• Dachau Does Not Believe in Tears

    September 3, 2019

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    Posted in: Military


     

    Right now someone in the media is finding another excuse to proclaim Trump is Hitler, America is Germany 1933, and something about concentration camps on the southern border. So I went to Dachau, just outside of Munich, to see a real concentration camp.

    You deal with the irony first. The people who in too loud voices mill around the station entrance asking “Is this the train to Dachau?” then the conductor’s announcement calling out the name as the next stop as if it was just another. The mediocre station has a McDonald’s. The bus stop sign for the shuttle you need to take has “Concentration Camp” written in English. Everyone around you is on vacation, dressed for it and chattering like it. You arrive at a visitor’s center, and there’s a rush for the toilets and the snack bar. Which way to the camp, Dad? Can we see the crematorium? Can we?
     
    A hundred steps outside the snack bar the world changes. The road turns gray even though the light playing through the poplars is from a postcard. They’ve changed the entrance location from a few years ago, and now you enter through the former SS barracks and come to the gate; it really says Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Will Set You Free) on the iron bars and you walk through just like they did. The gate only swings one way; you will leave, today, but it wasn’t originally designed that way and you can tell. There may be a hundred people with you but it is finally silent as you enter Dachau.

    It is too small. You see the administrative buildings to the right, the reconstructed prisoner barracks to the left, the assembly ground in front of you. You see the fences and walls on all four sides, walkable in a few minutes at an easy pace on a gorgeous day. It is too small to have held all those people, too small for all that happened, too small to be the symbol of Nazi power it was then. You expect something more substantial, with the distant site lines obscured, like at Disneyworld, where tricks of the eye make it seem more grand.

    It is too familiar. It takes just a few moments to get your bearings. You’ve seen photos before, and there are many posted, populating the place with buildings and people once here and forever gone. It is unlike say an art museum on the scale of the Met or the Uffizi where hours of circling corridors later you have no idea where you’ve been. You know Dachau.

    The museum unfolds in the order new prisoners were processed in. The early days of National Socialism are explained where the prisoners were first assigned numbers, the seizure of power by Hitler is documented in the room where people were stripped and deloused (subtlety is missing when the unit of measurement is Nazism) and you exit onto the campgrounds awkwardly after reading about their liberation by the 45th Infantry Division.

    You think, after all that reading and those museum exhibits (and it is a thorough education, much more than an Instagram collection of artifacts, and oh look, a real prisoner’s uniform, honey!) you understand something. But not yet. You have really just arrived and in front of you is Dachau itself, the ground, the air — the same ground they saw and air they breathed — and you have a choice. Many visitors turn back toward the snack bar, falsely satiated after an hour thinking they saw Dachau and anxiously trying to remember if the shuttle bus runs back to the station on the hour or the half-hour.

    But if you wait for them to leave, now you can see Dachau.
     
    Most of the place is empty, acres of crushed stone with flat markers showing where the now-missing barracks where. The trees lining the central road bisecting the camp are old. They were here when Dachau was working. You can match up an individual tree from a 1942 photo with the one in front of you and touch it. The sun is warm this day, a beautiful late summer afternoon with those wonderful tickles of early fall around it. A day to be alive grandpa would have called it. There must have been days just like this in 1942 here. Were there afternoon moments when for the length of time one could close one’s eyes the prisoners left the camp?

    There is some minor archaeological excavation work going on. The archaeologist stands over a hole about three feet deep and explains he is looking for evidence of the original fence line, the border of the camp before it was expanded in 1937. He found some wooden post fragments and some barbed wire. So the bottom of that hole is 1937 I ask? Yes, he says, the dirt and stones piled here haven’t seen sunlight since then. I ask if I can take one of the stones with me as a keepsake, and he explains that is not allowed, even as he looks away just long enough. Doing the right thing is hard enough elsewhere, never mind in Dachau.

    A sign simply states the area in front of you is where the barracks used for medical experiments on live humans stood. Another denotes the punishment barracks, where the SS found darker ways for those already living inside a camp designed only to punish. You see where the bodies were stacked like cordwood but you know wood is strong and straight and the images you are recreating show corpses floppy and tangled in their piles quite unlike cordwood. Now you are seeing Dachau, here in the deeper waters.
     
