Holocaust Remembrance: A pilgrimage to Dachau

Memorial Sculpture from Dachau photo by Benjamin Pratt for ReadTheSpirit and Day1

By BENJAMIN PRATT

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am contributing a poem that captures the devastating awareness we all share of what happened in the Shoah—written after a recent journey I made to Dachau. My hope is that all of us—Jews and non-Jews—will continue to spread the message: “Never again!”

KZ Dachau began as a Nazi slave camp in 1933 behind the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei gate (“Freedom Through Work”) and provided slave labor to Nazi industry. Dachau became the “Academy of Terror,” the role-model and training ground for the vast network of Nazi concentration camps. It was not primarily a death camp although many died there. What distinguished Dachau is that almost everything that happened in the system as a whole happened at some level there: human medical experiments, slave labor, torture, mass executions and transport of Jewish prisoners to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Nearly every category of victim was represented there from 30 countries: German dissidents, Polish and Russian civilians, priests, clergy, Roma “gypsy” peoples, Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, to name a few.

Words can never capture the horror of Dachau. My few words in this poem are my response—in the hope that many others will revive the story on such international memorial dates. (Read Stephanie Fenton’s column to find out about other remembrance dates.) I am grateful to have shared the experience with another traveler in our group: Jeanne Whisnant, a retired librarian and teacher from North Carolina.

What Color Is Dachau?

Gate into KZ DachauShards of grey despair
still float
in the air of Dachau,
bouncing off bleak, black
monuments
and murky, white
Walls.

I do not even say:
“What can one say?”
I find myself standing near another visiting stranger,
whom I recognize from the train.
We are, both of us, overwhelmed.
How to speak within such a place––
sighs too deep for
Words

Grey stones fill the footprints
of the quarters of the enslaved,
marking where hunger devoured men and women
whose elegies were
Smoke.

Her name: “Jeanne.”
As strangers do in brief connection
we had chatted on the train.
There are no words now.
She stands, head bowed,
looking down at those grey
Stones.

We have been seared by the photographs.
Dachau’s slaves, their eyes cast down, too—like ours.
No, not like ours. We know.
We are only visitors.
We pilgrims, looking at evil’s bewildering chaos
from such a distance—
looking, open-mouthed, at photographs black and
White.

Her soul mirrors mine.
I move closer and slowly
put arms around her.
Two strangers yearning to subdue our
vision of inflicted evil.
We shake as we weep.
The grey stones beneath us
speckle shiny black from our
Tears.

We lift our heads to discover
white clouds, blue sky,
which might be hope’s color.
Yes, a yearned for
hope to subdue our bewilderment
our grey despair,
at such evil, such loss,
that empties us completely and
drains the stones of
Color.

BENJAMIN PRATT

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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