Understanding What it Means to be Human: A Visit to Dachau

There I sat, twenty minutes on a train, anxiously waiting for my stop where I would exit, get on a bus and get off at the Dachau stop.  I sat twiddling my thumbs, thinking about all the movies I had seen about World War II and concentration camps.  I was nervous and felt a little guilty that I was spending a Sunday afternoon giving attention to such a horrific, historic event.

The bus was quiet, yet crowded.  Everyone seemed to look as if they were anxious about visiting Dachau.  Some people closed their eyes as if they were praying.  Others held hands.  Some quietly joked to break the silence.

Apartments lined the street leading up to Dachau.  People were going about their usual Sunday, taking the kids to the park, grocery shopping, and going on a run.  It was just another day in Germany.  For me, it was the day I realized how precious human life is.

The words “Arbeit mach frei” welcomed me to the camp.  “Work will make you free.”  I walked through the camp in silence.  It was just how the movies portrayed it.  A dreary, open space with buildings, or barracks, and a crematory in the distance.  The stories of survivors, victims, soldiers, and leaders were written on the walls of the museum.

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Standing in the middle of the camp made my heart pound.  I felt like I was reliving a nightmare I hadn’t been part of.  But the next minute, I felt a sense of relief.  A sense of relief that these memorials exist to ensure this will never happen again.  I was reminded of how precious life is and how grateful I am to get up and go to work each day, live in a safe neighborhood and not fear my government.

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As I walked in silence down the gravel road lined with tall green trees, I could hear it all.  All the stories.  Those who survived.  Those who tried to escape.  Those who were separated from their families.  Those who died.  Those who murdered.  Those who felt like they had no choice but to follow the leads of their government.  The trees told a story too.  Once, barren and skinny, now full grown and green symbolizing the Germany of today.

When I reached the end of the gravel path, ending my time at Dachau, I prayed for the first time in ages. And wondered how such a thing could happen.  The silence seemed to get quieter and I slowly walked out of the camp, suddenly understanding what it means to be a human being on this earth.