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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Never Again

USA | Sunday, 21 March 2010 | Views [406]

We left the family on Monday evening, around four o'clock.  We were scheduled to get into Munich at around 8.  One of our connecting trains was late by fifteen minutes, which wound up compounding the other three connections and meant that we would be getting in over an hour later than we had hoped.  So when we were about two hours away from our final destination, we just got off the train, made sure our tickets would be good for the next day, and headed to the tourist office.  We were not playing games that evening.  We wanted a room, no running, no searching, no going to the outskirts of town.  The tourist office got us set up, and we proceeded to do what we normally do.  Go the wrong direction until a ten minute walk becomes close to four times that.  We did make it to our room, and had a strong internet connection.  Turns out some people had thought we might have landed ourselves in jail, so it was good to get the word out that all was well, we had just been paraded around by foreign family and forced to consume so much that it blocked out all other priorities.

On the 13th Rebecca's sister, Victoria, celebrated her 16th birthday, and while we couldn't be there we were able to see her open her presents via Skype.  Mom Feudo sure knows how to pick 'em out.  Amidst all of this was a joyous family gathering, and about three toasts were held in her honor during our fifteen-minute conversation.  Long live Victoria!  Health to the famliy in USA!  Hurray for Victoria!

While we were sad to move on from a warm and secure environment, we also discovered that we were not given the choice, we were going to return.  And while at first it seemed that we were going to have to communicate that we couldn't return, we had places to see, we suddenly realized that we wanted to.  And it winds up working out quite well.  One of the relatives will meet us in Prague, where we fly into from Dublin on the 5th of May, and then take us back to all of the family about 500km away.  We will see a few more things that time did not permit the first go, before continuing the tail end of our journey. If they ever let us go...

We made it to Munich on the morning of Tuesday the 16th in good time, and once again had no problems finding a place right off the bat.  The tourist office was next to the train station, and when we asked about how far we would have to go for cheap accommodations we almost fell all over each other when we were told there were not one, but TWO hostels right around the corner!  Never had we been so fortunate!  And on top of it, the first one we tried had free space for us, the internet, and a clean and funky environment.  That was a good night.  But as soon as we got into the room we unloaded our stuff and headed out for the reason we had come to Munich.  A concentration camp.

Now, it seems very historically acceptable to go visit a concentration camp.  After all, why would we not go to one, being in Germany?  There had been evidence of the Second World War in the other countries we had visited.  We knew it had nearly leveled France, and of course we saw The Hiding Place in Holland where the Ten Boom family had assisted in the smuggling of Jews (again, we encourage further research on that as it is a remarkable testament to God's faithfulness and reality).  But there is something so terrible about a concentration camp, that even just walking in the streets of a city that had been so ravaged by war pales in comparison.  Europe breathes history, it is seeping from the tops of the hills and reverberating from every stepping stone and blade of grass.  But the energy hovering three feet up from Dachau work camp is enough to stop the heart.  You don't want to go in, you want to run away. How could you not, seeing the pictures of all those that had been led forcefully through the gate, and then released on a death cart?

Dachau was the first concentration camp, and became the model for every one after it.  It was not a death camp, though, but a work camp, and the reconstructed gate you walk through reads the same missive it read for everyone that was taken there from 1933-45 against their will: Work Sets You Free.  We do not like to go into the history of it, as it can never be summed up in a mere paragraph.  We will only tell of our short time there, and hope that you take the time yourselves to do some research.  Anyone who was forced behind those walls deserves the few minutes of recognition. 

We started out with only one of the audio guides, and had to go back for another as the volume was too pitiful.  There are stations set up throughout the camp, and although they are not numbered we were given a map along with our audio guides.  Aside from the topics designated for each area, you could feel free to explore further by choosing to listen to those that went into greater depth, and even first-hand accounts of the victims in their own languages. 

It was cold outside, and we were hungry, terribly so, but it felt good to be so cold, and so hungry.  We do not know how anyone could go there and desire comfort.  We do not know how people laughed and posed by the memorials with broad smiles, proud of being there, "I went to a concentration camp, I don't know how to pronounce it, it was sooo creepy" they will go home and tell their family and friends.

