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Wednesday, March 03, 2004


from Kim du Toit
When you walk through the gates of the Dachau concentration camp, two things strike you: the machine-gun towers and the barbed-wire fences. Just inside the fence is the Sperrgebiet, the "forbidden zone" in which you were immediately shot by the SS guards if you trespassed. Many chose to walk there, simply as a means of ending all -- death by SS.

You walk through the simple barracks huts, and the three-tiered bunks seem quite large, until you read that up to three men were required to share each bed at a time.

The camp today is clean, incredibly clean, and empty. Once, it was incredibly clean, and full. Litter or mess of any kind was punished by being hung by the wrists for hours. Now they have janitors.

Only two barrack buildings remain. The other thirty are marked simply by their foundations, which are all that remain. They are laid out in orderly rows, like huge gravestones, which is what they really are. The buildings are gone, and now, most of their inhabitants are gone too. The fortunate ones died early, the less-fortunate ones died after years of pain and torment, and the very fortunate ones were liberated by the U.S. Army.

The crematoria are all gone. The Straflager, the punishment blocks where SS and Gestapo thugs tortured and beat the prisoners, are still there. Empty, scarred concrete walls, and black iron bars.

The emptiness of the camp is, I think, a perfect testament to the emptiness of a soul which would think of building such a camp, and for even thinking of such a purpose for one.

We were there on a bitterly cold day -- flakes of snow, an icy wind, and a simple question came from one of the kids: "Did they have coats?"

Suddenly, The Mrs. started sobbing: great heaving sobs which stopped her in her tracks, and forced her to bend almost double with their power. I held her, and cried too.

After a while, we recovered, and walked on. No, David, they weren't given coats. They were expendable.

At the end of the trip, we turned to the kids and said: "One day, someone may say to you that this never happened. You are here to bear witness that it did. Never, ever allow those lies to take root and spread. Make sure your children know that this happened, too. This cannot be allowed to happen again."
And I thought I couldn't cry anymore.

Also read Kim's "personal message for the wiseguys: the ones who think they're being clever by walking around with their silly little protest signs which read 'Bush = Hitler'" . . . and his "personal promise," which I appreciate.

Thanks to Leah Guildenstern for the tip.