Remembering Dachau

Certain images remain in our memory longer than others, tucked deep inside where, we hope, they never leave. Last Thursday, January 27, a day set aside to remember the Holocaust, brought me back to my visit to Dachau in June of 2003.

In a succession of several tours to Germany with United Voices of Praise gospel choir, Betsy and I lodged as guests in the home of Hartmut and Edda Linsel in Köln-Pesch, part of Cologne. When the choir’s performances had ended, the Linsels took us on tours of various parts of Germany, and in 2003, we headed for Munich and environs. This included a visit to the concentration camp at Dachau.

Tourists know Munich as a large city in Bavaria, home to the annual 18-day Oktoberfest. Few think of Dachau, a charming small town 12 miles northwest of the large city.

There, in 1933, Nazis converted an old munitions factory into a concentration camp, intended to house political prisoners. The camp expanded to include Jews, homosexuals and various criminals and became a notorious center of forced labor.

At least 32,000 died, and many more that were undocumented at the camp, where prisoners lived in constant fear of brutal treatment. American military forces liberated the camp on April 29, 1945, and found 30,000 prisoners, 10,000 of them sick.

The Dachau camp served as a model for other concentration camps that followed. It was in operation the longest, from 1933 to 1945. Records tell us that in those 12 years, more than 206,000 were housed there.

I recall that Betsy and I fell silent as we walked through the buildings and grounds, and certain specific images remain burned into my memory — a wooden table over which prisoners were forced to bend while being whipped, crematoria for burning the dead, bars on windows, barbed wire atop fences.

Time seemed to stand still that day, but Hartmut had become impatient to leave, sooner than we wanted to. I felt a tug to remain longer, see more and think about that I was seeing. But we understood Hartmut’s impatience. In the car, no one spoke about what we’d seen.

But I remember.

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