HOW ONE PIECE OF ART STAYS WITH YOU
I spent a few hours at Dachau concentration camp, not far from Munich, on a recent trip to Germany. Most of the information here came from our tour guide at the site that day. To my knowledge what she told us is true. Everyone should see this.
This piece contains information that is not appropriate for children.
This is Dachau.
The fence posts are original..the same ones that held in some 200,000 different men between 1933 and 1945. All of them suffered terribly....43,000 of them died.
Dachau was opened at first for political prisoners, then it became a concentration camp for Jewish prisoners and others. So much has been said and written about Dachau so I want to talk briefly about one piece of art that is now part of Dachau the Memorial Site. I want to tell you about this simple statue. It's right near the crematorium.
The original barracks at Dachau have been torn down. There are two re-creations to give us an idea of what they were like.
Wooden bunks like these were built for one man per bed bed, three levels high. They would eventually hold 4 or more each as Dachau became overcrowded. In the main square, several times every day the prisoners had to stand for roll call. Sometimes it would take hours. Each of the trees here marks the end of one of the former barracks buildings.
During the roll call..all prisoners were required to stand absolutely still with their feet together. They had to hold their hands still at their sides, never in their pockets, even in the freezing cold. Their heads had to be held straight ahead, with their eyes down. All buttons had to be fastened. Any violation of any of these requirements would result in punishment. That often meant being hung from a pole for an hour, by their arms, which were tied behind their backs.
They were horribly over-worked and under-fed. Disease was rampant. While there were never mass executions at Dachau itself, there were executions, and prisoners died every day. Take look at the perimeter designed to keep them in.
The gravel area was safe. Any prisoner who stepped onto the grass border was immediately shot by guards in the towers. There is a ditch beyond the grass, then a deadly electrified fence. Even beyond that there's still a wall topped with barbed wire. Prisoners who wanted to end their suffering would simply step onto the grass to be shot. This didn't guarantee death, so some would apparently throw themselves onto the electric fence. This did guarantee death. It apparently inspired this remarkable sculpture that now stands near the main entrance to Dachau. Designed by Nandor Glid and built by a former Dachau prisoner, It is part of what is now called the International Memorial.
Our tour guide said it was called, "Men on the Wire" in honor of those who ended their lives on the electric fence, but I can't find it referred to by that name anywhere.
Profound as that is, it is that simple statue that stays with me. It's called "Unknown Inmate," by Fritz Koelle, and he was apparently an inmate there briefly.
The inscription reads something like "To honor the dead, to warn the living" Notice that the man is standing with his head up and slightly to the side, his eyes straight ahead. His feet are apart and not pointed straight ahead, his hands are in his pockets and some buttons are undone. These are simple things that any of us can do any time. During his time as an inmate, any man who did any of these things during that roll call would be tortured, maybe even killed.
This man in the statue, this former inmate, does all of them with no concern.
Dachau was liberated in April, 1945 by American forces.
We'll talk again soon.
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