Yesterday I visited Dachau. Its hard to know what to say. It was a chilling and empty place. I was pleased to see how many people were there, and how many seemed to be in their 20s and 30s. What first struck me was the lack of bars and fences that we associate with prisons - but you realize quickly how much terror people were kept under. Everything was kept immaculately and precise - under fear of punishment for anything found not be. Bars weren't needed.
The level of propaganda was noticeable. Over the entrance were the words "work sets you free"; and on the roof of the main building: "There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are obedience, honestly, cleanliness, sobriety, diligence, orderliness, sacrifice, truthfulness, love of the fatherland." Inside, I noticed articles and letters from foreign reporters, dignitaries and church leaders who were given tours of the 'work camp' and wrote how well the residents were treated, including their being provided with good meals and recreation opportunities... and one priests comment that prisoners were probably 'better off in the camp than in their home conditions'. Sound familiar?
You wander and wonder how it could happen. We seem so sure that nothing like that could happen again. But so many small things triggered connections to current fear and 'patriotism'. I couldn't help but wonder what we may find out decades from now.