Sometimes the most important lessons are the hardest to process. During our visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp yesterday, I found myself walking briskly out of rooms with violent depictions of the inhumane torture experiences by those who were kept at Dachau. Not only did it scare me, but it was almost as though my brain didn’t want to and couldn’t process how people could lose any sense of empathy or sensitivity for another human being. At what point did the screams of the innocent become just background noise? At what point did someone’s cry for help become something to take a picture of in order to make others fear?
As I walked through the camp, I imagined the hundreds of people standing for roll call in the center, knowing I was standing on sacred ground. Today, that sacred ground that witnessed too many deaths, sets the scene for a place to remember and reflect. Having experienced Dachau for the first time, I realized the more important of the two is to reflect, but remembering first allows us to do so. Remembering came in the reading and collecting of the stories and information presented in the museum and around the camp. Reflecting, though, came through thinking and understanding. In my walk through, I passed Christian who asked me how I felt and what I felt as I walked through. What started as one question led to other questions, many to which we couldn’t find the answers. Again, where was the loss of empathy? Humanity? Are we all just innately selfish and concerned for our own well being and not that of others? Could this all really be rooted in the dislike for another person? If so, aren’t so many conflicts today rooted in dislike, which becomes a form of hatred, for those who are different than ourselves? Having learned about alterity this semester in my religion class, I discovered how quickly the human brain goes from acknowledging differences to institutionalizing racism. For example, Jewish people were often the wealthier ones in society. There’s the first difference and reason that people could find to dislike them. “I’m poor, you’re not, I don’t like you.” Little things like this must’ve made it easier, unfortunately, for people to justify their support for Hitler and his ideas. They really believed they needed to be the only race – the Aryan race. In my attempts to process and understand, these were just a few of my thoughts that still leave me asking why and how.
In my time to reflect, I asked myself okay, so what now? Yes, we learn about these horrific historical eras in textbooks, but a place like this did manage to make it more real, for me at least. We asked ourselves, why did no one stop them? People knew, why did no one do anything? Fear came as the biggest reason. The Nazis ruled using fear, one of the most powerful tactics. That being said, I imagine many people felt like anything they could do would be insignificant or only lead to their own harm. It’s easy to walk out of a place like Dachau and feel as though I’m insignificant to making a difference in the way many people must have felt back then. While that feeling may try to pervade, being surrounded by the people on CR challenges me to think otherwise. While it’s true that one person likely can’t fix all of our world’s problems in one day, they may be able to start and then with the help of others, accomplish incredible things. Places like Dachau make you think, think deeply and reflectively even when you want to run from the material. In doing so, I felt as though while maybe I can’t solve the worlds problems, I can find the one or two things I’m passionate about and use those to at least make somewhat of a difference in my own way. I’d like to believe that if more people, myself included, used our passions for good, we’d be taking small but significant steps to improving our world so that maybe, future generations won’t look at stories of our own the way we look at Dachau and the Holocaust.