Dachau. The name lingers in your mouth like a bad taste. It lingers in your ear like the sound of a gunshot. It lingers in the air like a foul smell. It is a name that brought fear into the hearts of those who heard it on the lips of SS officers during the height of the Nazi’s power.
In me, the name conjures anger: anger that directed at humanity for being so flawed and misguided to create such a place of evil and hate. When I looked at the atrocities and systematic exterminations employed by human beings, I found myself hating all of those responsible for allowing such atrocities to occur. The torture devices, the constant beatings, and the threat of death looming over the prisoners’ heads like a dark, stagnant cloud. I was angry to share any humanity with the Nazis, knowing that what makes them human also makes me human and that I too have that potential for evil in me because I am human. A rage that I have never felt before burned inside of me when I saw the pictures of the bodies that were strewn and raked in piles, as if they had no identity. To the Nazis they were just… in the way.
In me the name conjures sorrow: a deep sorrow for those whose lives were stolen from them. Lives that were stolen regardless of whether or not they survived the concentration camp. Their lives were still taken along with their humanity while the suffered in such a desolate place. When I saw the crematorium, I was surprised to find it not in a desolate area, but in a beautiful, wooded room of nature. I walked in this furnace of death and was taken aback by the mere presence of death in that place. Although the furnace in Dachau had not been used, it was still the site of hangings and mass murders. I walked in to the next room and found it was empty. It was a small room that was maybe a foot higher than my head reached. It didn’t strike me as significant. I walked out and turned to find a sign next to the door that brought clarity to the room. For I had walked through, and stood in the gas chamber.
There was a path next to the crematorium that led to into the woods. I followed it in an attempt to ease the burden that is Dachau through the solace of nature. As I walked, I saw a large stone adjacent to the gravel path among the trees. As I approached it, it looked more and more like a tomb stone. I read the new apparent memorial. It was the site of the execution of many individual prisoners. It was called the pistol range. This beautiful area was the last thing that hundreds of prisoners would see before their death. I forced myself to stand before the area that they called the blood ditch, to look out into the trees as if this would he my last site on this earth. I turned around to where the SS officer would be standing. I stared down the barrel of his gun as he pulled the trigger. A bell tower in the distance struck at that exact moment, ripping my breath away from my lungs.
In me the name conjures fear: a fear not quite the same that the thousands of victims who stayed in Dachau faced, but a fear that this oppression stemmed from hate could have and still can take me and those I love. Would I have been one of the victims of this terror? I do not fit the Aryan archetype. As half Indian and half Caucasian, would I have been deemed a threat to the Nazi’s perfect race? Would I have been persecuted for my religion? Would I have been silenced because of my political beliefs? In reality, I could have given the wrong look to an SS officer or slandered the government trusting the wrong person with my opinions and I could have been taken in the custody of Dachau. I am just living in a different era and that is the only thing that with certainty prevents me from being ripped from my family. But time is not a guarantee. These events can happen again because they happened before.
In me the name also conjures hope: a hope that is not prominent but is there nonetheless. A hope that we as global neighbors, no, a global gamily can grow and learn to work and look through the rhetoric of hate, to look at each other’s differences as strengths rather than weaknesses. It gives me hope knowing that in the end, there were survivors, there was an end to the destruction, and there was peace achieved. It gives me hope to know that Germany has become incredibly progressive and has sought every opportunity to memorialize its mistakes as a nation so that the memory of the victim and the atrocities done to them lives on. It is a world leader in its journey to equality on all fronts. The transgressions of the Nazis can and will never be forgotten, not by the world, and especially not by me. It is through the knowledge of this strife that we can grow toward a peaceful society. For we will never again allow this to happen.
Dachau shall always remain within me. It is an experience that will haunt me, yet it will be one that I cherish.