Never Forget

This week's edition of Sunday Scribblings takes me back some thirty years to a time when I was living in Germany in the role military spouse..

My mid-twenties found me married to my first husband, mother to a three-year old, and living in an apartment in small town in the state of Bavaria in what was then known as West Germany. My husband was stationed at the U.S. Army post there, and it was home to us for two and a half years. Being of German ancestry, it was a lesson in the country and culture of three of my great-grandparents, and an experience to remember for a lifetime.

While there, we made many day trips and weekend visits to the cities and towns within driving distance or train trip. One such journey stands out in my memory above all others, it was a visit to one of those places you don't want to see, but somehow you sense you must... to be a witness to what occurred there.

I am talking about Dachau... infamous concentration camp where so many lost their lives during the Holocaust. We took the train, arriving at the small station where a taxi was secured to deliver us to the gates of the camp now maintained as a memorial. Walking thru the museum, we were joined by other tourists and groups of German school students who had been brought there as a lesson in their country's history. It was obvious that some of them were being made aware of this atrocity for the first time.

The picture you see above is of the front entrance gate to Dachau. This is where freight trains crammed full of human beings deemed unworthy to remain in free society by Hitler's "Thousand Year Reich" stopped along the tracks to be unloaded and interred. "Arbeit Macht Frei" says the gate... literally translated "Work Makes Free". Not free for the great majority of those interned there for whom death was the only freedom granted.

Death came quickly for some... the old, the young, the infirm... sorted like cattle and directed to the gas chambers. For others it happened a bit more slowly... sickness, starvation, exposure to harsh winter weather clothed only in rags, inhumane work conditions, torture, cruel medical experimentation, and the abuse of sadistic guards took their toll. Not just Jews, but also sympathizers, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally handicapped, along with religious leaders, and educators who dared to speak out against the regime.

How to dispose of all those bodies piling up? The answer came much too easy... row of ovens in the crematorium burned non-stop round the clock hurtling ashes skyward. "We didn't know what was happening there, please don't blame us" said a disclaimer printed on the menu in the guesthouse where we ate lunch in the nearby town of Dachau. A picture of the ovens is posted below.

We walked thru reconstructed barracks in which human beings had been stacked like sardines, we stood inside the gas chamber and looked at pictures of corpses piled high in the adjoining room. One would say it is impossible, but I swear the stench of death still permeates the walls there. We stood in silence in the crematorium. What could one say in the face of such atrocity, such horror? How could one even begin to comprehend the madness that led to this?

Everything is nicely sanitized now, grounds clean and manicured, buildings spotlessly clean as are most public places in Germany. If you knew nothing of what had occurred there it might not seem so evil, it might not make you feel quite as sickened. But I do know. We all know. History forgotten is destined to repeat itself. Never forget... never again.

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