Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Holocaust Remembered


While in the Army, my family and I lived in Germany from 1993 to 1996.  It was a marvelous time.  A three-year European vacation.  During one summer, we took a long vacation to Eastern Europe.  We drove through the Czech Republic and Poland.  It was still a pretty raw place.  The Iron Curtain had just come down, and there were still stark differences between Eastern and Western Europe.  I remember being in line for gas and stores where all the goods were behind the counter. 

The most impactful place I have ever visited was  Auschwitz in Poland.  Then Dachau almost 20 years later.  Our stop in Oswiecim, Poland, or what can be said to be the most depressing place I have ever visited.  Oswiecim is the infamous home of the Nazi Concentration Camp of Auschwitz and the Death Camp of Auschwitz II-Birkenau.   The Museum is located at the original concentration camp of Auschwitz.   During our tour of the Museum and grounds, some of the exhibits were closed to children.  So Terri and I took turns going through them.  There was a room full of a pile of shoes and another full of a collection of children's clothing.   It was a very moving experience.

After the Museum, we drove to the death camp at Birkenau.  This camp had remained relatively untouched since the camp was liberated by the Russians in 1945.  Some of the buildings were in the process of falling down. There was an eerie, unexplainable feeling as we walked through the camps.  As if there were ghosts present.  In Birkenau, the specially designed rail station was next door to the gas chambers that could kill 5000 people at a time.  At one point in 1944, they were killing 100,000 people a day here.  When totaled up, about 1.6 million people were killed at these 2 camps between 1941 and 1944.   As I mentioned the most depressing place I have ever been to.
A few years later, on a family vacation to Germany, we stopped in Dachau, the first original German Concentration Camp.  Initially designed for Political Prisoners of the early Nazi Regime.  Dachau was not a death camp like Auschwitz; most prisoners would die the old-fashioned way by being worked to death.  

It is a law that all German School Children must visit a concentration camp.  It is something that they never want to happen again, although it has already happened in other parts of the world.  This type of man's inhumanity to fellow man is not strictly a German occurrence. We are all capable of tremendous horror or good.   It is the circumstances that created this phenomenon that we must guard against.  Division and lies create the environment of hate.

Dachau was a sobering tour; we made the final English film which provided a good backdrop for the situation that created the German concentration camp system in Nazi Germany.   We toured the large grounds and cremation ovens, where most people who went to the camp eventually left.    

The Nazi program to exterminate the Jews is a sobering testament to man's inhumanity to man, of how lies can spin a society downward to create great evil.  I fear we will not learn from our mistakes.  That we will deny history and repeat this great tragedy again.