The corpse which had just been removed stared in at me with glazed eyes. Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup.
Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s search for meaning, a book (originally published as Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager) based on his experiences in a concenration camp. The book is a must read for anyone who is interested in a first hand account of events that transpired in numerous concentration camps during the worst days of Nazi rule. Frankl was also the founder of Logotherapy. This and a few other books on the atrocities committed on Jews during the second world war could not, in any way, prepare me for the visit to the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, some 20 odd kms from the city of Munich in the German state of Bavaria.
We (self, Jha, Shailesh, Asmita and Taraka) reached Dachau at a quarter past 11 in the morning on a pleasant Saturday. We saw a documentary that detailed how Dachau and other camps came to exist in the first place and how methodically brutal atrocities were committed in those camps against prisoners. It was a short documentary that left all the viewers stunned. Images tell a thousand words and every image in that documentary was like a piercing arrow. At one point, the narrator said:
“All these people have been victims of man’s cruelty against man”
It was a hard-hitting way to summarize the agonizing torment the prisoners were made to go through!
The camp gate had the inscription, Arbeit macht frei which when translated would mean Work brings freedom. Inside the site premises is a museum that effectively recounts, in chronological order, the dreadful epoch. No words can ever truly capture what human beings went through in those camps!
Many concentration camps were modeled on the lines of Dachau and hence Dachau came to “stand” for all concentration camps established by Nazis. A russian orthodoxy chapel and a church of reconciliation are located inside the site in memory of those who suffered.
The site also houses a grave (Grave of many thousands unknown), crematorium, gas chamber, bunkers and the actual living rooms of the prisoners.In a place meant for a few, hundreds and thousands had suffered! The sight of the waiting roam, disrobing room and the gas chamber in succession, along a line, left me numb.I vividly recollected Frankl at that moment:
“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. Since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”
Until that Saturday morning, I had thought, thanks to the power of imagination, I can imagine what the written words convey. I was grossly mistaken. I realize, imagination has its limits.