Life in Germany; Life at Dachau
I am Brad Henderson. I teach children from grades K-6 at Rebecca Creek Elementary School in Spring Branch, Texas; about 30 miles north of San Antonio.
I am also a retired U.S. Army officer, once stationed in Germany. We lived in Walsfishchbach, a small village in the Rhineland-Pfalz palatinate, in Southwest Germany.
It is there we met Frau Schreiner, our landlady. We lived in the house
that was her childhood home. Frau Schreiner was a special lady, who loved
to share her knowledge of the village and the local area. She also told
us what it was like to be a young girl in Germany in the Second World
War, when the Nazis came. Our American history books never had spoken
from the German point of view.
When school was finished, young Elizabeth stayed behind. After the soldiers departed, the teacher told her, "Just take out a good book and put it inside the cover. They will never know!"
Frau Schreiner also remembers the day the Nazis came to take the Jewish families away. Trucks rolled into the village streets, right in front of the houses. The soldiers called for the Jewish families to get on board the trucks. When the people asked where they were going, the soldiers said they were taking them to a safe place. "Wait!", one woman said, "while I pack a few things."
The soldier replied, "Where you're going, you won't need them!" The families loaded into the trucks, and the Nazis carried them away. The villagers waved farewell to their Jewish friends. They never saw them again. It left a feeling of guilt that Frau Schreiner carried the rest of her life. "How could we be so STUPID?" I answered, "Frau Schreiner, you didn't know. All the news was controlled in those days." And so it was. She remembered how the family would huddle in the darkness around the radio, which was turned down low. They strained their ears to hear a forbidden Allied radio broadcast, listening prayerfully. . .waiting for news of when the Americans were coming.
One year, we hosted my wife's family for a summer visit. We enjoyed playing "Guido the Guide", showing our Texas families the foods, the sights, and the sounds of Germany.
We decided to travel to Bavaria, and explore the castles there. On the way, we stumbled on the town of Dachau. I remembered from my history lessons, that there had been a concentration camp there. The family was hungry from our five-hour trip, but we decided to visit the restored concentration camp (a museum operated today by survivors) and have lunch later. In those days, the Germans were so ashamed about what had happened there, that we could not get any information or directions. We finally inquired at the local police station, and were given directions to the camp.
Dachau was one of the original concentration camps and as such, became a model for those to follow. It is a tragic irony that this place with its high walls and barbed wire, was entered through iron gates which contained the phrase, "Arbeit Macht Frei"; "Work Makes One Free". Inside the main (administrative) building, the visitor is carefully guided along a path that begins with information about how the Nazis came to power in those early days. Further, the visitor learns about the rise of Adolph Hitler. Later, visitors see photos of the "Kristallnacht", when Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed by the thousands in one terrible night. "Kristallnacht" ("Crystal Night") was so named because there was so much glass from the broken windows on the streets. There were bonfires made from the furnishings of people's homes, and books from libraries and businesses. Truth, liberty, and human dignity were scorched on that night. Dachau was also the place where medical pesonnel performed experiments to see what kinds of extremes human beings can endure; heat, cold, etc. That is all I will say, except that the accounts of the day verify what the terrible photographs show.
As the path expires, visitors are given choices of exhibits. We saw a reconstructed barracks building, designed to house 57 persons. The typical occupancy was around 400. The bunk beds were built five beds high, and seemed to go on forever in that small building. What little space remained was likely absorbed by people standing and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder; for days, weeks, and months at a time. Only the extremely fortunate and strong of will could measure their lifetime beyond months.
We saw the showers, but they did not put out water. They put out gas.
We saw the ovens, but they did not make bread.
We saw the places where thousands of souls were buried together. I can only tell you that to this day, the most beautiful of flowers grow there.
It is interesting to note that often, school children enter the building laughing and giggling at what they see around them. As they progress through the displays, their faces change; by the end of their walking tour, they are quiet and sober.
Our paths inside and outside were completed at a courtyard on which rests a stone of granite. On it in German, are these words: "Never Again".
Our family departed that place out the gate from which we entered. We did not have lunch that day. We were not hungry anymore.