We learned about the barracks, which ones were designated as the hospital, which makes no sense as they received no medical care, were fed even less than before, and daily taken out to be paraded during roll call as an example.  We learned about the barracks where the workers lived, and how they changed over the twelve year span of the camp so that more and more could be packed in, until the rooms that had been previously designated for an acceptable amount had grown to two thousand.  We tried to realize this number.  Rebecca remembers being evacuated to a warehouse during Hurricane Ivan, when she lived in Florida, and there were only one thousand people there, barely two feet in between each cot, all across the floor.  We gave up when we realized that we would never be able to picture it.  The barracks had been reconstructed, and that helped some.  We do not know how we could have gone in if those walls had really seen what their ancestors did.  None of the original barracks were left.  They had been torn down, but their locations were outlined and filled in with stones. 

We listened to the meanings behind the memorials, and posed next to them for size reference.  We watched a twenty minute video in the museum, which had been a work building and the kitchen and other such facilities, such as bathhouses, for the residents.  It was all live footage that the SS had taken, and while it is one thing to see the few carefully selected photos in history books, it is a whole new world to watch the video, to see the pictures that make the sign outside the museum reading "not advisable for children under twelve" a necessity.  From the video we went to a guard post, where lay a portion of the Death Strip, the ditch around the camp which gave the guards free reign to shoot if anyone tried to cross it.  Many people did, to be put out of their misery, even making it to tangle themselves in the electric fence.  The largest memorial is a tribute to those who sought suicide in such ways.  It was then that Michael looked over at Rebecca and realized she was going to puke, and this is brought to light because you aren't just going to a museum when you go to somewhere like Dachau.  You are inviting that horror, those images, that reality, to come into your life, and you almost think you hear tired feet dragging along the gravel, that the wind in your ears is covering over the harsh sounds of agonized living.  Living which isn't really living at all.  As surely as any genocide is a terrible thing, there can't be anything compared to the suffering those endured during Hitler's rise of power. 

While Rebecca did not puke, and managed to keep from having a full-blown anxiety attack, we had yet to visit the crematorium.  The memorial closed at five PM, and we had already been there almost two hours but had still not yet seen the back of the camp, where the crematorium and religious memorials were set up, or anything of the museum except for the video.  We walked quickly, and it was good to be rushed.  The care that had gone into the preservation of the camp, and then the dedications, was humbling.  The headstones set up for the thousands who had died, the plaques on the walls, the theme being Never Again. 

A gas chamber was attached to the crematorium during the last year of the camp, as they were all required to have one, although it can be confirmed that it was never used for mass murders (it is unknown, but assumed, that it was used for smaller killings).  After all, Dachau was not a death camp, and anyone who had not succumbed to illness or starvation or brutal punishment and was condemned was usually sent out to another camp, such as Auschwitz.  The gas chamber was set up as a shower, in order to convince those going in that all was well.  But at that point, they must have surely just been going through the motions, because it does not take a genius to realize it is too convenient for the new showers to be connected to the furnaces.  The shower heads that were used as props have since been removed.

Coming out of a beautifully wooded path that winds around the back of the crematorium, lined by memorial after memorial for those thousands slain, rose bushes planted along the length of the execution range, where mostly Russian soldiers had been put to death, you walk into the back of the crematorium.   The first thing you see are small closets with hooks hanging from the ceiling.  For a minute you falter, wonder if you can go on, should go on, and then you hunker down and brave yourself to actually listen to the audio guide and learn that those rooms were actually used for disinfecting clothes.   It's the ones inside that are the worst.  There is the room for those to undress before going to 'shower', the room where the fake showerheads used to hang, and the next designated for the bodies that would result.  Those were built onto the crematorium, which housed six burners, each capable of holding four corpses.  They burned night and day, until a coal shortage during the last year forced the bodies to be removed and put in mass graves. When the US liberated the camp in 1945 they found over three thousand dead bodies.  They then brought in the people of the city of Dachau, forcing them to walk through the rooms and see the bodies piled there, forcing them to realize what they had ignored in their very city.  Hangings were conducted from hooks in front of the ovens, and the next room was also for bodies. 

It was close to closing time when we had seen the last of the grounds.  We had not gone through the museum, but enough was enough.  We knew that Dachau was a work camp, had seen the video of those who went in and what they looked like when they went out, we knew that low-pressure medical experiments were conducted there, and that it was the first and had stayed open the longest.  We talked about returning the next day, but we didn't.  We ate two bowls of steaming hot chili from the cafeteria, and it felt wrong to be so happy with food, a sacrilege.  Everything reminded us of the live footage we had seen.

We were glad to leave, and while history should be pursued, and those that lost their lives due to the camps should be remembered and honored, going to one of those places is the same as watching a horror movie.  Rebecca can not even fathom the suffering her own family went through during the war, in Europe, but as she walked those perimeters she thanked the Lord over and over and over for having mercy... 

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