I went to Dachau alone. I went with a walking tour, with nine tourists and one guide and myself, but I was alone because I didn't talk to them. Well, I didn't talk to the other tourists but when the guide asked us questions and Paula Deen's doppelgänger said stupid things, I talked to the guide so that he could have a little faith in at least one American's knowledge of Dachau. But I went to Dachau alone and I didn't talk to anyone. I have my camera and my hair is messy and I am wearing a hat, but I can't enter this place with my hat on and I put it in my backpack. I brought my camera but I've already seen the pictures of this place; why desecrate the memory further with my pictures? I follow behind the tour, trailing them, imagining… We walk toward the gate, which isn't the real gate; it is a replica because the real gate was destroyed so that maybe no one would realize Dachau was a camp when it was liberated. A flash; Paula's doppelgänger took a picture of her husband at the gate, smiling. I follow behind the tour and take a picture myself, a picture of the tour in their loose line of clothed, warm, healthy bodies, because all these people with me are voluntarily entering a camp and I wonder if they understand yet the pain seeped into the dirt that they are walking over? "Arbeit Macht Frei," I want to vomit because I already know about the cruelty of those words. I take a picture while the guide asks if we know what it means. It means people were worked to death here, I know. It means, "Work sets you free." I take a picture because this is the first thing thousands and thousands and tens of thousands of people saw when they entered the Dachau complex. This is where prisoners stood for hours during roll call. There is another group in the center of the plain. I wonder if they know how many people collapsed from exhaustion or cold or hunger where they stand. I am furious. I understand, I think, but my skin is boiling. It's just a sweatshirt, they're just silhouettes, but who does this child think he is how can he wear this does he understand he is sitting on the stand where prisoners were whipped and there are voluptuous, naked women on his sweatshirt? Does he care? Teenagers on field trips are the same in every country. I've seen these trees in pictures before, the trees that line the path to the yard. Tall trees, skinny trees, now they are dead trees. In those pictures, though, the barracks still stood and the trees had leaves and skeletons walked past them. But I've seen these trees before and they've seen things I can barely imagine. I take a picture because there was a man (there were many men) who walked up to this wall and unlatched this little metal box and pulled the handle and put a canister of Zyklon B into the container and closed the container and what the F*** men women and children screamed and vomited and cried and choked and suffocated and then died. And those many men could hear all of this and then they would watch a new line of men women and children walk into the building and then put a new canister into the little metal box. I take a picture and walk into the brausebad and it's completely dark and they close the doors and I stand in the corner and cry. A camera flashes and I cry a little harder. I am claustrophobic. Sometimes bodies were so wet when they were dragged out of the brausebad that they wouldn't burn. They were hung from these hooks as the fluids ran off them. I take a picture of then and now. I take a picture of the memorial statue. I see it. I know what it is. Paula asks, "What are those shapes?" "It is a statue by a man imprisoned here. Sometimes people tried to escape, sometimes they tried to die. This is his memory of their bodies mangled in the electric fence." Paula looks disgusted, and I am disgusted by her.
I Went to Dachau on November 10, 2010
September 22, 2012