Friday, June 22, 2012

dachau

It's taken me over a month to write this post.  So many elements about our trip to Europe were quite lovely, but this was one that was neither fun or cheery.  But it was memorable. Our first excursion in Munich was to Dachau, the infamous concentration camp, which opened soon after Adolf Hitler came to power.  It was was nothing like I imagined, my reaction completely unexpected.  I actually wanted to go because of my interest in WWII history and used to read about this era all the time.  In fact, I could read horrific eyewitness accounts and still sleep at night.  I realized after I graduated I somehow separated these stories from my emotions and blazed through to write my thesis.  Not anymore.

My recent experience with death has had a far more profound impact on my life than I realized.  Having actually watched someone die has changed how I view historians interpretation of these events. Literally the minute we arrived at Dachau I wanted to get as far away as possible. I found myself consciously protecting my heart and shying away from the details a German WWII historian should embrace. I looked away during the video, purposely avoided areas of the camp, and did a cursory walk through of the exhibit.  I'm still surprised by my reaction, yet I don't think I will regret it in the years to come. I did what I had to do to survive the experience and leave emotionally intact.  And oh was I happy to leave the place.

Dachau was much smaller than I expected.  Only two barracks currently stand, the remainder marked by their foundations.  The roll call area was both immense yet tiny when one imagines thousands upon thousands of prisoners lined up here. The gate was no where near as massive as I imagined it would be. I touched it with my bare hands.  The grass strip -- this drew me. This is where I found my connection.  So beautiful and so deadly.  This area was verboten!, forbidden, and any prisoner who set foot on the grass was immediately shot.  I can only imagine how many men "accidently" ventured a little too far so their souls could be free of the horror that was Dachau.  The guards could not claim distance or error. They were close enough to see the features on the men's faces. The whites of their eyes. This is not how I thought it would be. I assumed the watchtowers were taller. The area wider. It makes the actions of Holocaust perpetrators even more horrific, but that is a discussion for another time.  I purposefully stood on the grass, defiant, and like countless others before me, stood in memory of those denied the freedom to stand on this ground themselves.  

Center of Dachau.  The duel rows of Poplar trees date back to 1933.

Gate leading into the camp.  Loosely translates: Work makes you free (Arbeit Macht Frei). 
Oh, the irony.

Puzzling warning, Rauchen verboten: smoking forbidden. 
This was on the wall of the administration building, otherwise known as the processing center. I'm not clear on the purpose of this warning. Was it to further the lie this was no more than a "work camp" and make the area seem more "normal?"  

One of many watchtowers bordering the property.

The grass strip, left side of Dachau. The barracks are out of sight to the right.

Leaving my mark in the grass. 

2 comments:

Mrs. Howard said...

It was incredibly hard for me to visit a few years ago, as well. At times it felt overwhelming. But I have to say, if I went now it would be SO different. I think, just like you, it would take an amount of detachment to survive wholly.

Was it not SOO much smaller than you pictured? I was just shocked at how tiny it was. It is difficult to imagine how packed it must have been.

LittleDreamer said...

I didn't know you had been there too. Yes, it was extremely small! I literally could not imagine how 32,000 men could have crammed their bodies into that space. It definitely gave me a different perspective on the term "concentration" camp.