What Did It Sound Like?
I knew today would impact me in an unspeakable way, but I felt more than what I had anticipated. Seeing Dachau was more than just an experience that made me feel for the thousands of people that suffered or lost their lives before and during WWII. It was rather an experience to leave me speechless.
For years I've read about the Holocaust. We read books starting from a young age about the deportation of Jewish people to concentration camps. I read books with my students about the Hitler regime, and the events that transpired in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Up until this point, all of that has seemed like a far away issue. An event of the passed that was horrific, but it always felt so distant. Walking into Dachau, reading the iron gate, "Arbeit Macht Frei" which means "Work makes you free" started to bring the events to life and close to home for me.
Dachau was made with the intent of being a work house type prison. In the early years, political criminals were sent here and set to work on creating the camp. Many of them were released for a time. It wasn't until the end of the 1930s that it became a war camp housing prisoners for nefarious reasons.
It became a death camp for the entire duration of the war. When many concentration camps were shut down, Dachau was one of the few to stay open. It ended up housing almost 7 times the amount of prisoners that it was intended to hold. This also meant that the care, treatment, and overall life of the prisoners was very bleak. I could go into gore-ish detail, but I found it hard to stomach for myself all day!
I cannot comprehend it, the cruelty. I cannot imagine treating another human as anything less. It's a hard reality.
We were able to walk about the camp and bare witness to the main buildings: administration, showers, the prison of the prison, the bunks, the roll-call yard, the crematorium, and the gas chambers. It was so dark and desolate that even though the sun was shining bright, it felt as though a cloud of cold rain was upon us.
Walking around the camp, I kept going back to the thought, what did it sound like? We have some pictures to show what everything looked like, along with the sight of the remains, we have verbal accounts and stories that tell us what happened, but we don't realize how much of our experiences come from what we hear around us.
Being in countries where everyone speaks different languages, I've had to overcome a sense of not knowing what's going on around me. I can't gain any information from reading, because it's not in English, and I can't understand people having conversations around me. I feel a bit out of control with this lingering sense of confusion. This has made me realize how much I rely on my sense of hearing to get around and function in the world. I overhear other people talk to get information. I listen to announcements and ask questions to get what I need from others. Take all that away, and you lose some freedom (in a sense).
Now knowing that, take the people whom were forced into camps- many of them brought from other countries, and they probably didn't speak the language of the guards. So they're missing that sense of gaining information from their hearing. Mix that uneasy feeling with all the other sounds of the broken down people around you- it is very hard to imagine the sounds of the camp, along with the fear and confusion that one would feel. Unsettling.
It's an overall sense of being unsettled. That is how I would describe my time at Dachau. Though I'm glad we went. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to bring that piece of history closer to home for myself, it was unsettling. And I hope that someday, the memorial/sign that says "never again" will not only be true here, but all over the world.