    Dachau does not believe in your tears. This is not a sentimental place. It is not clean. A universe of victims died here but this is not a place that acknowledges victimhood, or raises awareness, or gives voice, or traffics in the shallowness of hashtags. Dachau is here to declare what happened and to charge you with doing something with that information on the scale and with the accuracy Dachau requires.

    See, by coming here, it is now handed to you, that obligation. Hitler and his Dachau did not emerge from an election which frowned on a favored candidate. Following WWI Germany was purposefully humiliated and saddled with war reparations which were unpayable. An economic crisis unrolled. Inflation drove the nation to starvation. With no history of democracy, Germany was willed into a republic as unprepared as two virgins in an arranged marriage. Across the border the new Soviet Union and at home a powerful domestic Communist party threatened. Hungry people weren’t tricked into a strongman because of Facebook or some Electoral College fluke, they demanded one.

    Within three months of taking office Hitler gave himself the right to amend the Constitution, ended representative government, created special political courts, made criticism of the government a capital crime, and established Dachau. Two months after that Jews were fired from government positions, political parties and unions prohibited, opponents murdered, and books burned on government orders. There was no slippery slope, it was not incremental. It was inevitable.
     
    So there is obviously more to this story than a travelogue about an interesting day trip out to Dachau by train from nearby Munich. To say Trump is Hitler, America is Germany in 1933, or a grimy detention facility is a concentration camp means you have never been to Dachau.

    The presentation at Dachau is very un-2019, where everyone vies for adopted victimhood and chosen trauma. Dachau is cold, because only its facts matter. Tweets childishly mocking political opponents and regulations preventing a small number of self-declared trans people from joining the Army have nothing to do with Dachau. To stretch 2019 border facilities or exaggerate the historical impact of a march in Charlottesville is to turn Dachau relative, the dial jiggered to magnify some other event. It makes people numb, it dumbs down discussion, it is cheap, inaccurate, and exploitative. It demands mighty outrage from a partial set of facts. Both butterflies and elephants have legs, but no one should claim a butterfly is an elephant.

    Propagandists have always used ignorance to manipulate. Yet while CNN works to convince viewers silver mylar blankets instead of comfy quilts for migrants means there are concentration camps in America, Dachau reminds physicians here dissected human beings alive as part of medical experiments. Just as is taught in beginning writing courses, truth comes from showing not just telling. For those who think there is little significant difference between Germany 1933 and America today, there is Dachau to visit.
      

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      Don’t cry for me Argentina

      The guy with the mousy mustache was not as evil as the countries that refused to take the Jews. Funny, we were more generous accepting Nazi scientists than Argentina.

      09/3/19 11:06 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      The more things change…

      Let US never forget the United States did not welcome Jewish refugees from Europe. In 1939, 83% of Americans were opposed to the admission of refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many feared the burden that immigrants could place on the nation’s economy; refugees, who in most cases were prevented from bringing any money or assets with them, were an even greater cause for concern. Indeed, as early as 1930, President Herbert Hoover reinterpreted immigration legislation barring those “likely to become a public charge” to include even those immigrants who were capable of working, reasoning that high unemployment would make it impossible for immigrants to find jobs.

      Steven Miller, yo should be ashamed to plagiarize this great American like HH. Heil Hoover.

      09/3/19 11:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      3

      “The guy with the mousy mustache was not as evil as the countries that refused to take the Jews.”

      Now that’s a truly “unique” use of the word evil – which is exactly what this post by PVB is all about.

      The more things change, the crazier the Internet becomes …

      09/3/19 8:29 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      In comparison to a real serial killer like Joe Stalin, Hitler was an amateur.

      09/3/19 8:47 PM | Comment Link

    • J.L.Seagull said...

      5

      Why did you fly to Germany to go to a concentration camp? There’s at least one historical camp in America, possibly many depending on your definition. Only right wing loonies believe Hitler invented concentration camps

      09/4/19 1:43 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      To say Trump is Hitler is an insult to Hitlers Intelligence.

      09/4/19 5:22 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      7

      To say Trump is Hitler is an insult to Hitlers Intelligence.

      AP: Demented is claiming ignorance after he held up a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map that appeared to have been altered with a black pen to show a projection of Hurricane Dorian possibly striking Alabama. The unexplained map appeared during an Oval Office briefing on the hurricane comes after Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday that Alabamians were in danger from Dorian.

