When we were planning this trip, Emma and I agreed that we must visit a concentration camp associated with WWII. We both share an avid interest in learning about the history of that time. Actually, that is inaccurate. We are interested not in the history of the aggressors nor the military aspects, our interests lie in the victims and defenders. We have been reading about people like Anne Frank, Meip Gies, The White Rose, The French Resistance and many more. Thus, it was essential for us to visit a concentration camp.
So yesterday we spent the day at Dachau.
It has changed us forever. One can read all the books or speak to survivors, but the experience of being there is like no other.
I am not sure how to convey the enormity of seeing the crematorium. I can not tell you the complexity of pain in my heart as my daughter and I stepped into the gas chamber with tears spilling from our eyes and our whole bodies trembling. I am not sure why I needed to go, but I did. I had to see the infamous gate with the sadistic sign claiming, "Work will set you free." I had to stand with my child and witness the photos of the piles of dead while standing in the exact spot where they were discarded. There is no way to make sense of the senseless, but we needed to bear witness and be dedicated to never forgetting and never allowing it to happen again.
The survivors of Dachau are the people who have made the site a memorial. They offer tons of information, but steered clear of the trappings of emotional manipulation or touristy pandering. I will admit that Emma and I were challenged by the teenage boys joking around in the crematorium. We were horrified at the people taking smiling photos in front of places like the gate, as if this were just another stop on a tour. However, for every moment that seemed inappropriate, there were also moments that seemed redemptive. For example, the sheer number of people who stood at attention while the bell tolled dozens of times marking the exact moment of the camp's liberation.
There is no doubt that Emma and I will remember this day forever. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been there. I think it is essential, in a world growing ever more callous, to find our courage to still feel things deeply. I have huge emotions. Sometimes they are so big that they can be overwhelming to other people and even myself. I have had moments in the last few years of concern as I watched my daughter express those same heart-wrenching and extreme emotions. However, no matter how odd it is, I am pleased that Emma and I can be so moved and touched. We feel deeply affected by the world. While that does not make for an easy life, it does make a meaningful and worthwhile one.