My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (8) Dachau
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Friday, July 2
Though Munich was one of the high points of the tour for me, it also carried the darkest note. The morning after we arrived, we visited the concentration camp Dachau. The mood was solemn as our bus made the short drive there. Johannes gave us a brief intro, and played a song some of the Jews had composed about life there, and their hopes for survival and a better life. It was a slow march, sung in German.
Once we arrived, we were shown a film about the camp. It turned out many of the residents of Munich had no idea what was going on, and only found out after the war! I find that hard to believe; most likely they knew and were too afraid of the Nazis to acknowledge it.
Then we toured the grounds. The bunks only had a few feet clearance above each one, and there was a small cloistered eating area. Some of the crematoriums were preserved, hidden inside a building. Everywhere were signs describing life there, how the situation was made as unbearable as possible. There was a museum with huge photographs of the prisoners working, being tortured, and used for medical experiments. What really creeped me out was that I knew Billy Joel’s father had been in Dachau, and I wondered if he was in any of the photographs.
I went totally numb. I think most of the others did, too. I saw Jennifer quietly weeping as she walked through the site; everyone else was stone-faced. I wondered if she’d had any relatives there, or if any of them had been in the Holocaust, but I felt too uncomfortable to ask. I think most people go numb during horrific events. I understand Anne Frank didn’t; while in Auschwitz, she would weep while seeing people waiting their turn to enter the gas chambers.
When we left Dachau, Johannes stood at the front of the bus and solemnly told us, “You all saw the sign at the exit that said, “Never Again”. May this worst chapter in history never repeat itself. Now, let us put this behind us and enjoy our freedom.”
It was jarring, returning to the boisterous beer-guzzling, street musician filled town of Munich under a clear blue sky, surrounded by a warm summer day. Jennifer disappeared immediately, and the others dispersed. I drowned my guilt with beer.
The impact didn’t hit me until that night, though I was no longer even in Germany. I couldn’t sleep; the images of Dachau kept filling my mind. When I finally dozed off, I had nightmares; in one, I needed to take a shower, and the only one available was this nasty decrepit tiny stall painted yellow. When I went in, I found a miniature adult skeleton sitting near the top of the shower head. The other nightmare wasn’t set in Europe, but in it, I was being followed by a guy with criminal intent.
I had roomed with Chris’ mother and aunt. The next morning, I told them about the nightmares, and they answered, “Oh – you must be a thinker instead of a feeler.” It turned out they hadn’t had any bad dreams; soon as they left Dachau, they were able to put it behind them. Perhaps they were already familiar with that sort of thing, or maybe it would catch up with them later.
I started ruminating on it, which I have a tendency to do. They told me to cut it out, and enjoy the rest of my tour of Europe. “That was nearly 40 years ago, and they’re doing their best to make up for it. Just stay alert and make sure nothing like that happens in the US,” they said.
I remembered the warning Johannes had given me in Berlin, and made up my mind to become more politically aware once I got home.
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas