Article by Barbara Cornell.
Syndicated from Barbara Cornell’s personal blog.
I felt a tiny little stab of pride in my just-beginning-to-bud German skills as we drove through the gates, and I could make out the meaning: «Arbeit Macht Frei.» «Work will make you free.» The lie in the words, however, would not be clear to me for several more years. I’d been told we would be stopping off to visit the concentration camp on our way home, we would be passing through Munich and my father thought we needed to see it. Another stop on our DoD financed tour of Europe as far as I was concerned. But I loved the harsh, guttural, Germanic sound of the place…»Dachau.» That raspy sound, entirely foreign to American English, was new and exciting to me.
It was a hateful, adolescent attitude I learned to regret that day.
I’m sure I’ve witnessed the mercury far lower in the thermometer, but that was by a huge margin the coldest day, ever. My two sweatshirts, jeans, «longhandles,» coat and two pairs of gloves still were pierced by the winds that howled across the gray, bleak, open courtyard still bearing the footprints of the barracks designed to house 5,000, which, at their peak, hosted 32,000 prisoners at a time. In just a few minutes, the condensation from my breath froze on the scarf pulled across my nose and mouth into a block of ice, chapping my face and lips. Later, we would return to find the doors of the car frozen shut, not from moisture, simply from the cold…perhaps from grief.
I’d seen the pictures, the films, read the testimony, but I’d never really seen it before. My reading of Ann Frank’s Diary had left me mostly with feelings about peeling potatoes. But standing in the bitter cold, it struck me. These people had stood right here, worked right here in their emaciated bodies and their rags, their unclad feet, and their terror. The bitterness of damnation pierced me. The ovens used to cook the victims had wreaths on them; mourning wreaths, but more like Christmas wreaths, and I despised their cheerfulness. How dare they make merry in this place?
When getting ready to leave, I looked at the art constructed at the entrance; a monstrous horror of a representation. Iron mangling of impossibly thin, crushed, screaming bodies and over them the words: «Niemal Wieder!»
This time, I felt no pride as I made out their meaning, only the imploring of God’s creation. Dear God, let it be so.
Niemal Wieder — Never again!