Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Gates of Hell

Eleven years ago, my then partner and I embarked on a world tour. We literally left Toronto flying east and didn’t stop until we bumped into Toronto again. The circumnavigation of the world took nine months and more then forty-two thousand kilometres of travel.

During the trip, I saw many things that inspired awe in a forty year old heart. I‘ve had a bull elephant wander to within twenty feet of our truck in Africa, presumable checking us out as we were him. I’ve seen cheetahs take down a gazelle. I’ve had a wild boar pull a knapsack through the wall of a tent with me holding the other end… buck naked in the middle of Africa. I’ve climbed Mount Sinai in the pitch black of a moonless night only to see the most spectacular desert sunrise I have ever witnessed.

I’ve been privy to the underground capitalist economy in Viet Nam. I’ve stood in the Parthenon and felt the history of the ancients embrace me. I’ve been diving at the Poor Knight islands with the same stingrays that that ultimately brought on the untimely death of Steve Irwin. I’ve body surfed thirty foot swells off Kuda Beach in Bali.

I’ve stood in the streets of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with a little girl in a pink dress tugging at my trousers knowing all too well that if I looked down at her again, I would scoop her up in my arms and bring her back to the safety and prosperity of my home. While all these events are etched in my mind, none are as vivid as my time in Germany. 

We went to Dachau Concentration Camp.

When I walked onto the grounds at Dachau, I was struck by the grey bleakness. It was a sunny day, yet a palpable pall hung in the air. I could see where the barracks had been. Each barrack was designed to house 250 people. There were 1600 housed in each. 32,000 people were liberated from the camp on April 29, 1945. Over 200,000 political prisoners came through Dachau during the war. Except for those liberated, none left alive.

Further on, I saw the rail lines where prisoners were shuttled in like cattle. Near the end of the war, many didn’t make it to the camps at all. They were executed in the cars or beside a nearby ditch where the dead were rolled in a bloody heaping stench.

I saw the ovens designed to cook human beings while they were still alive. At Dachau, unlike Auschwitz, the ovens were never used. Still, that anything as insidious could be conceived is beyond the realm of a sane imagination. I stood in one spot in front of the ovens; my feet anchored to the concrete floor and wept.

Later, I found that I was unable to look anyone in the eye lest they see what I had seen.

There is a plaque at Dachau which reads, “Never Again” in five languages. Yet it has happened time and again. It would seem we are not so far removed from our primordial ancestors after all.

While we are honouring those who have fought for our countries and the liberation of others, let us not forget those who needed our help. Those who have fallen simply because someone believed they were the wrong creed, colour, religion or sex need to be remembered as well. Those unidentifiable masses who were slaughtered at the whim of madmen.

When leaving Dachau, I recall being speechless. Nothing could have lessened the darkness I felt as I stumbled away from the Gates of Hell.

Lest We Forget.