      His tweet, now deleted, said, “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” The National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, debunked this assertion in its own tweet 20 minutes later without mentioning the president.

      Claiming ignorance is the only thing he can honestly say.

      09/4/19 5:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Trump is traveling to Alabama to hand out paper towels to residents of that devastated state.

      09/4/19 5:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      We should not be so hard on holocaust deniers. After all, 60 million American voters accept a Presidunce who denies lots of facts and makes up all kinds of shit to confuse his supporters like tweeting the Nation is disgusted with the FBI.

      “The truth is that we have a nation that is disgusted with the FBI. We have a crisis of confidence in the number one law enforcement agency in this country (thanks Comey!). @LouDobbs “It’s a scandal.”

      Hey, Don, you better get Putin to fix the election because, bro, the FBI will make sure you are going down when you leave office.

      09/4/19 7:12 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      Dachau, what is this Dachau?

      A new poll commissioned by a Jewish organization reveals big gaps in Americans’ historical knowledge. According to that survey, two-thirds of millennials and 4 out of 10 Americans overall don’t know what Auschwitz was. And while 6 million has long been accepted by historians as the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, nearly a third of Americans think it was far fewer.

      09/4/19 7:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      11

      “Just as is taught in beginning writing courses, truth comes from showing not just telling.”

      Like that chart?

      09/4/19 10:20 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      12

      Speaking of mass murderers, Trumpie reportedly wanted to nuke the hurricane when it was over Alabama. The thinking was if, it turned out to be a disaster, no one would notice.

      09/5/19 8:32 AM | Comment Link

    • Doug Gifford said...

      13

      Go to Dachau, stand in front of the ovens and contemplate what you are looking at. You will never forget it.

      09/7/19 12:08 AM | Comment Link

    • Gerard vanderleun said...

      14

      THANKS FOR PLAYING RICH!

      Now you can go back to your day job of teaching autofellatio to dogs. Get cracking, those dog prongs don’t clean themselves.

      09/7/19 12:38 PM | Comment Link

    • pigpen51 said...

      15

      Rich Bauer,
      You really should give your hatred a rest. It blinds you to the truth. Hitler was an amateur compared to Stalin? Trump was an idiot about the hurricane?
      Do you even look for any evidence of these things that you are saying? Try these.
      https://www.npr.org/2019/09/06/758532041/noaa-contradicts-weather-service-backs-trump-on-hurricane-threat-in-alabama
      https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2011/03/10/hitler-vs-stalin-who-killed-more/
      Now go and take your hatred and stuff it.

      09/7/19 3:41 PM | Comment Link

    • jake said...

      16

      RB is an idiot

      09/7/19 4:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Vince said...

      17

      I visited Auschwitz. Going through the whole thing was eye opening, dreadful and enlightening about how depraved people can truly be.

      09/8/19 2:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Ray Van Dune said...

      18

      Adding a state name to a list of states threatened by a storm is just like Hitler.

      09/8/19 2:38 PM | Comment Link

    • Albert_Tatlock said...

      19

      To the best of my knowledge, Dachau was one of the first, if not the first, of the camps, and it was used by the NSDAP (the national socialist german workers party) to imprison their political opponents (the international socialists).

      Just ask Dinesh D’Souza, or Tommy Robinson, or Elisabeth Sabaditch-Wolff, or Geert Wilders, which political group is doing this today.

      09/8/19 8:52 PM | Comment Link

    • Albert_Tatlock said...

      20

      @pigpen51,

      Regarding your mention of Stalin – it could certainly be argued that Stalin was “worse” than Hitler, for her certainly sent more people to their deaths, over a longer period of time. This observation has nothing to do with anyone’s “hatred” – it is an assertion that is demonstrably true.

      “The Soviet Union on the eve of Hitler’s invasion was the most rigorously regulated and policed society in the world. Its machinery of domestic repression was much more elaborate, and in 1941 had killed far more people, than that of Nazism: six million peasants perished in the course of Stalin’s programme of enforced industrialisation, and vast numbers of loyal comrades had fallen victim to his paranoia.”

      Hastings, Max. All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 . HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

      09/8/19 9:00 PM | Comment Link

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