Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The meaning of Dachau...

So…yesterday I went to Dachau Concentration Camp. It’s only about 20 minutes northwest of Munich, on the S-Bahn #2. Then you hop the 726 bus to pass through a pleasant little town and around to the main entrance.  It’s not a very large bus and has no AC or even decent air flow, and mine was crammed with American students chattering about where they’ve been, so far, and how awful or lax airport security is, and yap, yap, yap. Irritating…but it’s Europe in the summer.

Right by the entrance is the well-kept information center and cafeteria, then comes a short stroll down a gravel pathway of lovely foliage and neat benches, all very innocuous...until you get to...

...a couple of rails left from where the trains used to stop. Then across a little creek is a plain-looking building with a simple iron gate. Beyond that is a massive parade ground. Acres of smooth, white gravel, with tiny buildings to the left and the museum to the right.

In front of this building is a wrought-iron sculpture symbolizing the pain and suffering of what happened at this camp.

 I entered the museum first, winding my way down polished floors and clean white walls and perfectly laminated posters with well-crafted explanations of the events from 1933-1945. Some of the photos are very intense, and a sign at the main entrance even suggests the museum is not appropriate for children under 12. People were mostly quiet and reading and thinking, some chattering to each other, some being led by tour this was the latest collection at a gallery.

It used to be the processing center, where prisoners were stripped and forced to take showers, then were shaved of their hair…each step done in the most humiliating manner possible.

When you exit the building, to the right are guard towers and trenches and electrified fences.

Across the wide expanse of blinding white gravel are two barracks that neatly show the living conditions...

...and beyond those are line after line of gravel rectangles elegantly symbolizing the 72 other barracks that made up this part of the camp…each precisely numbered.

There’s a beautiful promenade between tall, whispering trees that leads to a Christian memorial to the dead; the Jewish one is smaller and to the right of it. To its left is a building that deals with racism of all kinds.

People stroll about and chatter and talk on their phones and German students sound just like American students, except for the actual words, and I heard this Daft Punk song I loathe blasting off someone’s iPod and dogs are led about on leads, sniffing and pissing as their owners complain about god knows what and it’s all so wrong, wrong, wrong.

You don’t smell anything there. All you hear is nonsense and the noise of idiots. The gravel is kept perfectly in place. The floors are so clean you can eat off them. The walls are painted white or are polished wood. Behind the Christian memorial is a Carmelite convent established on what was a playground built by slave labor for the camp commandant’s children. It all looks really, really nice, but it’s all so antiseptic and clean, it’s not real, anymore. It’s just a thought.

What clarified everything was when I was walking down the promenade towards the memorial and a woman passed me with her happy, sniffing dog as she chatted to a friend. I actually got so fucking angry when I saw that fucking dog and that stupid fucking woman chattering in what I think was German, I had to walk away from her. All of a sudden I was weeping…not crying, just tears streaming down my face at the blithe disregard for how vile and animalistic humanity has been and can still be. Granted, hers wasn’t the only dog there, but it drove the point home.

This was a park, now. A playground for puppies to play and piss and poop, and for people to stroll around on a warm summer day. The exquisite symmetry of it all has minimized the hell this place became for god knows how many men, women and children. It’s all just history, now. All just a memory...if even that.

Humans have been practicing genocide since we began developing separate civilizations. “Mine is always better while yours is unworthy.” Even the US was built on genocide and slavery, and around the world hate and fear are, as usual, being used to solidify political power in Russia and Afghanistan and countries in Africa...hell, it’s still happening in America.

We always do everything we can to minimize the true atrocities that can be unleashed by human beings – not just at Dachau, but against Armenians in Turkey, and Kurds in Iraq, and Native Americans in the US and on and on and on. It’s always "them" being the worst and only barely ever "us" when it comes to the horror that's part of nature; not human nature, just nature in general.

the planet don't give a damn about our ideas of morality, one way or the other. It does what it does. We, as humans, claim we want to rise above that…but we always drop back to the slime pits the second we have the excuse.

Because we never remember; we deliberately forget. And clean, beautiful, antiseptic memorials like Dachau will always be there to help us do exactly that.

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