As I sit here on the train to Interlaken, I attempt to reflect upon and comprehend what was such an emotional day at the Dachau Concentration Camp yesterday. I and I am sure the rest of our group was hit pretty hard by what we walked through. What makes this blog so difficult to type is that I am attempting to explain and understand so many unexplainable, inhuman things. Everywhere I went, I felt chills go up my spine as I read more powerful personal stories of those who survived and those who did not. While this most likely won’t be the most eloquent blog I have ever written, my hope is that my words can convey some of the raw emotion and sheer sadness that I experienced walking through this camp.
What hit me first as I walked down the path and into the gate of Dachau was the realness of the moment. On paper, this sounds naive and maybe even offensive that all of a sudden now I am truly comprehending the evil of these camps. At the camp though you are no longer viewing Dachau as an observer walking through a WWII museum, reading a textbook, or looking at inhuman pictures of dead Jews. No. Now you experience Nazism through the eyes of a Jew, homosexual, priest, gypsy, Serbian, and the many other targeted group living captive in this camp. This newly found perspective allows you a small glimpse into what life looked like at Dachau.
This feeling of realness was clearer than ever as I looked at the gate to the entrance of Dachau. The gate read, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which translates to “Work Makes You Free”. Such twisted, disturbing words for the prisoners to read before they walked to their near certain death. The gate was one of the places where I just had to sit down because I was overcome by the heaviness of what I was looking at. The hundreds of thousands of individuals that must have went through this gate and had to endure such despicable crimes to them. Meanwhile I was walking through these doors because I had the freedom that these prisoners never had. Imagine telling the prisoners who watched their friends and loved ones ruthlessly shot, cremated, or gassed that there would be a time that people would pay money to walk through this camp and hear a tour guide.
The second moment that hit me pretty hard was as I walked out of the main museum on the Dachau grounds, I passed this wall that connected the museum (the once Nazi administrative building) and the Bunker which was where special prisoners were held, interrogations and torture occurred, and medical experiments took place. It was an oddly placed wall, so I decided to walk over to it. As I approached it, I got sick to my stomach. I could see stains and bullet holes cover the wall. I did not need a tour guide to understand what this was. This was the firing squad wall.
As you look at my blog cover photo, you will see a bullet hole from that same wall. A bullet that took an innocent, precious life one day. A life that was taken because of their religious beliefs, the color of their skin, or their opinions or beliefs. As a result of being in Dachau and visiting many Holocaust memorials, I looked at this bullet hole differently. I now thought about the life that it had cut short. Before this trip, I would have saw that bullet hole and thought of the millions of Jews that died as a whole. Now I view it as an individual story that needs to heard because not doing so would be doing an extreme disservice to what the Jews and many others endured just to survive day by day..
As I turned around from inspecting the wall and walked away, I realized that if I stood here 80 years ago, I was going to be brutally murdered in mere seconds. It has been moments like these that have made this trip so valuable in my understanding of WWII. Whether it is standing in places along the Berlin Wall that would have had me shot during the Cold War or walking through a crematorium at Dachau, I feel as if now I can finally grasp the gravity of these places. While I cannot say our days in Germany have been the most uplifting experiences at times, I have taken away so much in attempting to understand the emotions of some of these powerful moments in history.