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Never Forget

Sundown this evening marks the beginning of  The Holocaust Day of Remembrance.  What follows is a post I wrote in February 2011.  The message bears repeating...

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.

16 comments:

  1. And many want to forget all this inhumanity. Many claim it never happened. It did happen. All of it happened and worse. We should never forget this inhumanity.

    Have a terrific day. ☺

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    1. This is true Sandee, there seems to be a desire to cover up such evils that have occurred in our world, to white-wash them rather than to keep them in front of us as a reminder to where evil intent leads. Not to oppose what we know to be wrong is to allow such things to continue. We can all agree that what happened during the Holocaust was senseless, beyond our ability to define or comprehend, and yet such atrocities still happen in our world. Re-reading the above words, remembering what it was like for the human beings interned there fills me with the deepest sorrow my soul can hold. We must remember, we must speak out. We must all say NEVER AGAIN.

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  2. I can't even comprehend how awful this was. There are no words. But yes, we must remember.

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    1. You are right Dana, we can read, we can look at pictures, we can watch movies, we can listen to the words of those who were there and miraculously survived, but we will never really know. We only know that it was so very inhuman and so very wrong. I never cease to be amazed at how cruel people can be to their fellow humans, how we can continue to see life as "us and them" as opposed to we. Someday, maybe. I pray for someday.

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  3. This can never be forgotten, nor should it be. Yet man continues to repeat his behaviours and cruelties. There will come a time that man will have to answer for his actions, each one of us. In the meantime, we can only learn from each other and do our own personal best in all aspects of life.

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    1. I believe this too McGuffy Ann, that one day we will each have to answer not only for what we chose to do, but for what we failed to do. We can't repeat the lesson too often to choose what is right and caring and good. Disregard for others, or for any creature, or for Mother Earth herself, will ultimately lead us to our own destruction.

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  4. It must have been so hard to be there and feel the horror of it all. It is unimaginable to me. I agree we must never ever forget.

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    1. Any time we witness the depth of man's cruelty against fellow man it makes an impact, Lena. That experience changed me, it left an impression that will stay with me. It is so important that we see ourselves as members as the world community, the brotherhood of man. What happens to one should matter to us all.

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    1. You are welcome, Shimon. Helping to keep alive the memory is the least that any of us can do. It is what we must do.

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  6. Josie
    This is a great post. Your writing is awesome. The subject is one we all wish had never happened but it did and it is important for people to know and to cry for the evils that one man can do to another. Thanks for posting this again,

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    1. Thank you sincerely, GS. Nearly everyone knows, or should know, the facts of The Holocaust. I wanted to write about the feelings, my impressions. My hope was that I could reach people from that perspective. It is important to know, and to cry, and to be committed to building a world where this kind of thing can never be allowed to happen again.

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  7. Josie, I know you could never get all your feelings about the Holocaust into one post, but this certainly touches a nerve. The restaurant disclaimer, for one. My daughter Riley's Oma, Hannah Stern Weinberger, survived Auschwitz and Riley identifies as a cultural Jew but agnostic. She's still trying to make sense of a God who "lets free will play out to the nth degree, causing a whole people near extinction." I also taught her about the Armenian genocide of 1915, the blueprint for Hitler's plans.

    It happened in Rwanda, where Europeans defined who was a Tutsi and who was a Hutu, then incited violence between them. It happened in America, with the lynching of free black men. It's still happening in America, where a gay man who winks at the wrong guy might get pulled behind a truck for a few miles, or even suffer death.

    Believe me, it's out there. Just harder to see when it's in our back yards. And that leads me back to the restaurant. Fascism comes in many forms, and as long as the Pale Stale Straight Males are in charge, women and LGBT people will suffer. Thanks for letting me rant - but isn't that what good writing inspires? Peace, Amy

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    1. You are so very right that hate crimes, both on small and massive scales, continue to this day, Amy. Another one you didn't mention is our country's intense effort to annihilate the indigenous peoples who were here before we came. We need to remain ever vigilant, and to identify wrongs when we see them, screaming from the top of our lungs, and the points of our pens, if necessary!

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Your comments are always appreciated... they make me smile! :-)