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Holocaust Remembrance Day - Reflection for January 29

posted Jan 30, 2015, 11:39 AM by Parish Administrator

January 27, 2015 -- National Holocaust Remembrance Day


It was a cold January day in 2001 when I arrived at the site of the former concentration camp at Dachau.  


I will never forget the stillness, the barbed wire, the crematorium, or the mantra that kept repeating in my head: People did this; real people actually did this. 


Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp, opened by Heinrich Himmler in 1933 to house 5000 prisoners, specifically, political enemies of the National Socialist German Workers Party. 

From 1933 to 1945 over 200,000 documented prisoners (and thousands more undocumented ones) were sent to this camp: political prisoners, Romani immigrants, prisoners of war, homosexuals, several thousand Roman Catholic clergy, and over 10,000 Austrian and German Jews.  Prisoners were subjected to forced labor, medical experimentation, and starvation.  

Dachau was a very small prototype and model for the bigger death camps - Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor,Treblinka, and the hundreds of other facilities that became part of the Nazi extermination machine.  Dachau was the beginning.


On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I found myself thinking about the privilege of free speech.  I value the first amendment to our Constitution and I am so grateful for it when I hear of protests against and arrests of writers and artists who express themselves.  At the same time, I worry about the spread of "hate speech" in our culture.  It is insidious. 


The Nazi message came to permeate all aspects of the culture of its time, until there was

no other voice to be heard.  When that message of hate gets loud enough, it dominates philosophy, contaminates science, until all things begin to defend the ideology. My pictures of Dachau remind me that the propaganda of isolation, stigmatization and dehumanization was fostered by the power of radio and film. The message that some lives are more worthy, more valuable than others' continues to give justification to war and mass murder all around the world.


It makes me wonder if I am listening.  It makes me ask "what is true about race and poverty in my country?"   Is the message we're receiving about race and poverty like the lie told at the gate of Dachau: "Arbeit Macht Frei" - "Working Harder Will Make You Free"?  Small, insidious lies sparked the beginning of the Nazi reign of terror.  Perhaps having the courage to tell ourselves the truth about ourselves and our country would spark the beginning of something better.