Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dachau: Tragedy and Remembrance

Outside Munich is the quiet little town of Dachau. Before the WWII it was known as an artist's community.  Then in 1933 the Nazi's built one of their first concentration camps just outside of town and Dachau has come to be associated with something more tragic and sinister ever since.

Dachau was a concentration camp as opposed to an extermination camp like Auswitz, meaning that the camp was originally meant as a point to concentrate political and social enemies of the reich, separating them from, society, imprisoning them and forcing them into menial labor.  As the war started, progressed and went badly for the Germans, the diversion of resources to the war effort meant a drastic decline in conditions within the camp.  The differentiation between concentration and extermination camps ceased to exist. 

After we got off the S Bahn that took us from Munich to the town of Dachau, we sat and waited for the public bus that would take us to the camp. As we sat we noticed that all the busses had a strange abstract pattern on the side of them under "Stadt Dachau" designating the town.  Jenny and I having been to Dachau before knew what the symbol was.  We asked the nephews what they thought it was.  They looked carefully but had no idea.  Jenny said "You'll know soon, and once you do you won't forget."

In the front of the central square where inmates were forced to assemble today stands a large cast iron statue.  It dimensions are immense, probably 100' long by 25' tall.  Given background objects, and on this day the MILLIONS of German teenagers on field trips, it was impossible to get a clean shot of the statue in it's entirety.  So I captured one small corner of the piece and that image is below. 

Meant as an abstract representation of the tangled piles of bodies that were found when the camp was liberated, seeing pictures of the actual bodies, you realize just how un-abstract the memorial art piece actually was.  Seeing the statue points the mind directly to the photographic images of the aftermath and the statue has the clarity of seeing the images themselves.



On the far opposite end of the camp past where the barracks had stood and along the line of fence that led to the crematoriums stands the 4 memorials for the four faiths that lost followers at the camps.  As originally a penal camp, inmates were not mainly Jewish as at the extermination camps further east.  Memorials stand in remembrance for the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox prisoners whom lost their lives within the camp. 

The image below is from inside the Protestant "Church of Reconciliation" memorial.  Originally, there was resistance to allowing the protestants to build a memorial within the camp.  It was argued that the protestants who lived free outside the camp had turned a blind eye, either indifferent or accepting of the atrocities that were going on within the camp and thus had no business participating in the memorial remembrance.  It was pointed out that members of the Confessing Movement (a group of German clergy who had protested the Nazi atrocities) and European Quakers had also been imprisoned and died within the camp.  The church memorial now stands as a testament to the dangers of silent, implicit approval in the face of evil.



To me these images tell a story of hope and optimism in the face of evil.  That no matter the evil that confronts and may destroy man, manmade evil can never smother the spark of light within each of us that connects us to the divine.

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