The heart of darkness
If you're so inclined, it is possible to live in a brand-new condo built just a few meters from the walls and barbed wire of the Dachau Concentration Camp. ... Dachau is huge. It would take about an hour just to walk around all of the grounds. Approximately 30,000 prisoners (1,173 of them German) were living there upon liberation in 1945. The site is thoroughly reminiscent of a huge public high school, assuming your public school had an original Arbeit Macht Frei gate, a gas chamber (never used), or a Krematorium..
The medieval town of Dachau is now a suburb of Munich and the S-Bahn will whisk you there in a few minutes. I went straight from the Munich airport. At 170 kph, my Turkish cab driver simply followed the signs to Stuttgart and then turned off at the Dachau exit. As we approached the town of Dachau, there were signs directing us to the camp (a huge McDonald's sign is also a good landmark).
The camp seems to be open from 9-5 every day except Mondays.
-- Philip Greenspun.
Some amateur video of the camp taken by someone else.
And some words -- just words -- spoken at a French beach nearly a quarter of a century ago. The deeds had come forty years before.
Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. ... The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers--the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent.
The drama is easy to follow. The hard thing to accept is that both the crime and the rescue were acts in the same play. Anyone who reads Niall Ferguson's The War of the World, the chronicle of the Long War; the First and Second World Wars -- which were essentially one conflict within Western Civilization -- can glut himself on the origins of the crime. Auden observed that:
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
But how do we account for the redemption? Do we calculate the actions of the boys of Pointe du Hoc in the same coin of sadism and cruelty that were the wages of the SS guards at Dachau? Surely they were both the same human flesh. And yet they they were different in some invisible way. And if Auden believes that we live in an endless cycle of revenge, "I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn, those to whom evil is done do evil in return," then the springs of sacrifice and charity that keep evil in check and maintain the world on its axis stand as the greatest unsolved mystery of all. My thoughts on reading Ferguson's War of the World were why did it stop?
It is the occasional flower -- the existence of the anomaly -- that stands between the mind and the theory that world is as evil as it seems. At Pointe du Hoc, and even within Dachau itself there were hints that something else was at work. Just a glimpse; a mere glimmer. The only light unto our times.
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