A Thank You from the Past
There are moments of time that stand out more clearly than the moments that surround them. This post is about just such a moment.
I am an old Army wife. During my husband’s Army time, I saw parts the world I might have otherwise missed. I have an abundance of stories from our travels, and eventually I might share them all. As Memorial Day approaches, I felt it was appropriate to share this moment and remember.
We were overseas at a time when embassies were being bombed, and security was just beginning to tighten, in the late 1990s. We were encouraged to be aware of our surroundings, to be careful at all times, and to be observant.
Since Germany is so centrally located in Europe, groups frequently made weekend trips to shop, explore and learn. It was on one of these trips that I went with a group of Army wives to the Dachau concentration camp just outside Munich.
It is a part of German history that the locals don’t like to talk about, but World War II evidence can be found just walking past a local church or building. The country is steeped in history much older than any American city. In most cities, you could still see the damage caused by bullets and mortars from a war before our time on the facades of the huge stone churches and only begin to imagine what transpired nearly 60 years earlier.
Being in that culture makes you want to delve into the history of what our troops went through in an earlier time. Learning from our past we can better understand our present and hopefully not make the same mistakes in our future.
The camp opened in 1933 shortly after Hitler became Chancellor. The camp was designed to house political prisoners, and it was the model for all the other camps that came afterward. In it’s 12 years of operation over 200,000 people were imprisoned, and over 40,000 were murdered. It was also known as a “school of violence” for the SS in training.
Walking through the exhibits and grounds literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. You could feel the sadness and devastation, even 55 years later.
From 1959 until 2009 memorials and exhibits were added to the site. In 1967, both the Protestant Church of Reconciliation and Jewish Memorial was erected.
On the path between these two memorials, I noticed an old Polish man in a wheelchair with a blanket across his legs. He had his caregiver wheel him up to where we were standing. He began speaking rapidly in Polish and his caregiver, with a tear in her eye translated. I remember standing there in amazement while what she said sank in; he wanted to thank the Americans and our husbands, the US Army and all who gave their lives and served to free him from the death camp. He said he owed his life to the Americans. He shook our hands, and then his caregiver rolled his wheelchair on down the path. The whole exchange took less than 5 minutes, and it forever changed me.
That was one of the most humbling encounters of my life, and seeing how it affected that little old man, one person. Reading about the experience of those interred there and seeing the actual site was one thing, seeing the gratitude, tears and emotion of what our men and women fight for every day, priceless.
In Dachau and other camps millions of lives were devastated. To stand in its confines and see the bullet holes in the stone walls, I will never understand how anyone can believe it didn’t happen.