Memories of a Concentration Camp

Autumn at Lake Macbride

Editor’s Note: This is a post written in 2012. I am reposting because of the rise in authoritarianism and extreme right-wing politics. We should never forget the Holocaust.

In 1974 I visited the site of the former concentration camp near Dachau. In the museum space I saw film footage of bulldozers pushing piles of emaciated dead people into mass graves. That memory persists. There were artifacts from the camp, including clothing, footwear, and a host of morbid items, like candles made from people, and lamp shades made with human skin. The people who ran the camp were sick, as much for the idea of a pogrom as for all of the weird things they did as experiments on humans and their physical being.

Then, it was hard to believe the people of Dachau did not know what was going on within those walls. Perhaps the people of Dachau were more like us than we know. Today, I am prepared to believe some didn’t know about the camp the same way people in Big Grove don’t pay much attention to neighbors, except for pleasantries in the yard or on the street, and if one is doing something noxious that is detected by others. Despite all the paranoia about government taking peoples’ rights, we live and let live in American society, to a large extent.

At the same time, there is a type of intolerance that is wide-spread in Iowa, noticeable when talking to someone at their front door in neighborhoods around the state. It has nothing to do with membership in the National Socialist, or any political party.

The horror of the final solution surpasses anything else of which I am aware. In the ranking of gruesome, Rwanda’s genocide, seems equally brutal, and maybe it is because I have read recently about it. A person can occupy oneself with reading like this only so much.

Considering the fact of Dachau and the final solution, I don’t understand why anyone would characterize other Americans as member of the National Socialist Party. It is ridiculous to believe it, except for the case of a few fringe groups. The horror of the final solution is diminished each time we refer to it as a comparative to something much less evil. Such rhetoric diminishes us personally as well.

For me, visiting Dachau was enough to cure me of the use of this hyperbole.