The Cranky Ol' Bat

Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! - RuPaul


60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Dachau

I haven't really heard much about this on the news. I like to think I've just been watching the wrong channel, and not that the importance of this day has been forgotten.

Dachau was the hardest place to visit when I went to Germany about three years ago. It is hard to describe it fully to someone who has never been there.

My most vivid memory of Dachau is that I have never felt so cold in my entire life as I did walking the grounds and going into the few buildings still standing. I know it wasn't particularily chilly or windy that day compared to the other days I was in Germany, but somehow it went right to the bone.

The Jet Set Brother and I had little headsets that related what happened at the different stops. It was difficult to listen to, but you knew it was important to hear the whole thing. Believe me, it's not like when you are reading about it in a history book in your school library. Standing there, it all becomes very real. The ghosts and spirits are still there, and if you don't feel their presence when you walk across the grounds, you're not human.

Amazingly enough, there were people who were imprisoned when the camp started in 1933 who survived until the liberation in 1945. Their stories, and the stories of other inmates are described on the tape and in the exhibits.

The liberators who came to Dachau 60 years ago today found 30 railroad cars stuffed with bodies in various stages of decomposition. Some of the American troops were so shocked and appalled that they shot two groups of SS officers in retaliation. They forced the neighboring townpeople to bury the dead. Although the locals claimed not to have known what happened there, the museum showed pictures of parades mocking the inmates during the time the camp was open.

It will never be known how many victims died at Dachau. Some of the prisoners were exhaustively documented by the Nazis (such as the Jews), and others were considered such untermenschen they were taken straight to their death in the ovens and firing squads without even recording their names (like the captured Red Army soldiers).

Things I'll never forget....the absence of birdsong, as if even the pigeons and sparrows were mourning the lives lost....the almost pretty spot, all leafy and sunny by the camp wall, where so many Russian officers were shot.....and the guard tower gate where others decided to make a run for it when they couldn't take their imprisonment any more. (The recording said that none of them made it. Somehow, I think that all of them made it to freedom even though they never crossed the gate. If there is a God, I hope he gave them the mercy they never knew there.)

There's a work of art to memorialize the victims inside Dachau, and that was the one place I finally cried. Never again, it says. I thought of my mother's relatives who lost their lives in the camps, and wondered if any of my father's relatives died too. (We're not Jewish, but on both sides we're descended from a lot of troublemakers. The Nazis and their allies didn't need much of an excuse to send someone to the camps.)

Even when we crossed the gate and left the camp, what we saw and learned stayed with us. My brother and I are normally talkative, but neither one of us could say anything for about an hour. The rest of the day I alternated between anger and wanting to cry. I didn't cry. I was afraid I would never stop if I started.

So, tonight, I light a candle and hope that my lost relatives and the other victims have found peace.


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