After visiting Sachenhausen earlier in my trip, which was a built as a workers camp, I decided to change my travel plans so that I could visit Munich, specifically because I wanted to see Dachau. Backpacking through Europe and visiting sites from World War II, was teaching me so much more about our world’s history than any book I’d read. And for that reason, I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a death camp while in Europe.
There are no words to describe the feelings one experiences when walking through the entrance of a Concentration Camp. I knew I was about to witness some of our world’s most terrifying and horrible history. Yet, I was there because I felt I had to challenge myself to learn about these sites by actually walking through them.
Words over the entrance, “Work will set you free.”
Old railroad tracks that were used to bring Jews to the camp.
The large square where they used to conduct roll call.
Foundations-not original but they show where original barracks were that have since been torn down.
Monument: bodies and barbed wire-represent those who committed suicide.
The trench that was built to prevent people from running into the barbed wire fence to kill themselves.
Gas chamber entrance:
Standing in the chamber:
Map of the camps across Europe.
Statue with hands in pockets, no cap, eyes up and feet apart; basically defying every rule that the Germans had about how Jews should look or dress.
Towards the end of my tour I stopped by the Memorial that was created in 1968 for the victims of the camp. It’s three links of a chain that are covered with the prisoner patches that each group was forced to wear during the war.
My uncle is an artist and he made my dads a beautiful pink triangle to hang on the wall of their home, which represents the patch gay men were forced to wear during WWII. My sister and I grew up with this emblem in our house; both an image of the torturous past that homosexuals have endured and a symbol of pride and beauty in who they are today.
I don’t remember how long I stood in front on this memorial searching for a pink triangle before it finally dawned on me that one wasn’t there. I was stunned and my eyes started to fill with tears. I’m sure the people around me thought I was crying for the victims, which I was, but I was crying specifically for those that I couldn’t find represented on this ‘memorial’. The entire point of me visiting this camp was to learn more of the terrible truth about our world’s history. And yet, in the place of one of the most horrible atrocities of our world’s recent past, the pain and persecution of some victims of the Holocaust were being ignored.
I couldn’t believe that after the incredible feeling of acceptance I felt when visiting the HomoMonument in Amsterdam that I could feel so utterly destroyed at another European destination. Europe has long been considered more progressive and tolerant that the U.S. And yet, here I stood at a place that was continuing to disregard Holocaust victims, because their deaths were somehow less significant than others.
When I stood in front of the memorial, I didn’t know there was a pink marble triangle that stood in the museum. I didn’t know that the only reason a separate memorial existed was because of decades of protests by local LGBT groups. I didn’t know that the pink marble triangle was first commissioned by these groups in the mid-eighties, only after a request to change the original monument was denied. I didn’t know that it took another 10 year for the memorial to actually be placed in the museum. I didn’t know any of this because there was no mention of these facts anywhere around the memorial.
Wanting to educate myself more, I purchased a guide book for the camp. From this I learned that the pink triangle wasn’t the only one missing from the monument; so were the black triangle (asocials) and the green triangle (criminals). I also learned that this exclusion was a conscious decision by the Committee that runs the camp.
As I began this post, I was curious about the current state of representation at Dachau. After all, it’s been a few years since my trip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much information available about the omission of these three groups online. After hours of scouring the internet, the best resource I found was an excerpt from Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933-2001 by Harold Marcuse, which in one section chronicled the difficult history of the pink triangle.
Wanting more recent information about the past 15 years, I decided to email the staff at Dachau and was pleasantly surprised when I received a response. They stated that the Committee has changed its original position and now believes that all prisoners should be commemorated. While they have the pink marble triangle commissioned by LGBT groups to symbolize the gay victims, they currently still have no representation for those that wore green or black triangles as they haven’t been strongly advocated for. (However, they are mentioned in one museum exhibit.) They also shared that they are thinking about creating an additional informational panel close to the original monument which would explain the situation.
While I’m happy to hear that they’re admitting the need to acknowledge all Holocaust victims, I was also disappointed by this response. Creating an ‘additional information panel’ isn’t the same as adding these prisoner patches to the monument. While I agree that information regarding the history and exclusion of these three groups should be available for those that visit, I don’t understand why they still refuse to modify the original monument. Why shouldn’t a 50 year old memorial be changed once it’s realized that it’s unacceptable to continue to reject these groups?
The reality is that we create memorials, not only for those whose lives were lost, but also for future generations; for descendants and those who identify as the same minority group that were persecuted. To have a memorial that ignores three groups of victims is like telling every descendent and member of that minority that somehow their deaths didn’t matter and that they are easy to forget. In doing so, we continue to persecute these victims and minority groups today.
The simple truth is that it doesn’t matter how one personally feels about these groups. The Committee at Dachau needs to decide what message they want to send. Do they want the 22 year old daughter of gay dads to go to this memorial with hope, searching for a emblem that isn’t there, and leaving heartbroken, with the message, that once again, society has told her that her family doesn’t matter? Or do they want to finally recognize that it’s never acceptable to neglect those that suffered imprisonment, torture and mass murder at the hand of the Nazis? Personally, I think it’s time that the Committee at Dachau told the world that The Forgotten Victims, their lives, and their stories deserve to be remembered.
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