Dachau: Our First Destination

_MG_3010Written by John Watters

As much as our welcome dinner was a time for fun and celebration, our initial stop the next day was far more somber. Our visit to Dachau concentration camp made the history of the place immediate and tangible. I don’t think it’s possible or advisable to try to describe the feelings it summoned: Suffice it to say the experience was overwhelming,

One thing I would like to share: You would hardly expect a sentence to begin, “The most beautiful thing I saw at Dachau was,” but among the artifacts on display was a monstrance created by Polish priest-prisoners out of tin cans. Pieces had been painstakingly cut and bent to resemble flames encircling the monstrance’s center, reflecting light into a gleaming aura. It was an amazing creation.

I found this deeply moving. In a place in which their basic needs for survival were going unmet, and their human dignity was being assailed daily by design, the prisoners were compelled toward expressions of art and faith,

Nearby displays told us that from the earliest days of the camp, prisoners maintained their own library. Often it was a place for secret discussions of politics and world events.

Other prisoners wrote poetry, though at most times, any written word was strictly prohibited and punishable. Some resorted to composing and memorizing their work entirely in their heads, not to be put to paper until after the war – if the composer survived.

Music was made by the prisoners, too, usually in secret; in fact there was an entire, illegal prisoner orchestra at one point.

And of course, wherever a scrap of paper and a piece of coal could be found, sketches appeared – art blossoming in the most infertile soil imaginable.

It is easy to despair when contemplating all of the evil that transpired at Dachau and places like it, but these glimpses of the indomitability of the human spirit are also tremendously uplifting. I’m glad to have witnessed both today.

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