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 

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The Poetry of Dachau

“I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” – Mary Oliver

My heart was broken open today in ways that are hard to put into words. I think everyone felt a rush of emotion as we walked through Dachau silently, taking in the weight of the suffering felt by thousands of people on the very ground we were standing on. We spent six and a half hours at Dachau, with ominous dark clouds and drizzling rain setting a somber mood. As I walked through Dachau’s barracks, roll call yard, and crematory, I came face to face with the darkest moments of humanity. It was bone chilling to see the place where people from all over Europe were stripped of their human dignity, rights, property, and, for over 30,000, their lives. It’s one thing to read about the Holocaust, watch videos, and go to museums, but touching the walls of barracks and standing inside the crematory made the horrors so real.

Inside one of the main buildings in Dachau was an informational board about poetry written in Dachau. One man wrote a poem called “My Shadow in Dachau” while he was in the camp. It is about his sadness and fear of forthcoming death and leaving his mother. Writing poetry in Dachau could lead to a death sentence, so this was a huge risk. He said that the impressions Dachau made on him cried to be written down, but he also made an important revelation that “no power exists in the world that is capable of destroying humans as spiritual beings.” Poetry helped him and other prisoners at Dachau to connect with God and process difficult emotions. Even in such a dark and hopeless time, it speaks volumes about the presence of God that this man never lost faith. Writing and reading poetry was essential to retaining a small part of their human dignity. Another man read the poem and gave this commentary: “The value of this poem for me? It contains everything: the agony of captivity and the elegy of freedom, and the greatest earthly love, maternal love and something else that is banished from the normal thoughts of youth and human suffering: forgiveness.”

Poetry is man’s way of attempting to understand the world, and it proved crucial to another prisoner at Dachau in finding himself and his humanity again. Their poetry provides an artistic, raw take on the emotions felt by real people who were treated as numbers at Dachau.

I recently discovered my love for poetry and the power it carries in its attempt to make sense of all aspects of life. Mary Oliver is currently my favorite poet with her poems about nature, spirituality, and youth. Her lines about heartbreak end a tragic poem about death, and I believe that it perfectly applies to many experiences we have had in Germany overall. The purpose of our visit to Dachau was not just to observe the structures and learn facts, but rather to soak in what occurred there and never forget it. The intention of Dachau as a memorial is to preserve what happened and ensure it will never happen again. We must not be numb to history, but rather open our hearts to the world to respond with love. That is my goal for the rest of CR- to have a heart open to learning and growth in whatever form it may take.

Confidently Lost

By the time we made it through what seemed to be the hundredth doorframe and stepped into another ornate room displaying ostentation at its finest, Team Hohenschwangau’s minds (and attention spans) were at a bit of an overload. Clocking in at hour two of embracing architecture, tears of laughter welling in Olivia’s eyes, she suddenly squatted down on the ground next to yet another grey and red plaque. Now you may be asking, “why is this girl finding such humor in one of the great halls of Kings and Queens of the 17th century?” One word—Ausgang.

If you didn’t know, I am not a professional German speaker. Shocker. I have still yet to master the spelling of our own team name and have difficulty in pronouncing all the unique U-bahn stops. Lucky for me, there are a handful of words I’ve grasped with ease this week in Germany. My repertoire is wide and diverse and flourishing with unique colors of language. Ok, maybe not. The whole of my repertoire includes: Hallo, Danke, Hauptbahnhof, Eingang and the infamous Ausgang.

Ausgang has followed our team everywhere we have gone. Like a constant companion, Ausgang was with us in Berlin, as we reflected upon the memorials and fueled up in the restaurants; it is with us in Munich as we navigate the U-bahn transportation system and as we wander around the grand Residenz. Ausgang is like the seventeenth member of CR10, a member we cherish and appreciate (and can’t seem to get rid of).

I first saw the unique combination of letters at Victory Column in Berlin. The joining of the A to the U and the S to the G and so on catalyzed a multitude of questions in my mind as it pointed to the corridor at the bottom floor of the column. What did this word mean? I needed to find out. Finally, as time advanced and experiences were accumulated, our team figured out the conundrum— Ausgang means exit.

The Residenz is the former royal palace of Bavaria and encapsulates beauty in each and every detail whether it be in its architecture or its arts. Also, It’s HUGE. Upon walking into the Residenz, I had no idea what to expect. They put great effort into helping the toursists, like ourselves, navigate this monstrosity of a home with signs that display a nice, big red arrow pointing which direction to go next. Easy enough! Yet as we got deeper in the Residenz, the signs began contradicting one another leading us on what seemed to be a wild goose chase. What do you do when two arrows point to one another!? So, deep in the grand Residenz of Munich, delusional from the Renaissance and Baroque overload, lost and confused, Olivia sat. And as she sat and took a minute to release the laughter, our journey was saved by the reminder that there’s no problem in being lost because you can always exit.

Ausgang has been our escape through it all. Lost in a museum for two hours? Ausgang! Attention span diminishing? Ausgang! Awkward moment? Ausgang! And now, as we approach our grand Ausgang out of Munich, I hope to bring our 17th member along with me in all the cities to come. It stands as the reminder to appreciate the journey and don’t fixate on the destination. Team Hohenschwangau has made rad memories making every moment an adventure; and if we ever get lost, luckily, we have Ausgang to help us out.

Darkness

Pain. Misery. Death. That’s what life was like for the prisoners of Dachau concentration camp. Today our hearts were shattered into millions of pieces when we visited the site of merciless Nazi humiliation, torture, and murder. Words cannot describe the feeling inside of you when you stand at the place where the horrors of the holocaust took place. Today was a day of introspection for me. I truly believe that what we saw today was the remnants of the darkest part of humanity, a part of humanity that is still evident and exists today. What we saw today on the gravel roads of Dachau will be prominent in my memory forever.

I was broken today. Innocent people, tortured and murdered, for what? What motivation? What’s the reason behind it all? I still don’t have the answers to these questions, and I probably won’t for a good while. It’s hard to write about the experience of Dachau because it leaves you speechless. The terror and pain that one plot of land contained is enough to sit down and really think about the meaning of life and what your duty as a human is.

So that’s exactly what I did today. I sat down in the Catholic Chapel on Dachau’s grounds. I just sat and thought, and I realized that what I had witnessed, what I believed to be the darkest part of humanity, was actually the darkest part of myself. So many times I have hurt another human being, I have done wrong to my fellow man, and that doesn’t make me any better than the Nazis. We all have this darkness inside of us, and what scared me about Dachau is that it showed me what hatred can accomplish. If we subscribe to this darkness inside of us, we can go about causing death and destruction to anything and anyone that comes across our path.

There is hope though. On April 29, 1945, US forces liberated the prisoners at Dachau. The darkness was not allowed to continue and the killing of innocent lives was brought to a screeching halt. We too have been liberated from our darkness, and that was done by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us all. As I thought some more, I came to the conclusion that the darkness inside of us isn’t a part of who we are. It’s not something that controls us. We control the darkness. If we let things get out of hand, we can end up being so consumed with hatred that the darkness seems to run our lives because we can become one with the darkness, and the results of that are…unspeakable.

Let’s shift the topic into present day. These issues have not gone away. As I said before, the darkness is inside all of us. We are all capable of the injustices that occurred between 1933-1945. It is our job as humans regardless of demographics that we think may separate us to ensure that this never happens again. It is our job to quell the darkness inside of us and rise above what differences we may think keep us from loving one another and stop the pain and the suffering that we bring upon each other. Everyone should visit Dachau, or some other concentration camp. It is impossible to come out viewing the world the same way you viewed it before you walked through its gates. Hell’s home base rested in the concentration camps. That’s something that can’t be erased from memory.

Memory is the biggest key. Remembering how this happened is at the center of ensuring it doesn’t occur again, because it can. It is our job to educate the young and bring up good citizens that respect one another. The dehumanizing factor in Dachau was immensely important to the carrying out of inhumane torture and murder. The moment we forget that everyone is on an equal playing field and everyone is a human being is the moment that the human race ceases to exist. My heart will forever hurt for the victims of Dachau, but I will do everything possible to make sure that this world I live in, the world I hope to raise my children in, does not fall back into the horrors that I saw today.

