I had many memorable experiences on my recent trip to Europe. Some which I will share later in different blog posts. We spent our time visiting Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, and that little country- Liechtenstein. I have thoughts on travel and thoughts on the places I have seen, but when I got up this morning and as I made my donut shop blend coffee in my red Keurig, I had a specific memory on my mind… Dachau.
Dachau was the first concentration camp opened. It is just outside of Munich. Not too far away from residential houses.
Let that sink in.
It was close to residential homes.
My German friend said that after the liberation, the American and Canadian soldiers took people who lived in the area to the camp, to show them the disgusting terror that had been going on for 12 years, in their backyard.
It was a quiet area, minus the large group of middle school students that appeared every now and then. We had a quiet walk to the entrance. When we got there we were told that the gate had just been stolen in the middle of the night, and that authorities are looking for it.
Why someone would want to steal a gate from a concentration camp I don’t know.
When entering, we were first faced with a huge open square. It was the main square in the front of the barracks. The square where they would line up thousands of people. The square where lines of people would march to the gas chamber, the square where people were beaten, then forced to get up and work.
It looked barren.
All the original barracks were torn down, so they built two replicas so that people could see what they were like. They were suitable for animals.
Beyond the barracks and beyond the square there was a long, narrow path that spread long behind the buildings. The path led to the crematorium. It was tucked away behind trees. It was where they pushed the bodies in to burn. Sometimes, the bodies would pile up in the concrete room next door, there were so many that the Nazi’s couldn’t keep up with getting rid of them.
Before we walked down that long path to the crematorium, I stood at the beginning of it, in the centre of it. Trees lined both sides. A path similar to the one outside the Lincoln monument. A path similar to one that a bride would walk down.
I take pictures of everything. But I did not take a picture of that.
But you can see the trees, in that black and white photo above.
The trees were not beautiful. They were tall, old, frail an grey. Perhaps they were not grey, but all I saw was grey.
I slowly walked down the “aisle”, down the “path” down the “death march”. I imagined what it must have been like, but I couldn’t imagine it. I imagined what it must have felt like to walk down there, to be carried, to be dragged down the aisle.
I touched the trees. I pressed my fingers against the bark. I wondered what evil they must have seen. I thought about the suffering, the cruelty, the screams they must have endured.
I laid my head against the tree and closed my eyes. I wondered how many others have done that also. Others before me, others after me. I imagined a young woman weeping by that tree, holding on for dear life, then ripped away.
I thought about a father being separated from his son, throwing his fists at the solid bark, letting out his scream of suffering and anger, of injustice.
And I opened my eyes, and looked out to all the ugly trees that lined that long path and said out loud, “If the trees could talk.”
My German friend said, “We want people to come here to witness the evil that man can do to one another. To never forget. I don’t understand it, but it’s the evil that lurks in all of us.”