Joanne and I travelled from London to Munich, Germany with our son and his family to visit Legoland – a ‘Disneyland’ without Donald, with rides and Lego building block structures that are enjoyed by both kids and adults. Joanne and I took a side trip to the concentration camp memorial outside of Munich – Dachau.
|Memorial Sculpture at Dachau by Nandor Glid, erected in 1968|
There is no complete explanation for the camp at Dachau that I can offer – just stunned horror and a few comments. Dachau was a model for the other German concentration camps, a training ground for S.S. troops and it mirrored German society of the time. Consider the words of Martin Buber before World War II started:
Collectivity is not a binding but a bundling together; individuals packed together, armed and equipped in common with only as much life from man to man as will enflame the marching step. But community is the being no longer side by side but with one another of a multitude of persons. Collectivity is based on its atrophy of personal existence, community on its increase and confirmation in life lived towards one another. (Between Man and Man, translated by R.G. Smith, written in pre-WWII Germany)
Our tour guide told us over 4,500 people died at Dachau in its twelve year existence from 1933 -1945. It remains a white-washed but empty tomb, the smell and horror has faded into imagination, but the camp is still there as a crucial memorial.
It was explained that Dachau was originally for political prisoners. Hitler’s dissolution of civil rights meant that political dissidents were sent to Dachau without legal due process. We were told of a sixteen year old sent to the camp for doing political graffiti. Scholar Bruno Bettelheim was a prisoner at Dachau. The camp was not an extermination camp such as Auschwitz, but Jews died there as political prisoners placed in slavery along with others. The basic absurd lie of the camp was printed over the camp portal – Arbeit Mach Frei. (Work sets you free.)
Of course Buber was not the only German intellectual who saw what was coming. Karl Jaspers wrote:
Irrational Existenz which rests upon feeling, experiencing, unquestioned impulse, instinct, or whim, ends up as blind violence… (Karl Jaspers, "Existenzphilosophie," reprinted in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, Meridian Books, p. 131)
In contrast Martin Heidegger, often credited as a founder of the existentialist movement in philosophy, supported Hitler. When Heidegger was named Rector of the University of Freiberg, Heidegger gave a ringing endorsement of the Nazi weltenshauung – world view. Heidegger replaced the world-renowned and philosophical innovator, Edmund Husserel who was Jewish.
Our guide showed us where Medical experiments on human beings were carried out at Dachau. This was a reminder that absurd Nazi pseudo-science provided a rationale for the murder of six million Jews. I pointed out that the neighboring town of Oberammergau has had a famous periodic passion play since 1634 that blamed execution of Jesus of Nazareth by the Roman Empire on the Jewish people. The play is based on gospel stories written in the context of religious factions in competition for dominance. Our guide claimed that religion was not a motive for the Jewish massacre because the Nazis were not religious. It was suggested that the Nazis also blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I. The guide did agree that religion was a background for the holocaust.
Can we relate our present politics to the absurdities of Nazi Germany? Fourth amendment rights against search and seizure have been weakened, a travel ban against Muslims is being attempted. Lies to labor and catering to the aristocracy, a wall to prevent Mexicans and Central Americans from entering the country is promised. The politics of nationalism and hate is open and evident.
Labor, university professors, faith communities, the media, must take a stand. Trump is not going to bring back the 50’s – we are looking at a hologram of Germany during the 30’s. Our country struggles in an atmosphere of existential completion instead of cooperation. Again Martin Buber:
God’s speech to men penetrates what happens in the life of each one of us, biographical and historical, and makes it for you and me into instruction, message, demand. Happening upon happening, situation upon situation, are enabled and empowered by the personal speech of God to demand of the human person that he take his stand and make his decision. (Martin Buber, I and Thou, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1958.)
"Das alles war ganz ganz schlim."
"Das alles war ganz ganz schlim."