My favorite place in Dachau was a memorial that read “Never Again” in multiple languages. Never again can we let an entire race of people be discriminated against, and especially not to the point of brutal murder of innocent lives. I learned a lot about history, myself, and the present state of the world today at Dachau. Injustices will try to rise again. The darkness inside of us all will once again try to rear its ugly head. Never again.

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John 16:33

Romans 8:18

Bavarian Castles: Photos

Team names for exploration in Munich have been Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. It took some time for the groups to figure out the origins of the names; today they came face-to-face with the origins—two castles perched high in the Bavarian Alps. We had a phenomenal day spending time with each other, hiking long, steep routes, and entertaining the rare tour guide on CR … enjoy the photos!

Night Train to Party Train

In preparation for this trip, we were advised to stay up all night on the CR tradition: the night train. I hate to disappoint, but we certainly did not do this. Although, we still have stories worth telling. As a preface, Europeans are not particularly fond of a group of sixteen, American college students, with the largest bags and loudest voices boarding their train. To begin the on-board adventures, I would like to thank Jacob James for his incredible ability to bring people together. He radiates energy and instantly set the tone for how enjoyable our night train experience was about to be. He started us off with immediately suggesting Hot Seat: a high-pressure game where your group has one minute to ask you any question they want; riveting I must say. From questions about how one eats their taco to horrendous, and I mean horrendous, first kiss stories, the night was nothing short of memorable. I am grateful for this new level of friendship reached and each and every one of these people continue to amaze me in their past, present, and plans for the future. It helped me realize how much more I have to learn about each individual and I am looking forward to continuing to do just that.

As sick as the fellowship (that was for Kyle Hepting) on the night train was, the morning did not greet us kindly. For starters, our conductor, who already did not like us, woke us up at 6am to give us “breakfast”. “Breakfast” consisted of two hard pieces of bread and either coffee or tea. After we nibbled, we started counting the stops and nodding off back to sleep. About thirty minutes later our conductor was standing at our door yelling at us in German. I am not sure if you have ever been yelled at in German, but it is about a million times scarier than your parents have ever said to you. His knowledge of English was slim to none and the only thing he could say was “it is finished” and “two minutes”. After us honors students put two and two together, all hell broke loose. For everyone who knows me well should know that this just about gave me a heart attack (I don’t handle being late well). As my graceful self quickly got out of bed, I hit the hot tea off my bed, spilling it everywhere. But with two minutes on the clock, that had to be ignored. As Olivia threw down luggage that weighed about a ton to me, I threw them down the hallway while everyone helped clean our cabin and attempt to grab everything. A special thank you to Abby Souder for being the only responsible one of the group and grabbing our rail passes, which are our lifeline for the rest of our trip. We made it off the train with my heart rate at 128, but little did we know we had plenty of time to spare. As we stood outside the train trying to find our bearings, the train sat there for a solid ten minutes and proceeded to sit there after we left. I am convinced our conductor had it in for us and enjoyed watching us Americans squirm a little bit. I reached this conclusion because I watched him share a chuckle with his colleague or should I save accomplice after watching us sprint off the train in sheer panic. Needless to say, first impressions while arriving in Munich (people wise) was not stellar.

Regardless of the rough morning, Dr. P treated us to a wonderful breakfast at a café in Marienplatz. I thought unwelcome feeling would change quickly but it continued when we sat down in the café a couple immediately got up to leave. I can’t say I blame them too much since you can hear us coming from about three blocks away but I felt myself getting hostile even though it was so early in our Munich experience. This view changed throughout our first day as we were awestruck by the city’s beauty. It was drastically different from Berlin, old architecture, calm streets, history at every turn. As abrupt as the morning was, it helped me realize how important it is to recognize and respect your surroundings. I love the way Americans make conversation, sing, and practically dance through life, but respecting the culture around us helped us to even further immerse into the society we entered. CR10 has capitalized on this by learning how to navigate the city, appreciate the culture, but still remain unapologetically ourselves.

