On July 21 a small group of us visited Dachau… It’s been two weeks and I still can’t put the experience into words. Haunting, absolutely. Heart-wrenching, without a doubt. Horrifying, intense, heavy, eerie, morbid, deeply unsettling, sorrowful, overwhelming… but also so much more… Soul-drowning, how I imagine you could expect to feel in the world of Harry Potter in the presence of a Dementor… But so much worse. So raw and vivid as if you could feel the weight of EVERY broken soul who had the misfortune of enduring the horrors of Dachau in its operational days as a concentration camp. It was unreal.
It perplexed many why I explicitly sought to make this trip happen with, what they misinterpreted as excitement… It really wasn’t excitement for me, it was an ardent sense of duty, something that needed to be done.
Something I more recently started openly talking about, to the dismay of my family, but with the strong influence of some fantastic professors at BG and classes like Women of the Third Reich and The Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, is my responsibility as a third generation perpetrator. I have direct relatives associated, as many German immigrants do, and with that comes a distinct weight of guilt that I really didn’t understand until this past year. This was one of the huge forces that prompted me to follow through with this program to begin with. I had to make this pilgrimage of sorts because I needed to try to make some amends for the personal guilt I carry for my family.
One of my professors would stress that the feeling of guilt itself is useless, unless it leads to action, prompting you to do something about it… What exactly at this point can you do? Visit, see, acknowledge, FEEL, experience, apologize, never, never, never forget… I did what I could and it by no means expunged me of the entirety of the weight, but I now feel better knowing I personally paid my respects, I apologized, I felt it and I took it with me for the rest of my life.
I walked every step in that camp for the souls lost; I took in everything I could, every inch of mass grave for each individual soul. It doesn’t make up for it now, by any means, but I could walk away and assure them that I will never forget them and I will never let anyone else either.
I play a distinct role in my family because I will more than likely be the last generation to hear from memory our association with WWII. My grandmother is 89 and she holds the last living memories, after her it becomes history. That’s a critical role to assume and I intend on carrying the importance of it all throughout the generations to come, because as I have promised, I will never forget.