As I sat in the Carmelite chapel in the very back of the Dachau concentration camp, I reflected about the power of faith. So many aspects of Dachau left a pit in my stomach – the roll call area, the barracks, the crematorium and more shattered my heart into pieces. I cannot fathom how humans are capable of treating other humans in the way the Nazis treated the prisoners of the concentration camps, and I had to pray a lot to find a way to come to terms with everything I saw in Dachau.
The most sickening aspect of any concentration camp is the dehumanization of people. Not only were the victims of Dachau starved, tortured, beaten, and brutally murdered, but they were stripped of everything that makes them human. They lost all free will, all individual human rights as soon as they entered through the gate inscribed with the words “work sets you free.” Pretty ironic, right?
I reflected on this a lot as I stood in the Schubraum, the room in which the prisoners are registered, told to remove their clothes, and forced to give up every possession they own. As I walked through the room, I paused in the place where the prisoners stood as they removed their clothes and turned in their belongings. This is the room where prisoners became nothing more than a number to the SS officials. Looking at the tables that contained personal items from various prisoners broke my heart. Every item told a story. I saw a prayer card, likely carried by a priest or a person dedicated to his faith. I saw a small photo of a young couple laughing and hugging. My heart shattered when I realized that these items are the ones that people couldn’t leave at home when they were deported to the camps, the ones that they carried in their wallets and looked at when they sought comfort. These items carry stories that define the person who carried them, and they were stripped away.
Despite the atrocities of the Holocaust that I relived as I walked through Dachau, I did not lose all faith in humanity. As I prayed and reflected in the chapel, I realized that the Holocaust represents the two extremes of human nature. The Nazis, the SS, and those who prided themselves in persecuting, torturing, and murdering other human beings committed some of the worst crimes against humanity in all of history. On the other hand, the survivors and victims of the Holocaust prove the strength of humanity in the face of evil. Even when they are chained by the colored badges on their uniforms and are suffering the worst tortures imaginable, they did not all lose faith. The victims banded together and depended on each other and on God to survive, which is reflected in the religious memorials in the back of Dachau. These ultimate survival stories give me hope. If hundreds of thousands of people were able to trust God to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, I can overcome anything I can set my mind to. My problems are much less significant than those who were prisoners of Dachau, but I can learn from their inner strength and courage and apply it to my life. Good outlasts evil, faith outlasts hopelessness, and love outlasts hate. All we have to do is depend on and trust in each other, and we will overcome.