Look Up

Head down, keep walking.”

If I keep walking, maybe the horror won’t sink in.

Head down, keep walking.”

If I keep my head down, maybe they won’t see my tears.

Head down, keep walking.”

If I avoid it long enough, maybe I will wake up and realize it’s all a bad dream…

But I didn’t wake up. I didn’t keep walking. I didn’t keep my head down.

I looked up.

————————————————————

I’ve been learning about the Holocaust since the fifth grade when Mrs. Mooring dedicated an entire semester to the atrocities that occurred during World War II. From then on my curiosity about the events only grew, leading me to seek knowledge in other sources including books and first person accounts from people who lived during the tragedy. While I always thought it would be interesting to see a concentration camp for myself, never did I imagine that I would actually get a chance to go to one. Once I got accepted on CR, I knew that this once far fetched idea was going to come to life. I was going to see a concentration camp for myself. I was going to come face to face with the darkest parts of humanity.

In a journal before CR, I reflected on what I believed Dachau would be like:

When I imagine the day we step foot on Dachau soil, I imagine the sky being an ominous grey, the sun trying to peek through, but the clouds being impenetrable to its rays. When I think of Dachau, I can feel the lump in my throat that, despite constant swallowing, won’t seem to go away. When I think of Dachau, I imagine the tragedy, I can see the tragedy, and I mourn the tragedy. That day, we will be broken.”

As we pulled up in our bus to the Dachau stop, I found my predictions to be all too accurate. The sky was grey from the soft rain. The air was cool and brisk. The only sounds that could be heard were the movement of gravel under my feet coupled with the occasional chirping of birds. Desolation echoed through the long pathway leading up to the Dachau gate. Despite being surrounded by my fellow CR familia, I have never felt more alone.

Entering the gates, I was struck by the monotony of the complex. The barracks and main house blended in with the sky and the gravel. Everything was the same. This similarity reinforced the idea of deindividualization. Much like the buildings, each human life that walked through that gate was subjected to dehumanizing acts that allowed the SS to view them as inferior subordinates. By taking away their humanity, they were able to categorize each individual as one in the same; looped into an all encompassing box. As I walked into the main house that now served as the Dachau museum, I was able to see these dehumanizing tools for myself. The hair clippers, the striped uniforms, the removal of personal belongings, all of it intended to demoralize. The Nazi Regime utilized every avenue and calculated every detail to ensure the prisoners recognized their inferiority.

“You are without rights, dishonorable, and defenseless. You’re a pile of shit, and that is how you are going to be treated.”

– Josef Jarolin, protective custody camp leader to the new Dachau prisoners, 1941

This heinous quote and many more littered the museum. Around every corner, there were more and more examples of the capabilities of evil in humanity.

“…the more prisoners that die, the better.”

How can someone say this? How can we be so inhumane? What’s worse is this quote is in reference to the treatment of prisoners by medical professionals. As an aspiring physician, I wrestled with this quote a lot. Doctors are supposed to be lifesavers, not life takers. They are not called to decide who lives and who dies. Their one job is to ensure they do everything in their power to help their patient. This is outlined best in the Hippocratic oath, which has been taken by doctors since its initial conception in 275 AD. In it, it states:

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

Dachau is the epitome of harm and injustice. Those who worked there spared no mercy upon the innocent lives. As I continued to walk through the museum, this idea of insensitivity only strengthened. Families were broken. People were starved. Labor was gruesome. There was no right to live. One after another, these atrocities compounded. By the time I left the Dachau museum, I had become numb to the pain. It was easier that way. But as I walked outside, I ventured near a memorial in front of the main house. Two things stood there: the ashes of the unknown and a memorial that read “Never Again.”

I stood there for a while, looking back and forth from the ashes to the sign. Up until this point, death was guarded by words on a page. It wasn’t real. Now it was right in front of me. People’s lives in a box. At this realization, I turned toward the barracks. Like a wave, everything I’d ever learned, heard, or seen about the holocaust hit me at once. I burst into tears.

I walked through the barracks, I walked through the crematorium, and I walked through the gas chamber. I walked on the paths to the shooting range. I wanted to keep walking, knowing that if I were to stop, my emotions would only escalate. I kept my head down, hoping that people wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes. I couldn’t come to terms with this horrific reality. How could this happen? In the middle of a path, I prayed for clarity, for peace, and for hope. In my brokenness, I could only find solace in God alone. This led me to the Carmelite Chapel.

Walking into the chapel, I felt unworthy. I felt separated from such a perfect and loving God, knowing how broken I am. Yet at the same time, I could feel His love, His guiding hand on my shoulder telling me to look up and face the world. Until that point, I was timid and afraid. I couldn’t face the tragedies of this world on my own. I wasn’t strong enough. But when I walked out of the chapel, I lifted my eyes to see the world. I had a sense of peace that wasn’t there before. I was reminded of the goodness in humanity with words I’d seen in the museum. A story of a Jewish doctor who willingly risked his life to treat fellow patients with typhus, knowing that he would one day contract the disease and die. A story of two selfless victims carrying the burden of four men because the other two men were too weak to carry the load for themselves. In the face of indescribable hate, love prevailed. People were good.