Our first day in Munich turned out to be wonderful. We pushed through the tired, learned more about each other, and ended up jumping in a freezing cold river in the middle of a park. However, that night turned out to be the best night so far. We arrived at a Mexican restaurant that has been CR tradition for a decade now. My view of the Munich people made a complete 180 as the owner was nice enough to close down the restaurant just for us. Not only did he close it down, but he blasted music for us all to dance together and even our waitress joined. There was salsa dancing, two-stepping, A LOT of shimmying, and even Dr. P got out on the dance floor. My personal favorite was the conga line around the restaurant during Despacitos third time playing. But, before I continue, I a wonderful person that I have been lucky enough to come to know because of this trip.

Audrey Payne, if you do not know her, you need to get on that. In the middle of the dance party she pulls out this hidden talent of doing the worm. I personally have never seen a better worm in my life and I have Bennett Hofmeister for a brother. Not only can Audrey do the worm, but she is a phenomenal flute player in the band who plans to continue to pursue her music career after college by joining her community orchestra and teach private flute lessons. Alongside her music career, she would like to double as a lawyer. I am pretty sure the only step up from there is a secret agent, so watch out she could do that too. Audrey is one of those people that you can never stop learning enough about because her talents are endless, her spontaneity is magnetic, and she never ceases to amaze you. She is selfless, passionate, so incredibly kind-hearted, and brilliant in the most beautiful way. She is always keeping us on our toes and I am looking forward to many more surprises.

These first days in Munich have really pushed me to be open-minded. I would like to think that I was that way walking in, but I tend to form my views quickly if something goes wrong. Going back to the conductor putting me into cardiac arrest, I immediately thought that the whole city of Munich didn’t want us there. It took me all day and a nice restaurant owner named Martin to figure out how incredibly wrong I had been. The days followed have been taken by storm with an emphasis on allowing the culture to teach me before I write it off. We have one more day in Munich and I can definitely say it will be missed. (Keep going past pictures for the most important part)

One last, but very important thing. Today is my parents 31st wedding anniversary but these two have been together for a total of 36 years. Thank you for being the epitome of a Christ-centered relationship for John, Bennett, and I and always loving and supporting each other/us unconditionally. It has been the most beautiful thing to watch, learn from, and environment to grow up in. Thank you for giving me the two best friends/brothers I could ever ask for and allowing us to hang out with people as cool and as fun as you. Any parents that decide that they want to go play laser tag and whirly ball for their anniversary celebration definitely have it going on. I love and appreciate you so much and thank you for giving me this opportunity to explore abroad. I can’t wait to celebrate with you when I get back. I love ya’ll.

Team Alpha

By now, you have probably heard about our wonderful adventures at powerful locations such as Treptower Park, the East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, or the Soviet Memorial. With all of these amazing cites, the question “What was your favorite part of the experience so far?” can be very difficult to answer. However, after talking with several other people about the differences in our daily journeys, I have seen a difference in what I have gotten out of the historically rich city of Berlin. Ryal, Emma, and I went to Frog Camp Berlin last summer, and we all agreed that it was a very special opportunity to have been able to see the city twice on two totally different experiences. Of course, all of the memorials of both tragedy and redemption were extremely moving and emotional, but I wanted to focus on the interactions between the people that make up the newest additions to the Familia.

I was a member of the A Team (aka team Alpha aka the type A type A’s aka the Alpha Dogs), which was composed of Emma, Nishu, Brooke, OC (Olivia Chambers), and myself. Each day we were given a word like “connect” or “patience” or “starburst” that we should make the theme of the day. The great thing about team Alpha was we never had to try to implement any of those themes. The first day we all connected with our passionate hearts about the tragedy of the Holocaust, the second day we naturally communicated our feelings to each other that made patience come as second nature, and starbursting was something we’d been doing from the word “go” the very first day.

My favorite part of the experience thus far has definitely been growing closer to Team Alpha. We may not have had a theme song or secret handshake, but we all dug deep to get to know each other. I felt like Dr. P trying to take notes on each person because they were all so fascinating. It’s amazing to see how our differences can bring us closer together than some similarities can. For example, our bonding did not come from us having the same Meyer’s Briggs personality types, it came from our differing perspectives on what we looked for in significant others, what we want to do with our lives, how we interact with our families back at home, what makes us all tick, etc.

So I thought I’d make this blog post to show the things I love about them with the hope that you will have the opportunity to know and love them too.

