Tuesday, October 12, 2010
October 12—“Arbeit Macht Frei”
Today was our visit to Dachau concentration camp. When we arrived we couldn’t see the camp right away. We came up to a large building with a gateway tunnel under the 2nd story. In twisted metal were the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work makes you free” in German. This was a torturous joke played by the Germans upon the prisoners. The fact was that it didn’t matter how hard you worked, it would not set you free.
As a group, we went through the black iron gate. The moment I entered the camp I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This place was real. After a brief prayer, everyone placed flowers at the memorial wall that had the dates 1933-1945. We walked through the museum where pictures and description of living conditions were posted. Next we walked through replication barracks. They were built originally to hold 200 prisoners; by the end of the war, 2,000 were crammed into each building.
On the other side of camp was the crematorium. The ovens for cremation were still intact…and open. It felt difficult to breathe as I looked into the dark spaces where so many bodies were burned. In 1945 the 101st airborne more or less “stumbled” upon the camps. Mr. Wilson Coldwell entered Dachau with his company in total shock. He explained that you couldn’t believe something this horrible existed unless you saw it yourself. He described the greeting from the prisoners. They were hungry; they were frail; they were barely holding on to life and yet so overjoyed to see their American liberators.
Near the end of our day, we walked outside the walls of Dachau where we listened to Sister Irmengard Schuster and the sisters of the convent sing their prayer chants. It provided time for reflection and prayer. Seeing the pictures of frail, almost lifeless bodies was haunting. How was it to actually see it with your own eyes? Mr. Colwell says he carries the images with him every day. It’s something he can’t forget. I think about today and I am so incredibly grateful for the free life I live. I live freely, not in fear of losing my life. I walk in joy because of Christ and what he has given me . . . my life.