A Life Time

4 Oct. 2017

When I was a little girl my father told me many stories about his family. My uncles were spread out around the United States and it was not very often we would see each other. Distance and finances was always the culprit, but we managed to see one another on occasion.

My Uncle Donald was a little different than Harold and Albert. Harold and Albert liked to chat and express themselves. My Uncle Donald on the other hand was introverted and kept to himself. I was able to comprehend things better when I was becoming an adult. My Uncle Donald with many young men of the 42nd Rainbow Division of the United States Army Air Corps liberated Dachau Concentration Camp on April 29, 1945.

My father in my opinion being well rounded and an intellectual was able to explain to me what these things meant and how my Uncle had changed from his experience in Germany. My Uncle was a young man and in a foreign country about to liberate a camp that was understood to be a prison camp. I suppose you can hear so many stories but, until you see with your own eyes, some things can not be relayed by words.

In Honor of 42ND Rainbow Division
From what I understand that the camp was raided from many sides and my Uncle’s group came through the front. I can only imagine what went through his mind? Would I make it? Would I be shot or maimed? Did he even think for a minute about being psychologically disfigured for the rest of his life?

My Uncle did not provide stories of his endeavor. Fifteen years later he ended up with shock treatments, therapy and medication to help him cope with what ever he saw there. Never once did he complain, he was proud of helping those people.

In 2005 I had the opportunity to visit Germany. My mother’s family has resided there since the 1960’s. My brother in law was stationed at Ramstein and it was a wonderful to know that we could travel there and visit family regularly. We had so many wonderful visits between my sister, aunt and uncles that lived a few hours from Kaiserslautern.

I was presented with a wonderful opportunity at the end of one of my visits. The USO was offering a trip to Munich and Dachau. I knew this was my chance to honor my uncle and those that perished at this concentration camp.

It was a day trip and we had to get up early. It was a rainy morning and we were all piled into a small European tour bus. We passed field after field of bright green cabbage. We finally arrived in Munich; upon entering the center of the city could we see the splendor of the Swiss Alps. We shopped and visited very old churches and cuckoo clock shops. We ate at the famous Hofbrauhaus.

Our tour was then directed to Dachau. We were reminded on the bus that our kind bus driver and attendant were Germans and that they had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at Dachau. Perhaps after what we were about to see might trigger some kind of anger. I know in my heart I could never do something like that, but I did not know what exactly I was in store for? Could this bring out the worst?

Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Sets You Free")

As we walked into Dachau from the front gates there was a sign that read, Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Sets You Free"). Truthfully after reading that quote made my stomach churn. I could see the train tracks where that cattle cars of people on their way to extermination would arrive. Little did people know that, not until the end, Dachau became an extermination camp?

In the beginning Dachau was set up as a training camp that would train the SS and other soldiers. Then it became a variant of training and housing of political prisoners. These were people who were against the ideas of the regime and were held there during their sentence. They could write their families and receive visits. Not until Hitler started his campaign of ridding Germany of those that were not considered part of the “pure” race that Dachau began to imprison Jews along with political prisoners.

When you think of these camps you imagine a huge vast area of space. Walking into this arena proved not to be any larger than a Superstore. 60,000 people confined in such a small space. People being starved to death and being mal treated.

We walked the terrain and there was a strange but powerful energy that was peaceful. I thought to myself, how? Of all the horrible things that occurred there, the hanging post, the ovens and the blood ditch. I saw all these places and the entire camp was covered in peace. As we walked it was so quiet all you could hear were shoes on the concrete. We started from the rear of the camp and moved forward. It was hard to imagine the chaos in such a sterile environment now. 

I felt myself saying a small prayer everywhere. My heart ached and my mind was in overdrive thinking. I thought to myself, I am standing right here, maybe where my uncle may have run through. This may have been a spot where the Allies were corralling people who were still alive and trying to sustain them. Maybe there were SS officers or troops being assaulted here and shot? There was no way to know, only a possibility.

We completed the tour of the grounds. Most of the barracks were torn down. There was only one barracks still open and that was a gift shop. It is a strange thing to say “gift shop,” in a death camp. There were many books and items to purchase. I bought a book that was thoroughly comprehensive about Dachau and the rise of Hitler.

Never again

Once on the tour bus all of us who were so chatty on our ride there were silent. Were we all quiet because of exhaustion from all the activities of the day? Or was it the absolute shock from what we saw in a place that had become a systematic death chamber? We never spoke until we reached home base and that was to say goodbye to one another.

A Side Note:

On a daily basis I have veterans that come to me for haircuts. Some are in very bad shape, head injuries, PTSD and other disabilities. A lot of them experienced these things over seas. Some talk about it and some do not. The ones that do, I listen. and I often see my uncle in their faces. I saw one gentleman yesterday who was no longer walking with a cane and drugged up due to pain. He was walking up right and laughing and brought his son in for a haircut. It was miracle to see him look healthy after so many months of suffering.

There is so much to learn from one another if we only took the time to listen and not allow history to repeat itself. I am thankful for these life experiences and I hope everyday we all can become better people.

Verna Peddi writes about veterans, World War II and the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau. She writes about the horrible conditions of what her uncle, a member of the 42ND Rainbow Division, saw as a young man and what she later saw when she visited Germany.

© Verna Peddi / OgFOMK ArTS -- 2017 All Rights Reserved.  - "A Life Time"

#OgFOMK #VernaPeddi #Holocaust  #Veterans #Army #RainbowDivision #Germany #Dachau #Life #PTSD #Jews #Racism #Nazis




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