The storm clouds rolled in atop of the concentration camp to unintentionally create the “perfect” image of a hell that no one could ever forget. Walking out of the Dachau Concentration camp and looking back to see a storm front sitting on top of this place in the summer of 1998 is how I have ever since envisioned hopelessness, cruelty, and hell.
To the east of Dachau is a place even worse. Auschwitz is most often seen as the one physical location most associated with the Holocaust. Today, Auschwitz celebrates the day it was liberated by Allied Forces 70 years ago. The survivors of that infamous camp that killed millions dwindles every year. Organizers of this 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation expect the number of attending survivors to number around 300.
Dachau is not Auschwitz, but it is one of the most intact of the few remaining work/concentration camps the Nazis used to eradicate Jewish people as part of the “Final Solution” during World War II. If you ever have the chance, visit Dachau, or Auschwitz. It is a life-altering experience. Visiting sites such as the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor or the cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France are both sobering experiences, but nothing can prepare you for the emotion of touring a concentration camp.
These places are real.
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Those black and white pictures you have seen in history books of the wrongly imprisoned at concentration camps, all of whom emaciated from starvation, come to life when you tour the grounds of these places. This place is not black and white. It is full of color, but there is no life. These places are big, foreboding, and unimaginable.
Soon enough, all of the survivors of the Holocaust will be gone. These few remaining places will never go, but our willingness to learn about the horrors inflicted from one human being upon another seem to be dwindling, too. Despite the obvious lessons so readily available in print, online and elsewhere, people still routinely commit atrocities against the other for reasons based primarily on ignorance, and fear.
Maybe people are forgetting, or so much time has passed the lessons do not seem applicable because “it would never happen again”. Nothing ever happens again until it does.
I visited Dachau twice - once in 1998 and again in 2007. By 2007, different portions of the camp had been restored and opened to tourists, who flock here by the thousands to see what this place must have been like. Start with unspeakable hell and go from there. It was built in March of 1933 as Hitler’s “model camp”, and liberated in April of ‘45.
What struck me in ‘07 was a group of German high school students walking around on a field trip. They were teenagers, which lends itself to a certain degree of screwing around. They were not paying attention to anything; just a handful of them laughing and teasing each other as they walked past the empty barracks where so many people had been tortured, and killed. One was jamming to his IPod just outside of a crematorium.
How a group of teenagers behaves is not reflective of anything other than teens being teens - distracted and disinterested. As long as that attitude is isolated, it is understandable.
If those “paying attention” to the lessons of Dachau, Auschwitz and similar places are similarly distracted and disinterested, that is another human tragedy in and of itself.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760