Fire & Brimstone

(This is meant to document my journey through the Dachau concentration camp, the horrors it held, and my personal reflections. I by no means hope to offend anyone, simply describe the process I went through that day.)

I walked out of Dachau with a smile on my face.

Wait what?

Let’s start from the beginning.

As start I started towards the gate, I was overwhelmed with a foreboding feeling of dread that only intensified with every step closer to the words on the gate. It didn’t leave me once I crossed the threshold.

I began my journey throughout the camp, the horrors were only magnified by the background knowledge that we’ve built up over this last week in Berlin and Munich. The museum explaining Hitler’s rise felt like a broken record, we knew the ending. As the sections went on, the prejudices intensified, and the killings began. There was no escape. Even as the war drew to a close, the Nazi’s accelerated their final solution. Then finally the museum’s exhibits ended, and I had to face the realities of the space itself.  I had to see the overcrowded barracks and walk the killing ground. As I saw my friend Emma walking through the roll call square, I could only see her at the camp in the place of the Hofmeister we found who had been held SS special prisoners section. I had to see the crematorium, the gas chambers, and then the execution sites standing alone along a horribly beautiful forest path. It truly did showcase what depths humanity could sink to as I witnessed the industrialization of murder. People utilizing every ounce of technology, thought, and ingenuity they have access to in order to systematically exterminate.

I went and sat in the Carmelite chapel that’s on the grounds of Dachau before heading to lunch. I stopped to pray for my faith in the face of such evil, I prayed that I could have help reaching the depths of faith those around me hold. I then walked to the Jewish Memorial. There I found why my faith takes such a different shape. As I gazed, all I could feel was anger and rage. Not so much anger at the situation, but instead at the way religions can discriminate between people and how easily humanity gives up their independent thought for what they believe to be a higher purpose, the same process that lead to the Holocaust. All I saw was 6 million Jews murdered.

I walked back to the café in silence, my time in the chapel and at the memorial unearthing the tension I face.

While I was eating with a few Cr’ers, Dr. P talked about the inherent hope of the place. I understood what he was saying and what he meant but couldn’t feel that way. I felt like we hadn’t learned anything at all, people still use religion to say they’re better than one another on Judgement Day. It may be subtle, yet I thought beliefs of superiority are the foundations used by the masses to turn a blind eye. I viewed the racial discrimination that is implied, yet never thought about. How all the North Americans and Europeans are automatically saved by faith, yet Hindu Indians, Middle Eastern Muslims, and countless others are doomed by their situation. I don’t believe God could be racist. I had no measure of peace, I went back to the chapel to write my thoughts out, and hopefully gain some measure of understanding, not of the evil, but of the grounds on which Christianity proclaims itself to be so good. Sadly though, nothing was coming to me but the blatant fallacies I see around me. I began the day praying for faith, but all that was being delivered was a furthering of the divide I feel. I ended the day praying to understand why beliefs such as this exist.

Not much progress was made, and I was still strife with conflict as I stood to leave, disgusted by the world around me and convinced of little change. Then I remembered a clip from the audio tour giving the background of the chapel and monastery that described it as being home to the statue of Mary that stood in the imprisoned priests’ barracks. I hadn’t noticed it during my first stay, yet now I felt drawn to it, a symbol of goodness that had seen nothing but evil. I felt drawn to it now. As I walked to it I couldn’t help but be amazed. I expected the statue to show scars, but as I studied it I realized just how wrong I was. I could only describe it as angelic, the perfection of the carving and the expressions on Mary and the Baby Jesus’ faces. It was love.

Love. That’s all I could feel in that statue. A mother’s love for her child, unconditional human love. God is that love and so much more. I felt insignificant in front of it.  Standing there I realized just how true our brokenness is, no matter how hard we try, we could never even begin to make up for it. In the shadow of that beauty, I saw the power of belief, and began to realize why faith traditions put so much importance into faith. That anger that I felt dissipated instantly, and I understood.

I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. But now I can accept that those around me do. I realized that I’ve spent this whole year, and even the beginning of Cultural Routes, letting this disagreement stop me from growing close to those around me by avoiding the conversation for fear of stepping on anyone’s toes when instead, it’s that very conversation that can bring me closer to those around me than ever before.

The statue, it’s eyes, and what it had seen weighed heavy over me. But the statue stands, God remains throughout all the horror. It is so incredibly easy to immerse yourself in the atrocities of the camp and feel hopeless. Yet when I left the chapel all I could see was that the camp was gone, and I understood what Dr. P was talking about. The Nazi’s lost. There were hundreds along with me there to remember. Dachau at its heart is a memorial testifying that even in the face of mankind’s most advanced industrialized attempts to kill, love overcame it. As I was walking down that main camp road towards the exit, there were no barracks still standing around me, but trees lining the road and birds singing in the air.

Dachau was full of life.

 

-Ryal Reddick

 

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