincent, and I caught sight of the low squat buildings glinting in the light.
Time had not been kind. Many of the chambers had been dismantled by scroungers, but the exterior of #4 was intact, although when we entered it was obvious that anything of value had long been salvaged. Unlike some of the larger camps, shrines today and hosts to thousands of visitors, Veselie was too small and remote to maintain. There were hundreds of camps like it, perhaps thousands, forgotten and decaying. I knew that not every camp was the equal of a shrine like Vierzy, the one outside of Paris where vibrants had met their well-deserved fates, but nevertheless felt God here.
Afterwards, by the reservoir, Vincent took the urn out of his backpack, and we knelt, turning our eyes to Heaven. He was the most honourable, the most heroic man I knew, he said, and I opened the Bible and read from Psalm 27; “When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear.” We scattered the ashes, standing in silence, neither of us wanting to leave.