Dachau was needed. I needed to be broken in order to see the extent to which hatred can divide the world. But even in that darkness, love lived. Not even the most elaborate attempts at demoralization could suffocate the power of love. Much like white juxtaposes black, so love juxtaposes hate. While it may be difficult to come to terms with the hate in this world, we must realize that turning a blind eye isn’t the answer. We must face these problems head on and look for answers. We must show love.

Brooke Boisvert

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Art Amid Chaos

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.

Hitler Went to Heaven

 

Friday, May 25th; 12:39pm Dachau, Germany – Hitler went to Heaven, and I’ll tell you why. Now I know that this is a very controversial statement, and I understand that some people may be upset or offended by this statement. I, however, am fully prepared to defend my claim. I understand that I may be entirely wrong, and I do not want to perpetuate the idea that this is the full truth and that everyone must believe what I do. This is merely an analysis of the unlikely revelation I had in the Carmelite Chapel on the grounds of the Dachau Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany.

Dachau Entrance

Dachau Gate

To begin, the feeling that I felt walking through the cold, dark iron gates of the camp was something that I cannot put in to words, but a feeling that I hope I never forget. My first thought as I walked in was, this place is huge; however, as I learned throughout the museum, the concentration camp was severely overcrowded and held about 5x its mass capacity of around 6,000 people. When we visited, it looked empty. I couldn’t imagine the place full. I couldn’t imagine the feelings and emotions of thousands and thousands of hopeless people. I couldn’t image the stench of death that constantly consumed the camp.

Dachau

For someone who never shuts up, I was speechless. I walked around the barren, lonely remnants of the concentration camp for 3 hours in complete and utter silence. Like many others on the experience my mind was flooded with feelings, emotions, but most of all questions. Leaving Dachau, I still have about a thousand questions that remain unanswered as to how this event actually occurred, how they kept it a secret for so long, and how to stop this sort of atrocity from happening in the future. Over the pass week, we have learned every detail about how Hitler came to power, and how exactly he kept it a secret from the entire world. Despite knowing every logistical detail of the operation, it is still baffling that there was little to no resistance to it, and the voices of those who did resist were silenced so tactfully and so efficiently that no one from the outside world was exposed to the utter tragedy that was taking place. Also, from the inside, how did the S.S. soldiers who worked the camps come home to their families, eat dinner, and sleep well at night knowing that they killed hundreds of innocent people every single day? How did an entire country of people dehumanize and entire “race” of people simply because of their religion?

And there is the kicker. As soon as I began to think about religion, I spotted the small Carmelite Chapel and thought, “Well if I have some questions about religion, there is no one better to ask than the big Man upstairs Himself.” So, I strolled into the small, simple chapel and knelt down in the back pew to talk to God and ask Him a couple of the thousands of questions I had. This is where things got a little sticky, but I had an incredible revelation in my personal faith that I did not expect to have at Dachau of all places. I believe that Hitler went to Heaven. I came to this conclusion by asking God how He could let millions of His people die such merciless deaths, where He was during this time of great need, and what the point of it all was? I wondered what the ramifications of the event were religiously, and what was in store for those involved in the afterlife. I knew that since the Jews had suffered greatly during their time on earth because of their faith in God, that they would be eternally rewarded by a reunion with God in Heaven and a life of eternal happiness and joy. On the other hand, I wondered what the fate would be of those who horribly persecuted God’s people for their belief in Him and killed millions of His people. What happened to them? Now most believers will tell you that these people went directly to Hell and that there is no way to reconcile their souls from eternal damnation. I on the other hand have a different opinion.

As most do times of confusion with faith, I turned to the Bible for answers. In the Bible, I searched for a times when God’s people were subject to great persecution and death. One notable example of this is the worst and greatest moment in human history, Jesus’s death on the cross. Jesus and His disciples were persecuted because of their beliefs, and Jesus was sentenced to the worst, most painful death imaginable by His own people because of it. Among Jesus’ last breaths were the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In Jesus’ last moments on earth, He asked His Father for forgiveness and mercy on His people. The greatest atrocity ever committed by humankind, murdering our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, was the very source of our salvation. In regard to salvation, I believe that Jesus dying on the cross brought salvation for ALL people. During Pentecost, the disciples were blessed with the Holy Spirit. I believe that all people have the Holy Spirit inside of them, and therefore everyone has God inside of them. Genesis 1:27 says that all people are created in the image and likeness of God. Because of this all people are innately good, however, many people don’t act like it. Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world, but they were still forgiven by God and went to Heaven. Jesus, Himself asked God to forgive those who murdered Him, God’s only Son. One verse that people love to use to say that only those who believe in Jesus will go to Heaven is John 14:6 which says, “No one can get to the Father except through me.” I think that this verse is often misinterpreted in a sense that Jesus is not saying that you need to believe in Him to be saved, but rather through His death and resurrection, He will grant salvation to ALL PEOPLE. All people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. Jesus does NOT discriminate. No one can lose the Holy Spirit from inside of them, no one can lose the salvation that Jesus granted them, and no one can do something so atrocious that it is unforgivable by God: not even bringing sin and death into the world, murdering His only Son, or murdering 6 million of His innocent people. This is how I came to one of the most unlikely realizations in Dachau: God forgave Hitler.

