Through the plethora of boards plastered with words and topics and knowledge in the museum at Dachau, one stood out among the rest in my eyes—Poetry in Dachau.
Why did a seemingly minute title (among much other heavy, important topics) stand out so heavily, so prominently?
Because of the glimmer it gives into the rebuilding of humanization amid a time of extreme objectification. The Jews and the Homosexuals and the Roma’s and the Sintis and the Disabled and the people who stood their ground, opposing political overtaking, were subjected to a malignant torture having their right to personhood ripped away from them.
The people in these camps were no longer people. They were given verbs and adjectives that should only ever belong to animals or objects, never to humans who embody skin and bones and contain a real, live soul. The Nazis had an ability to degrade the enslaved to a point of their own identity and personhood becoming lost along the process; this was all part of their psychological torture.
Yet, despite all this, as I read this small board tucked in the corner of a big museum, I saw livelihood again; I saw rebirth after death. A resurrection of “who” after being a “what.” Art has the ability to awaken: I firmly believe that. Nevis Vitelli, a sixteen-year-old prisoner, wrote in a journal that amid “suffering lies the song of poetry, like a hymn that liberates and penetrates to the bottom of truth.” Poetry requires vulnerability; vulnerability reminds us that we can feel, that we are something more than mere flesh and bones.
I am a lover of words and put my heart where my mouth is when it comings to writing. I find something so special in the way words have the ability cultivate both joy and hope, yet also sorrow and suffering. Funny as it sounds, I have lived by a personal mantra when it comes to my own writing:
“Making sense of my mind by marrying letters into words that birth itself art.”
By simply using words to craft art, these prisoners were reminded of their realness, reminded that they still have blood pulsing through their veins and a heart that could feel truly and deeply.
Roman Gebler, a prisoner at Dachau, described it best saying, “In the camp, I made a meaningful discovery; No power exists in the world that is capable of destroying humans as spiritual beings.” As much as their spirit was crushed, art was one of the few things that could still preserve the little bit of life that remained in them. A quiet savior came down to bring life to some of the brokenhearted and lift up the crushed in spirit— that savior was poetry.