Visiting a concentration camp is something most people hesitate to say that they are excited about. Excited might seem like a cruel word when first hearing it but putting the sentence in a different light may help you further understand. Growing up, we are taught about the horrors of the Nazi rule and the horrendous things that were done to the prisoners held in camps. We are taught how Adolf Hitler came to power and the ways anti-Semitism values were instilled in German citizens. All of the knowledge gained from the classroom, museums, lectures, are of course extremely impactful. However, all of us were ready to complete the learning. We can never learn enough about the Holocaust, but seeing it in front of your eyes, walking were thousands and thousands were murdered is a feeling that drains you. You have the opportunity to come face to face with the reality of the world’s dark past.
Every part of this camp is moving and incredibly powerful in its own way, however, I will walk you through my toughest moments. For starters, walking through a gate with one of the most deceitful sayings on the front made my experience very real very quickly. “Work sets you free”, a phrase mocking the people as they struggled day in and day out just to survive. Dachau was the first concentration camp made, the one that set the standard for the hundreds of other camps erected soon after. The prisoners were completely oblivious to the amount of pain and dehumanization that lie ahead of them, how could they know?
I began in the museum, a building that all the prisoners started in when they arrived. They were stripped of all of their belongings, beaten, humiliated, and informed that from that moment on all of their rights had been stripped. We arrived early at the camp so it was still quite empty. The eerie walls echoed my steps as I walked alone, haunted by the memories in the space. I continued through and came upon one of many images that depicted the unimaginable. As I stared at the countless number of dead that fell, one in particular consumed my view. I saw flesh, but the body part I was looking at, I could not decipher. The fact that I could not recognize the human body sickened me. I stared, my stomach in knots, finally realized what I was looking at was a hip. The leg was skin and bones, the hip protruding while the stomach was sunken in six inches next to the bone. This image will be engraved in me, I could not forget it even if I tried. But I don’t want to forget, because this was real, this is real. We cannot ignore the evil that occurred there, that occurred in hundreds of other places across Europe. The monuments scattered around Dachau read “Never Forget”. Never forget the suffering that occurred, the millions murdered, and how evil our world can truly be.
I slowly walked out of the museum, attempting to process the reality and images that almost seemed incomprehensible. As thoughts swarmed my head, my feet led me to the center of the roll call square. Its vastness consumed me. The amount of people it would take to fill that space each morning. They stood shoulder to shoulder, many falling because they are too weak to stand, the people next to them forbidden to help. So much in me wanted to run from the feeling, run from space that claimed so many men, women, and children in the cruelest of ways. This is a place that I believe every person should visit, and a type of pain that you have to bear in that moment to understand what really happened. Reading it in books is hard. Seeing it in real life, that’s life changing.
The crematorium. The first room I walked in had cement floors, paint chipped walls, and a plaque in the right corner. I approached it, reading the title and glancing at the picture. “Death Chamber 2”, I immediately stepped back. In that room, thousands of Jews, Soviets, Polish, Religious leaders, men, women, children, were piled on each other like their lives were disposable. They were carelessly thrown there before they were thrown into ovens. That does not even sound humanly possible to me but they said often they would just hang the prisoners right above the oven and throw them in directly after. To think all of this was happening while people stood by watching. Did you know that people actually took tours of Dachau? Granted they disguised a lot of what was actually happening, but I refuse to believe that they were completely oblivious to the truth. I felt as if the smell of burning flesh still lingered in the air. They had to have known: the ring of gun shots, the screams from the whipping table. There is just no way. I moved on to the next rooms, my eyes were led toward a door that red “Brausebad” above it, meaning showers. I was very aware of what really happened there. The moment I saw the gas chambers, I didn’t think I could walk through it. Dachau was the first camp to build the gas chambers but it was never used for mass killings there. That does not change the fact that it was the prototype that was used at other death camps and murdered millions. I forced myself to go in. The cruelty of the Nazis and how deceitful they were, I can never understand. How could someone come up with something like that, let alone murder innocent people in the first place. That is a moment I will never, ever forget.
I visited a church on the camp site, I spent time in prayer talking to God. I asked him to be with me as I faced with one of the hardest realities our world has. I asked him for a voice for justice and to always stand up for what is right. God immediately working as I received a message from my Dad that read “Praying for you today. It will be interesting to see what God shows you today and what he says through it. I bet it is something about love.” After the crematorium, I was under the impression that I was finished. God usually does the unexpected so it shouldn’t surprise you what I say that I have never been more wrong. As I went to the café for lunch, Dr. P asked me if I saw my last name. There was a man that was held here in the bunker here with the same last name of Hofmeister. I was shocked. I left to go in the bunker, afraid of what I was going to find. Anticipation built as Ryal and I walked down the long hall, finally finding the door that held the name Corbinian Hofmeister. I stood in awe. Corbinian Hofmeister was the Abbot of Metten Abbey, a prominent clergy man. He was a religious “special prisoner”. That moment moved me to tears and marks as one of the best moments of my life. Not the idea of a Hofmeister in a concentration camp, but the fact that in order for him to be in the camp he had to have stood up against the Nazis. I have never been prouder to have the Hofmeister name (thank you to Ryal for helping me keep it together). God showed me in the most incredible way, through the darkest of places, that faith runs deep, and love prevails. I unfortunately am unsure if we are related or have any type of connection, but I am currently doing more research on the possibility, and my wonderful Grandfather helping me out with it as well.
Dachau moved me in more ways than one and I can assure you I am still trying to gather my thoughts. One thing I hope everyone takes away is the importance of continuing to tell the story of all those victimized by the Nazis. We must never forget.