In 1984 my high school history teacher mailed my parents and me a letter inviting me to join in a twenty day summer trip to Europe. I tossed it in the trash. I knew we didn’t have the money for such an extravagance. My mom found the letter laying in the wastebasket and asked me what it was about. I shrugged. She asked me how hard I was willing to work to make this opportunity possible.
I scrubbed milking stalls at the dairy farm down the way every weekend, by hand, with a hose and bucket, for months. I baby sat the dairy owners’ kids, made them dinner and cleaned the house whenever possible, for $2.25 per hour. Somehow my parents were able to match earnings, and I found myself on a plane headed to Heathrow with some of my classmates.
I dreamed of Big Ben, La Tour Eiffel, Hofbrauhaus (yes, they let us in with a signed permission slip from a parent), and the birthplace of Mozart. What I didn’t realize was a daytrip to Dachau would be the the most vivid memory I would leave with.
You can study and read about the Holocaust and be horrified. But when you walk the grounds, stand next to the ovens, visit the grave of thousands unknown, and speak to people who miraculously survived, you are forever changed.
Dachau is estimated to have seen 200,000 prisoners during the twelve years it operated as a “work” camp. The gate to the entrance still reads: Arbeit Macht Frei – literally translated “Work Makes One Free”, insinuating that one will find virtue in hard work and good things will happen as a result. The “work” was torturous. There were 32,000 documented deaths at Dachau during its twelve years of operation. Dachau was opened in March of 1933. It was liberated by American forces in April of 1945. Maybe you’ve seen black and white photo reel footage of stunned American GI’s as they entered Dachau to see standing skeletons being blown by the wind.
Fast forward. It is now 2021. Europe and the United States have been on various levels of lockdown for the past thirteen months. Travel has been restricted; however, Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity offers online opportunities such as “Virtual Lunch and Learn” to continue teaching and telling the story of the Holocaust and much more. For the month of April, lunch time will focus on genocide awareness.
This 2016 photo of my son with speaker Ingrid Steppic was taken during an in person, brown bag lunch event. She shared her family’s story of saving 40 Jewish families in Amsterdam. Eventually, her father was captured, arrested and sent to Dachau in 1944. I visited forty years later and undoubtedly walked some of his same steps. As the last survivors of WW II pass, the opportunity to meet someone who lived during the Holocaust also passes. You have the opportunity to hear survivor stories and much more through the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity who preserves this for one and all. Visit virtually at https://www.holocaustcenterseattle.org/.
“Change Begins With Me” -Motto, Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity