Mournful remembrance of those sent to shower

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For those who weren’t able to walk back out of the gates. Pixabay

The heartache in remembering my Dachau walkthrough

Being asked to sit and reflect is not an easy task at the best of times. Being asked to reflect on topics that make us uncomfortable and that we would much rather leave buried in the past is so much harder.

One may argue that this reflection allows us to grow as not only a person, but as a society as well. When we are forced to stare these ugly topics in the face, we are being forced to remember that, as human beings, we are not perfect, and we can inflict incredible harm on one another. I had the privilege of staring one of these horrific incidences in the face six years ago – that experience has continued to stick with me as though it happened yesterday.

April 2017, I had the opportunity to find myself standing in Dachau. For those of you who are not history buffs, Dachau is a concentration camp located in southern Germany that was built with the intention of holding political prisoners. Naturally, it expanded to include forced labour and the imprisonment of any other population that was deemed unworthy of freedom at the time.

Walking through the preserved grounds of this particular concentration camp sent such intense chills through my entire body it felt as though my entire being was being frozen from the inside out. Among the things you see initially when you enter through the gates are the cement pads representing each building where those who were held as prisoners would have inhabited. Once you make it past all the symbolic pads, you reach a handful of the preserved buildings. The sleeping quarters looked like a summer camp cabin from hell. As someone who is intimately familiar with how uncomfortable a regular thin mattress on those wooden frames can be, I was immediately upset knowing that the wooden frames with a bit of straw would have seemed like heaven when they were finally allowed to stop working long enough to sleep. As the warmest spot would be in the middle, jamming between two to three other people all sharing the same level of the bunk is a price one may have to pay to avoid the frost that would inevitably sneak in.

When you’re able to tear yourself away from the sleeping quarters, you can walk through the shower area. Knowing that the room you’re standing in is the same spot where thousands of people have died is overwhelming. As I stood in there, I was overcome with so many emotions it was hard to untangle them. I wanted nothing more than to throw up at the thought that this was done to so many innocent lives. I wanted to scream about the injustices of the world – past, present, and future – and I wanted nothing more than to cry and mourn the lives of every single person who was lost in that camp. My soul has never ached so much for lives I would never know.

It gets worse as you make your way out of the building. There is an area that looks as though it may be a nice patch of greenery for people to enjoy, but things are not as easy as that when walking through a concentration camp. This patch of greenery is where prisoners were lined up to be shot and discarded until someone was sent to move them. Where were they moved to? The giant furnace that would have been kept burning all year round. As I looked at those close to me who were walking with loved ones and peers, I couldn’t help but think about the horrifying event of being told to go and collect the bodies from the morning’s shootout only to come across the body of someone you cared about. The damage done, not only in the physical pain that was caused, but also the mental suffering that these individuals were put through is absolutely soul-crushing.

The last area shook me to my core. Near the back, far from the main gate, was the chapel. It seemed almost like a rude and unusual punishment to provide the camp and those who were there the opportunity to attend and be present in a chapel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I would be up for praying to a God. How are you supposed to celebrate over the word of God and deal with the mentally scarring endeavours that have been carried about? For many, holding onto their faith and trying to maintain a sense of community with cultural ties is what gave them the strength needed to continue to push through the horrifyingly long event – knowing that even in all the uncertainty, someone was looking out for them.

I don’t know if I would have it in me to turn towards a higher power to look for guidance, strength, and protection while going through the motions of those horrifying days. Seeing those around you perish in unspeakable ways, just because those in charge have decided they don’t like you.

Taking the time to remember and reflect is something that is challenging to do at the best of times. Being forced to stare at the preserved buildings and having no other choice but to reflect on one of the darkest portions of the world’s history was almost impossible. I will never forget the feelings of despair and the longing for things to be better, knowing that these injustices are not just a token in the past. Remember those who fought to cease them, and remember those who fought every day, trying to survive long enough to escape.

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