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Pictured above Is Nishu; he’s a total stud. He is extremely passionate about medicine and his biggest goal in life is to leave a permanent impact on the world of either neurosurgery, heart disease, or cancer research. He enjoys the classic “music and medicine” school of thought and loves to explore all parts of his brain; he’s in the jazz band at TCU and can make sick beats on his computer. His producer name is “The Nerd,” and he is unable to touch his toes in mid air (see above). Nishu is from Chicago, but his mother preaches at a church in Wisconsin while his father is an engineer in Indiana. It was incredible to hear about the unique position he had to travel to all three of those places and build connections in them. He was raised in a house that celebrated both Christianity and Hinduism, which is extremely unique and allows him to have a very different outlook on life. He truly cares for everyone and believes in equality of all cultures and people. We brought this up several times, and it was an extremely fitting topic of discussion in a city of Berlin; the former capital of oppression and systematic racism. I loved hearing Nishu talk about how a doctor saved his father’s life, and how he wants to give back to the field however he can. Not to mention, this guy is definitely one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He was so observant that he explained to us that a slightly chilly day could be described as “slightly colder than warm.”

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Okay, honestly I have no idea what my life would be like without Emma. She has become one of my closest friends over the last year and has made such an incredible impact on me that ranges from something as small writing encouraging notes and leaving them on my Bible in my room back in Milton Daniel to something as large as reminding that my self worth is something so strong that not even I can screw it up. But in the course of this week, I have loved watching her grow and learn more about herself. She discovered that her personality was a little bit different than any Meyer’s Briggs test could ever tell her. And she discovered (though probably already knew) that she is amazing at reading maps in German. Emma is a very independent person, but is incredible at supporting others and letting other people support her. Sometimes I feel like she already has a lot of the answers and asks questions to make other people realize they might have some of them too. Emma comes from a family that absolutely loves Jesus. She can’t pick a favorite family member because they all inspire her in different ways, but she has a heart for law and justice, and wants to pursue law just like her father. She just cannot do criminal law; she never wants to be in a position to defend someone who she knows is in the wrong and have to fight for something she doesn’t believe in.

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Above is Brooke Boisvert. I also finally discovered how to pronounce her last name this week: it’s like boy-ver. I think. Honestly who knows. Anyways, Brooke is truly amazing. I started the starbursting moment off strong with the classic, “So Brooke, tell me about your family.” It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person just from that one statement. I learned about her amazing parents who have been excellent role models for her, her two brothers who are way cooler than she is. Living with two younger brothers has been an incredible experience for her; she’s gotten to watch them grow and mature in ways that are different from her own experiences. Brooke was a killer navigator in Berlin and was probably the sole reason we were able to figure out the S-Bahn/U-Bahn system. Her sense of humor is pretty much the same as mine, so we got along very well. While we only had a few heart-to-heart talks throughout the time in Berlin, we were comfortable with walking in silent contemplation next to each other, which says a lot more about a relationship than the ability to make small talk. Brooke is just one of those people that can be the both the funniest and deepest person you’ve ever met at the same time. I love how this combination allows her to utilize empathy for everyone around her and know how to react to whatever situation with the exact right words or actions.

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Last but certainly not least is Olivia Chambers (aka OC). OC is, as Shrek would put it, like an onion because she has layers. And I’m not talking about the layered look that California’s usually pull off. I took a class with her in the fall and got to hear her perspective on many subjects as it was a seminar-style honors class, but she never brought up stuff like the fact that she was a professional musical theatre actress back in the day. This blew our minds when she finally revealed that to us, and it really speaks to her humility. One of the questions that our group brought up was “what qualities do you look for in a significant other?” And I absolutely loved her answer. She said she doesn’t feel like she should be going through life with a list of expectations to check off; she’ll just be disappointed by not getting exactly what she wants. OC is comfortable with taking her hands off the wheel and letting the Lord make the plan. Olivia truly goes through life viewing everything and everyone as a gift to be appreciated and she always manages to find the light in the darkest places.

The words above could never come close to fully conveying how incredible the people with whom I got to explore Berlin were, but I thought I should give them some credit in their ability to carry out one of most important things we set out to do: build a familia.