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"You don't have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough suffering for anyone." -- John Ciardi
|Episode 35--Germany: Dachau Concentration Camp|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:40 PST
cherie writes: October 2000
The gate at Dachau says: Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates to "Work will set you free."
One of the guard towers at Dachau.
Two ovens at Dachau.
This is a journal where I will ration my words. I have seen pictures of the Holocaust. I have watched movies where men were thrown into trains like sacks of flour. But, nothing affected me as much as when I walked through the iron gates of Dachau Concentration Camp. "Arbeit Macht Frei" it says, or "work will set you free."
The uneasiness I felt was painful and I couldn't shake it off. The gnarled barbed wire, the imposing guard towers, the wooden beams where men were hung--it was all there, pressing on my nerves. What do you do with a concentration camp after WWII is over? Do you forget it? Do you remember it? Do you learn from it? What can you learn from it?
Hearing the stories of torture twisted a knot in my stomach: medical experiments with human guinea pigs, men injected with malaria just to watch how the disease progressed, and crematoriums that burned bodies 24 hours a day.
I stood in the gas chamber and looked up at the nonfunctioning shower heads--they were never designed to spray water. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to stand in a gas chamber 56 years ago. I would have been a pale, starved, knobby mass of bones. My hair would have been shaved. I would have been naked, and confused as the gas seared my tear ducts. Maybe I would have been screaming as I sank to the floor gagging down the poison haze that would reduce my life to a lump of flesh.
Dachau was the first concentration camp and in twelve years it "processed" over 200,000 people.
Everything at Dachau is grey, as if it is coated with the human ashes of its past. There is an anonymity to the buildings, as if no one wants to claim them. In the construction you can see the ridged order of a forced existence. The barracks that were supposed to hold 5000 prisoners, at times, held over 30,000. They look like what they were--the artless, vacant, and controlled structures of oppressed people.
Then I tried to visualize what it would have been like on April 29, 1945 when the Americans liberated the concentration camp. The prisoners set free that day were from over 30 different countries.
I am not Jewish. I am not a Nazi. And I wasn't there. But, I will never forget the inhumanity of Hitler's mass extermination of millions, and I will always remember the unbroken spirit of the victims of Dachau and the thousands (yes thousands) of other concentration camps.
Click on each picture to see it full size.
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