Dec 8, 2008
|Well, we weren’t REALLY on Devil’s Island . . . even though that’s what the cruise itinerary said . . . because no visitors are ALLOWED on Devil’s Island. We were REALLY on Isle Royale. But who cares, right?
Here’s what’s REALLY important about our day on Isle Royale/Devil’s Island.
For almost the entire time we’ve been on the Grand Princess . . . over four weeks . . . my heavens, who would believe it? . . . . Dianna and I have been saying we absolutely MUST step into the ship’s steambath sometime soon. After all, it’s there . . . for the taking . . . . at no extra charge.
Well, don’t need to do that any longer. What’s a puny little steambath after you’ve spent a day on Isle Royale/Devil’s Island?
Oh man oh man oh man!
I thought I would die!
Hot, steamy, miserable. And to think that the men who were sent there to serve prison sentences had to work at “hard labor”. You gotta be kidding!
Someone commented, “Maybe it’s cooler in the winter.”
Uh, excuse me, but isn’t this December?
There were over 80,000 prisoners sent to Devil’s Island. About 30,000 survived. Not surprising.
If you’ve seen the movie, Papillon, you have some idea of life on this steamy is land. The story was written by a convict named Henri Charriere. Another famous prisoner was Dreyfus and our port lecturer, Rusty, told us the story of this man and how his case came to be one of the landmark events that led to the separation of Church and State in France. Dreyfus was Jewish. He was framed, found guilty and sent to Devil’s Island. Later someone else confessed to the crime but, thanks to the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church, Dreyfus was again found guilty in a retrial. People got angry at the Roman Catholic Church. Dreyfus was finally freed. The Church lost much of their power in France. Fascinating story. Read about it.
So we hiked up to the top of the hill where the remains of the prison still sit. We passed a concrete solitary confinement cell and a cemetery filled with so many of the men who died there. We saw monkeys and bypassed an unbelievably overpriced gift shop at this tiny hotel that sits in the center of the island. It looked as if it was empty of guests and, frankly, who the hell would want to spend a vacation there anyway??
The best part of the day was after the ship sailed again and we attended a lecture given by one of our fellow passengers. This man (I think his name is Harold Bernstein and if I’m wrong I’ll correct myself in a forthcoming blog) is a survivor of D-Day. He was 19 years old and landed on the part of Omaha Beach that suffered the most casualties. Of his landing craft that carried 30 men/boys, only Harold and one other soldier survived. His story was riveting and extremely well-told. He never spoke about his experiences that day until sometime in the 1980’s when he went to Normandy to help dedicate a memorial. When he was standing in the cemetery looking at the tombstones of so many of his fellow soldiers, he decided that the story had to be told. So he started talking and writing and hasn’t stopped. He was one of the consultants in the production of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
He reminded us that freedom doesn’t come free.