Memories of a 1980 visit to Dachau concentration camp are seared in my mind. They all came back as I read a travel story about Boston. The visitor was walking the Freedom Trail and at one point it passed through an area of old pubs. He spotted a small green space across from one and he followed a small pathway. It led to 5 hollow glass towers that rose 3 or 4 stories. Each tower’s four sides, top to bottom, were covered with scratches. A closer look showed they were tattoo numbers of 6 million Jews killed by Nazis in WWII along with many quotes written by survivors or family members.
Recently many articles have appeared about the evils of bullying. I read another small story on January 27 reminding readers it was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Wasn’t that frightful period of the Holocaust, known to Nazis as the Final Solution, simply bullying at its very worst?
An evil leader used his power to bully the citizens of Germany into believing there was one group in their midst to treat with hate. It was not until 1945 when the concentration camps were liberated that the world saw the evidence of how easily the majority had accepted that false teaching.
Jews have lived through centuries of persecution so this was not a unique historic event. Few of those outside the Jewish faith knew about those atrocities. It took too long but this time the Holocaust will be remembered annually. In 2005 the United Nations acted and named January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In 1980 I was in Munich, Germany for a conference and I made a pilgrimage to Dachau. At the train station I had trouble finding where to get a ticket to this place. The operator spoke almost in a whisper as she did the transaction. It was a short ride and then a bus ride to the camp. It was still encircled with barbed wire and guard’s machine gun towers were still in place. Near the entrance a barracks-type building held exhibits of photos and documents. There was no guide so visitors wandered across the huge area where daily roll calls were held and into barracks which housed the unfortunates.
Originally each building had 208 narrow bunk beds but eventually each held up to 1600 beds. In the prison barracks there were large meat hooks overhead where prisoners were hung and beaten. The crematorium was enlarged in 1942 by prisoner labor because the number of deaths was so large.
Dachau was established in March 1933 to house 5,000 Communists and other enemies of Hitler. It was one of the earliest concentration camps and when it was liberated in 1945 more than 200,000 humans from at least 30 countries had suffered its cruelty.
A Chattanooga man was a 20-year-old private in the 42nd Infantry Division which liberated Dachau. In 1995 he joined about 90 other members of that division to return and take part in the 50th anniversary reunion of former Dachau prisoners and other Germans. The local newspaper wrote about his trip and I was heartened to hear the many positive steps that have been taken in that 15 year period since I was there.
1980 marked 35 years since the liberation but it was clear the local citizens had not accepted the reality of Dachau. By 1995 there were guides at the camp and high school students were taught what happened there. Those former American liberators were sent to talk to students about their experience and feelings on that day. The attitude of the students was best expressed in these words. “It’s our duty to overcome it. There will be no cover-up.”
And yet world-wide, only 67 years later, the same intolerance, hate and violence against those who are different in color, belief or any other way is not covered-up but shown on the news daily. Will it ever stop?