This Can Never Happen Again…

May the example of those who were terminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in defense of their fellow men.

That was the quote I read upon entering Dachau concentration camp this past weekend. The camp itself was almost too beautiful to believe that such horrific acts occurred on its’ grounds. Dachau was the first concentration camp in all of Europe, constructed in 1933 on the cusp of World War II. It was such a “success” that similar camps were rapidly built all over Europe, modeled after Dachau.

Thousands of Jews passed through this gate during that time, as it was the only entrance into the camp. The quote “Arbeit macht Frei” means “Work makes you free”. Quite ironic, as those who passed through it would soon be worked to death- which perhaps was freedom compared to this sort of confinement.

This statue represents the bodies of the Jews who were killed, their bodies mangled and piled on top of one another. To either side in the back, you can see the rows of barracks where the prisoners dwelled.

This tree-lined path wove between the representative “graves” of the prisoners. Since most bodies were cremated or removed from the premises, the graves don’t actually have bodies buried in them. The sheer size of the graves, however, made me realize just how large a cemetery would be needed if all the bodies had been given proper burial.

A gas “showerhead”, where prisoners were told they could get clean, right before gas rained down upon them, invading their throats and choking any future words.

Goosebumps. My entire being was impacted by the way I was forced to think and reflect on such unimaginable atrocities. “What would I have done?” “Would I have stood up to the Nazis?” “Would I have turned a blind eye to the things I saw?”

I don’t know. I want to think I would have grounded myself in the compassion I base my character upon, but I’m sure there were many good, kind-hearted people who found themselves swept up in the regime, simply because it was what you were supposed to do.

Here is the watchtower and ditch, used to keep the prisoners from throwing themselves into the fence.

As I crouched with my lens pointed away from the camp, a man came up to me and asked what I was photographing. I showed him this white balloon, right outside the camp. As I walked away, I saw him crouch in the spot I’d just occupied.

I kept getting left behind during the tour, trying to get each moment captured on camera. The other guy in the group with a gigantum camera was having the same problem. As we were both taking pictures of this tree, he asked if I thought the roots looked like hands reaching up from the ground. Kind of morbid, but I can see it. Maybe it’s wrong to say, but there was so many interesting things to photograph inside the camp. Sometimes, there’s unmistakable beauty in sadness.

The next day, we went to Mauthausen concentration camp. I know, a double dose of concentration camps all in one weekend. It was quite heavy, I must say.

Outside the giant walled fortress was this pool, where the S.S. guards were able to enjoy a refreshing dip between torturing human beings. This aspect was actually just obnoxious to me. Really? You’re going to swim? Ugh.

Inside the wall after walking through the main entrance you can see the barracks on the left. Immediately on the right were the kitchen, and further on is where the exterminations took place. Mauthausen was a death camp, unlike Dachau. Although death was obviously still very apparent in Dachau, it was guarantee in Mauthausen. Anyone who stood where I took this picture was essentially headed towards death.

Upon arrival, each person came to the Infirmary, where their valuables were taken. Earrings ripped off, gold teeth yanked out, without anesthetic of course.

They worked from 4:45 AM – 5:45 PM each day, with four spoonfuls of soup every 3 days. Every three days! I will whine to kingdom come if I miss one meal. And I’m not doing hard physical labor for 13 hours a day.

Prisoners who upset the guards or didn’t “fulfill their duties” were placed in solitary confinement, where they awaited their punishment.

The gas chamber. More than 122,000 people were killed at Mauthausen. This is made even more notable by the fact that it was the last concentration camp to open, so these deaths all occurred in a short amount of time. Far less survived than were killed. Women were sent from Auschwitz to be killed here. You get the point… It was a bad, bad place.

Bodies were stacked on one of the many cement floors like this. Upon takeover by U.S. troops at the end of the war, many bodies were found here still in piles because the crematories couldn’t keep up.

The crematories were made for one person at a time; however, as time went on as many as 10 bodies at once were shoved into each.

Those who weren’t sent to the gas chambers faced punishment here. You could almost think this is beautiful, if you didn’t know the history behind the area. Jews were forced to stand in lines at the top of the cliffs. The second person in line pushed the person ahead of him off the cliff, and the process repeated. If they didn’t die from tumbling down the cliffs, they surely drowned at the bottom.

Alternatively, hundreds of Jews a day were forced to carry heavy stones up these stairs (which you can see winding along the far side of the cliffs). When a weak, starving prisoner stumbled on one of the hundreds of narrow steps, they and their rock would tumble down, causing a cascade of death below.

As I walked up the uneven, rocky steps, sun beating down, it was difficult. I am healthy, not starving, and was definitely not carrying a giant rock. I will never, ever truly walk in the shoes of those persecuted during the Holocaust. The best I can do is to not forget their struggles and to educate myself on the evil manipulation of those in power during that time. It’s our duty today to ensure this never happen again.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–                                                                                                                        Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Martin Niemoller


4 thoughts on “This Can Never Happen Again…

  1. Very sobering and profound. Still brings tears to one’s eyes to even think about the depravity of this evil! Thanks so much for sharing your pictures and insights with us! I’m so glad you have had this opportunity!!

  2. Wow Cassie! Thanks for your pictures and the history with them. it really gave me chills reading about those places. i have read quite a bit about the Holocaust and find it so hard to believe something like that could actually ever have happened! And I think the more we all learn about it, the better chance we have to make sure it never happens again. What awesome experiences you are having on this trip!

  3. Very sobering and some profound words you have written Cassie! Brings to mind something I have to remind myself. “The human mind has an unlimited ability to rationalize its actions. Our only way of determining if we are on course is by comparing our actions to God’s word”.
    Thanks for your blog, I’m learning a lot through your eyes!

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