Dachau: A Photographic Essay
T ry as it might, the clouds would not allow the early morning sun to break through and shine some rays of warmth down on the cold grounds below known as Dachau — as if to preserve the memories of the atrocities which occurred there greater than 65 years prior to my visit.
The driving wind of that dreary early November morning sliced through my skin and bones with a chill which I have never before felt; and yet it seemed completely appropriate on that morning.
Arbeit macht frei was the empty welcome I received from the wrought iron gate, which was ajar as though it awaited my arrival. Greeting visitors with an outright lie of “Work will set you free” set the tone at Dachau — unless being set free meant to die a horribly vicious death simply because of your beliefs; your genealogy; your being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I slowly walked through the gate with nary another soul around; the grinding crunch of pebbles resonated under my feet with each step I took. My imagination began to overtake the moment with visions of thousands of people who slaved at the brutal commands of the Nazi officers. No job was too unreasonable; no living conditions too inhumane. Everything was too good for those who suffered at the hands of men who were no more than murderous savages in uniform of a well-oiled and precise machine, who obeyed every order conferred upon them — as well as take matters into their own hands to exact their own unique discipline — upon those who had the audacity and temerity of simply being different.
The barbed wire which wrapped around the complex — rusting and weathered — seemed to refuse to relent to letting go of the history of this notorious compound where people senselessly died. It was as if it was embracing the vestiges of senseless barbarity.
I could swear that the shadows of ghosts of the guards who once occupied the towers were still keeping a lookout for any suspicious activity.
There was a brick building surrounded by manicured landscaped grounds — a peaceful setting indeed…
…and yet the greenery and the fall colors of the leaves gave an ironic aura to the contrast of the gas chambers and ovens which it housed and protected from the elements.
I heard them scream. I watched some of them switch lines when the guards were not looking. I saw the details of their veins and bones through their pale paper-thin skin; weak bodies losing their last ounce of energy as the gas emanated from the ceiling instead of water for their showers…
…and yet the men were still shoving bodies into the ovens as nonchalantly as though they were pizzas.
What kind of perverted sadism could cause a man; a community; a race; a country; a people as a whole to coordinate in unison in the creation of the death factory which became known as Dachau? How in the world could any man find it in his heart to subject even one human being to such severe torture, injury and eventual death?…
…and yet the clouds and the barbed wire hang on to those last lingering memories of the cleansing of a country of those people who simply were not as good — not fit enough to conform to the self-imposed superiority of who would in reality be the most inferior of men.
It was at that moment that a warm droplet emerged from my eye, which was welled up to the point where my vision was practically useless. A tepid tear-trickled trail temporarily replaced the bitterly cold stinging of my cheek as it was subjected to the relentless persistence of the callously frozen wind, which was seemingly working in conjunction with the clouds and the barbed wire to preserve what they can of the triumph of that temporarily empty victory of long ago on that eerily quiet, lonely morning…
…and preserve they did. Breanna Mitchell from the United States came up with the brilliant idea last July to take a photograph of herself smiling while at Auschwitz, which similarly to Dachau is a concentration camp but located in Poland instead of Germany. As a result of that photograph, people from all over the world wanted to know what kind of respect — or lack thereof — is that to demonstrate for the victims of the Holocaust.
I certainly could not smile on that November morning at Dachau…
…but at least there are currently millions of people of the Jewish faith who have the freedom to celebrate Pesach, or the holiday of Passover. This article is especially dedicated to you…
…and I intend to post more photographic essays in the future of my visit to Dachau.
In the meantime: never again — for anyone.
Please click here for additional photographs of Dachau. All photographs ©2006 by Brian Cohen.