The Author

Dachau

My son and I recently walked the grounds and wandered the buildings of the World War II Nazi concentration camp outside of Dachau, Germany. Other than tourists listening either to human guides or handheld recordings, little interrupted the quietness of the place.

Today’s entrance to Dachau is different from the days when trains pulled in by the boxcar loads to deposit prisoners at the gate that still says, in English translation, “work results in freedom.” Now, busloads of sightseers are dropped at the curb near the visitors center. A scenic walk on crushed rock spread beneath trees leads one down a shady path to the entrance to the Nazi’s model camp, the first in a long line of places designed to eliminate anyone considered “tainted.”

Once inside the gate, the parade grounds silently witness to the evil that stalked the prisoners. A single line of barracks, the administration building, a building for captives of special rank, and a hall that was used for torture and obscene medical experiments are the first to greet the eye. In a grove of trees, out of sight but never far from mind, is the building that housed the showers used to deliver poison gas to inmates and the incinerators that sought to destroy the evidence. Surrounded by a reconstructed electric fence that has the potential to administer fifty thousand volts to anyone attempting escape and watched over by a guard tower, an orderly discipline stands sentinel over this place.

In the twelve years of its existence, the Nazis imprisoned almost 200,000 men and murdered at least 30,000 of them. After the war, the Germans tried to raze the facility, seeking to erase it from our collective memory. They almost succeeded. Only the outcry of survivors and victims’ families prevented Dachau from descending into the abyss of rumors.

Outside the fence stand three churches, Protestant, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox. None of them were there during those terrible years. Their presence is a confession of the sinfulness of silence in the presence of evil; a commitment to stand alongside the weak, the vulnerable, the despised, the tainted; a reminder to the church of the Crucified and Resurrected Lord that, if we don’t stand with these, evil will surely win.