As for what the point of religion or being a good person is, I personally believe that organized religion is for fulfilment and not salvation. Jesus provided salvation for us by dying and the cross, and no matter how much we sin, we cannot lose the salvation that He won for us. Those, like myself, who participate in organized religion should not be doing so in hopes that it will grant us eternal life: Jesus has already done that for us. Those who participate in organized religion and truly live it out receive the reward of experiencing true, intrinsic happiness on earth and are fulfilled spiritually. Those who do not participate in organized religion may suffer greatly on earth because they will never be truly fulfilled because they are trying to fill a God-sized hole in their heart with material or other earthly things. However, in the end, we will all experience eternal happiness and joy when we are reunited with our Father in Heaven. No matter how much we may stray from our Father, He will never cease to love us, care for us, and call us home. Like how a child can never truly lose the love of their parents, God will never cease to love and forgive us for our transgressions, and therefore we will all be reunited with Him in Heaven. We are One Body, that makes up One Spirit, the Lord Our God.

 

Until Next Time,

Jake Lynn

Responsive to suffering, attuned to joy

I don’t have my thoughts collected enough to write a long post about Dachau, because if I tried to write about everything I saw and felt, I fear I wouldn’t do the horrors the people endured in that place justice. I just want to write about one thing I find symbolic and stirring: the Poplar trees that lined the street between the barracks.

The first thing I noticed when I saw these was that they looked like angels wings; these trees (the same kind that were there when the camp was in operation) seemed to be a symbol of life and hope in the midst of so much suffering and evil. The place where these wings seem to meet is a Christian memorial—it was incredibly moving for me to see and remind myself that God is sovereign even in the most incomprehensible and horrific situations. As you walk down this street between the barracks and under the shadow of these trees, you quite literally approach the foot of the cross.

I went to the convent behind this memorial and prayed for a long time for peace and healing for those affected by this concentration camp, which is, in a sense, everyone on this earth. Who knows how those brutally worked, starved, and killed could have made an impact on us today? Their freedoms and potentials were worth so much more than something as nonsensical as race and the fight for power.

In my honors religion class this past semester (Indigo and Emma were in it too!!), our amazing professor, Dr. Middleton, said we should be “responsive to suffering and attuned to joy.” The ability to see and understand oppression but still have a heart of joy is something I am working on. My life has been comparatively “easy” and there is nothing I would change about my path to who I am today. Joy is something that comes naturally to me, but I haven’t had to endure hardships anywhere close to what the majority of the world has to go through. The human beings that were cycled through this camp had their belongings taken, heads shaved, names replaced with numbers, bodies beaten, and dignity stripped. Their identities, cultures, and faiths were reduced to colored shapes on patches.

I had no idea some of the women were kept in a building and continually raped by the SS soldiers until I saw a small marker where the building was. The fact that I am still learning more about concentration camps despite being immersed in memorials and museums for the past week speaks to the terrors of the holocaust. There is no possible way for us to know everything that went on in these camps—each person suffered different tragedies. It was hard enough for me to read about this, so I cannot begin to imagine how these individuals felt living it out.

Despite these evils, we are still called to be attuned to joy. I wonder if any of the prisoners looked at those trees and saw angel wings too. If they looked at them and wished they could fly above the electrified barbed wire and guard towers and out of the camp. The thousands that remained resilient show that hope, even just slivers of it, remained. Our time at Dachau is something that will be on my mind for a long time and these emotions will be hard to sort out.

I’m so thankful to have gone through all of this with the wonderful people of CR10—I have never met a group of more thoughtful, passionate, kind, inquisitive, and loving friends than I have in these past 8 days. I think it is so beautiful that we all visited the same space yet each person got something different out of it. That really reinforces the idea that our perspectives and past experiences continue to shape how we view and react to life’s heartbreaks, joys, and surprises. Everyone has been so open to discussion and truly invested in what each other experienced. I hope and expect this dynamic will continue throughout the entirety of CR.

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

 

A Hofmeister in Dachau

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.

Dachau, in Me

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. 

Auf wiedersehen, 

Nishanth Sadagopan