I remember the silent ache that hovered in the streets of the medieval German town, dark and empty on a holiday weekend, uninterested in foreigners, unwelcoming to say the least.
In the morning, I discovered our guesthouse had a view of three large chimneys sprouting from the side of a white, boxy, brick building. Pre or post World War II? I shuddered, as I pictured a sanatorium full of children with special needs, the elderly, the mentally ill, tucked away behind barred doors, and then emptied for the Cleanse one blind day. Beautiful souls plucked from the “Master Race,” simply because they were labeled, different, vulnerable.
We ate a simple breakfast of hard boiled eggs, cheese and bread. I was anxious to get moving, to see the imprint of unimaginable evil stamped on unholy ground.
It was Easter morning and we were going to see Dachau, the first concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Dachau, which sits on the outskirts of Munich, is nothing like its sister town, where tourists sip frothy beer from ceramic steins in Oktoberfest. Dachau houses an aging concentration camp, dutifully marked with plaques and pictures, explaining in detail what occurred in each corner of the camp. Learn, learn, learn from these bricks and barbed wire, from these bullet holes and mounded graves. Thousands of Jews, clergy, Roma, homosexuals and political prisoners lived and died in Dachau.
The camp was deserted that Sunday morning, covered in a thin layer of fog. The rains stopped shortly before we arrived at the camp, and a gentle sunrise had split the haze.
I walked alone, past the bones of the crumbling barracks, where brambles had grown over fences and the firing wall. My mind was full, charged by the countless books I had read on the Holocaust. I was still a teen then, but had read stacks (and still do) of books on the Holocaust. I read until I finally threw one book across the room in disgust, traumatized by the description of human skin lampshades and medical experiments. Mengle’s face with his gap-toothed smile burned in my mind. I stopped reading about the perpetrators, and focused on the stories of survivors.