Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dachau - The Final Straw

In late April I saw a documentary on how Israel commemorates the holocaust. The show followed a couple of children as they prepared for the commemoration. It was in Hebrew with German subtitles and very well done. Many of the preparations were organized by the school and at one point a teacher asked the students why they should remember the Shoah? Or, why was there a Shoah, or Holocaust? The answer shocked me, though I had heard the theme before:

We remember the Shoah because the Jews in Europe were living good lives and were successful and in being successful they forgot their relationship to God. The Holocaust reminded them that they were God's people.

I told my friend at work about the statement from the documentary. My friend is an American and Jewish. We were both silent afterwards.

For my part, I realized that I had heard many quote holy writ (both ancient & modern) where passages say that through suffering we are reminded of God's mercy and through suffering we are brought closer to God.

I was deeply moved to hear someone say that about the holocaust. And it gave me a greater respect for the Jewish people reminding me that the Jewish people have, despite horrific suffering throughout history (the holocaust is just the latest example) remained faithful to God.

The final two places that I visited almost brought me to tears and moved me in a way that is hard to describe.

I left the museum and headed for the far corner of the camp, once again I passed the foundations of all 32 barracks. I saw the flag of Israel in Barracks 10, the edges now lined with tiny stones from my children, who were enthralled by the many stones in the camp. The crunching of the rocks under my feet continued, and despite the shadows shortening (it was almost 12 noon) the grounds were still cold to me.

I met Tamara in the back corner. She said "We found it." I couldn't think of what she was referring to. She told me she had found the gas chambers or gas showers. I didn't think all of the camps had gas chambers and had always associated that experience with Auschwitz. I was a bit scared and nervous to go into that area of the camp. It is separated by a fence with a gate from the main camp. She said Shantal didn't want to go in and that it was very eerie.

English: Remember how we died here!

I went with Spencer back to that section of the memorial. He was excited to tell me about each section of the memorial. I was trying to take it all in, but it seemed like we were moving so fast. There is really enough information for an entire day in the memorial.

We entered into the disinfection area, which was very small, then the waiting room. Here, Tamara informed me, the prisoners would be instructed as to why they were all showering. Then the prisoners would be ushered into the derobing room. It seemed to me that time was speeding up and that I lost track of what was happening around me.

Entering the showers from the waiting room one sees a sign above the door (upper right of picture above) which says "Brausebad" (or to bathe using a shower).

We walked into the shower room. As I walked into the showers shocked that the room was so small and confining. Showers usually have high ceilings for ventilation I thought. Then the door closed. I think Spencer closed the door, just out of curiosity to see if the door still worked. As the door closed, I felt a suffocating feeling surround me. I shuddered and out of instinct looked behind me hoping to find a way out.

Naturally and gratefully the door ahead of us was open and I was glad to leave of my own accord out the door on the other side of the showers and into the death chamber room. This is the room where the prisoners' bodies would be piled up waiting to be incinerated. We entered the incinerator room with ovens for burning the bodies (3 or 4 bodies could be incinerated at a time Tamara recalled). Despite the gruesome nature of this room I was glad to be there. I was glad to be in the light again and to be out of the showers.

We left this building and walked around the grounds a bit. This is the nicest part of the camp, with many trees, flowers, and nice foot paths. It was good to be in such nice surroundings after having walked through the death showers.

We left that area and walked back to the museum. We were back on the rocks and in the cool wind.

Behind the museum is a jail and a courtyard where executions took place. Tamara had indicated that she encountered an oppressive feeling when she entered the jail house. I experienced something similar. When I entered the thought jumped into my head - "it's not worth fighting any more" and a feeling of hopelessness entered my heart. The cells themselves were small and the long hallway was cold, cold, almost like the air conditioning was running.

I was glad to leave the jail and the camp. I'm not sure how any prisoner survived such an experience. I wondered how the soldiers could, for so long, torture, and brutally murder other humans. Wouldn't their hearts have been softened by the cries of the innocent? Wouldn't they have stood up to the sheer madness of it all, even if it cost them their own lives? These are questions thousands have asked. My questions also remained unanswered.

On the way out I took a long look at the gate with the words Arbeit macht frei! (work shall set you free) and at the worn down train platform. What a relief it was when it finally got warm as we neared the car.


G in Berlin said...

Please don't feel that this is either the typical Israeli or the typical Jewish belief as to the "reason"for the Shoah. Remember that as there are ultra-left wing Mormons, so there are such "ultra-orthodox Jews" including those who do not believe that Israel should even exist. One of them murdered Yitzhak Rabin.

Gardner said...

Hi G in Berlin. Thanks for your comment. I added an explanation regarding why I mentioned the documentary to the post. The quote was a bit out of place.

The horror of the holocaust indescribable. I meant now disrespect by placing the quote in the post.

March 2007