Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reflections While Flying Home

Dachau
WWII Concentration Camp
1933-1945

An iron gate looms ahead, heavy with words of burden, not hope -

ARBEIT MACHT FREI

- which translated means "work brings freedom" - a strange foretelling of an endless nightmare.

I step somewhat carefully through this infamous entranceway, piqued by the recollection that thousands - no - tens of thousands had entered before me, not willingly.

I continue on. My step slows, then halts; my soul is arrested; my very breath is involuntarily caught up, momentarily ceasing. Before me extends an expanse both immense and colorless and very recognizable: the open yard where roll call was taken. The absolute reality that such a place truly exists crowds in on my soul, and I am stunned.

Only shades of gray are seen - in the gravel crunching beneath a footstep nearby, then repeated in the solemn structures of weathered board and cement, and finally echoed in the sunless sky. But of course the sky is gray here in Dachau.

My eyes scan the area, seeking to comprehend the vastness of this space. I begin to see unending rows and columns, innumerable forms of human beings uniformed in equally colorless garb, shoulder to shoulder with barely space to move. Faces are gaunt with eyes void of light; there is no human soul. These are not human beings but empty shells not yet dead but no longer living. As my eyes begin to comprehend they instinctively fill with tears. The eerie silence echoes a lonely desperation. I can never fully understand the scene before me. I tread with somber silence and awe, somehow needing to show respect to these also silent vestiges.

My feet bring me to the head of a broad, long way continuing in gray Dachau gravel. On either side, in perfect symmetry, lying in perfect right angles to the path, are the terribly long, narrow foundations of barracks, two on each side, row upon row, each row on both sides being watched over by a tall, stately sentinel - a slender tree of great stature, reaching to the sky, attempting to lend an ethereal beauty to this forsaken landscape. It is not enough.

Walking the wide path I see once again the weak, hungry mass, this time shuffling, at times stumbling, as in trance-like state it finds its way back at the close of day. This is a hopeless, broken mass, a non-thinking, non-feeling machine, devoid of all traces of humanity. Each man has become a number, a part of this machine to be dispensed of when no longer functional - countless parts, waiting and wondering how long they will be of service here, hopeless of a way out.

Reaching the end of the broad way I turn left, following the backside of the final barrack. At the far side I am confronted by an invincible barrier. The well known barbed wire fence preceded by a deep, cement-rimmed ditch lines the perimeter of all I have seen. Beyond the fence lies a second cement-rimmed ditch, larger than the first and filled with running water. Ominous watchtowers regularly interrupt this otherwise endless line - towers with eyes trained to hunt human beings, focused morning, noon, and night, peering through sights, ready to administer quick punishment to those who would step near this forbidden line. Their presence is oppressive and constant.

I find another gateway in this impenetrable boundary, but this pathway is not to be sought after. I am now face to face with machinations of death contrived through a fiendish misuse of intelligence and creativity, scheming the efficient and systematic annihilation of humankind. Rooms like hollowed out cement blocks fitted with pipes and vents stand vacant, their deadly purpose never fulfilled here at Dachau. Two more cement chambers, once filled with human corpses waiting for incineration, also stand vacant, their walls hosting photos testifying of their heinous past. Between them is found a larger room. Four large brick ovens with mouths wide open present themselves for examination, unable to show shame. But it is felt by all.

Steps are now retraced. Taking it all in once more, I slowly close the imposing wrought-iron gate behind me, not quite wanting to leave, feeling a desperate need to memorize these impressions.

I can't imagine. I won't imagine. But I will remember.

Psalm 139:7-12
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

He was there, even then.

7 Comments:

Blogger sam said...

We recently watched The Hiding Place. I cannot imagine seeing one of the concentration camps in person. Although, truth be told, your description captured my emotions and gave me a tiny glimpse of it.

So glad you are home safe and sound and that you were able to spend time with Louissa.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous brietta said...

I'm so glad you're home!

P.S. I really appreciated reading that-- it made me wish I could have been there with you.

8:08 AM  
Blogger My own little world said...

Wow, it feels so much more real when you describe it.

Welcome home!

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Pete said...

Glad you are home!

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Paige said...

Humbling & horrifying. We needthese reality checks, don't we? Just how far can the human heart run from his/her loving God? To a place called Hell - and we have lots of those right here. Heavy, heavy stuff. Thanks for walking it out here for us to see as well.

11:01 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

He was there, even then.

How gripping that statement is. He was there. And one day He will wipe away every tear. Oh, how this world is not our home and though we are here, and He is with us, our hearts should long for the fullness of His presence in eternity!

I recorded a great bio on Winston Churchill last week; interviews with his official biogapher and grandchildren. If you'd like to watch it, let me know. Good stuff.

7:13 AM  
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