Like most people I have lived through difficult periods in my life and my faith has helped me to triumph over them.
But this is not about that.
During the summer of 1972 I was on a break from college and traveling in Europe. This sort of trip was relatively new in those days. Air costs had come down to where ordinary middle class people could afford such a trip albeit only on a shoestring budget. Later students would call it "backpacking across Europe" but when I did it, it was just called traveling and I carried a suitcase.
Near the end of my trip I was in Munich, Germany. It was just before the 1972 Olympics, but I had no money for that, I just had enough to see the city and leave before they started.
I am not Jewish and I don't know anyone that was directly involved in the Holocaust.
Still I had a profound spiritual experience as a result of that visit that altered my life and my philosophies about living to this day.
It was not a positive spiritual experience but one of encountering incredible evil.
When you entered the camp you passed under a sign that said "Arbeit Macht Frei" which translates roughly as "Work will make you (or set you) free". I remember feeling a creepy sense the whole time that they could just slam that gate and I'd be trapped inside with no way out.
At the end near where you entered the camp were the administrative buildings that originally housed the German SS guards. These were now a museum about the camp. There were two long huts near those buildings that were being reconstructed to show how the inmates lived but these were not open to the public at that time. All of the other prisoner huts had been destroyed and removed.
It took a while to go through the museum, there were a lot of pictures and history about the camp and the horrors that went on there and a short film taken when the camp was liberated.
Dachau was the oldest Nazi concentration camp. It was a horrible prison where tens of thousands died from disease and abuse.
It was not specifically a "death camp", prisoners were taken to other camps to be gassed. The deaths at Dachau were just the result of maltreatment.
At the far end was another area outside the main rectangle but connected to it and within the barbwire fencing. It contained the crematorium facilities.
I recall there being three rooms, one was the shower room, another had the crematorium ovens and a third that was empty but had a photograph taken at the time of the liberation showing it filled with dead bodies waiting to be cremated.
It was incredibly powerful to stand in THAT room and see THAT photograph. I had seen films about the Nazis and the Holocaust before but this was different. I was standing where some of it actually happened. Suddenly it had a reality to me I had never felt before.
The shower room was actually intended to be a gas chamber but had not yet been used as such by the end of the war.
Also at the far end was a modern sculpture with the phrase "Never Again" and an interfaith chapel.
In the chapel was a Protestant Minister who had been a prisoner in the camp. He talked about his experiences there. He said the day he was arrested he was handcuffed to a Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi and that that started their own "Ecumenical Movement". Their differences didn't matter any more.
He talked about how they ministered to the other inmates and even managed to ordain a new Catholic priest without the guards ever finding out.
I'm sure he meant his stories to inspire a sense of heroic defiance in the face of overwhelming adversity but to me they seemed all the more pathetic and depressing.
I kept asking myself, how could all this happen?
I guess I could imagine a crazy leader in Berlin ordering it, but how does an individual guard, a fellow human being, get up each morning, go to work, abuse and even kill people and then go home and sleep at night.
How does that work?
How is that possible?
I remember thinking that if I had been there I would have had to say, "Throw me in with the prisoners, I can't be part of this".
There is another aspect to all this I need to confess.
I had never really considered what it meant to take a human life. I had never really thought about it. I had no emotional understanding of what it meant.
But now I did.
There is a side to me that felt a thrill, almost a sexual thrill, at this idea. A dark side in my heart that could do it, that yearned to do it. To have that sort of unlimited power over other people. To snuff out the lives of people I didn't even know totally indiscriminately. Such power. I didn't have anything like that kind of power in my life.
And that horrified me even more than all the rest.
That this was inside of ME.
I felt overwhelmed by the incredible evil of all of this. My spectrum of good and evil considered something like cheating on a test in school to be really bad.
Murdering 11 million people was off the scale - literally transcendentally evil.
I couldn't get my head around it. I knew I would not even be able to remember how I was feeling, it was bigger than my mind was able to grasp.
But I am NOT that person.
I will not let myself BE that person.
There is NOTHING more anti-Christian than the taking of another person's life.
There is NOTHING more inhumane, just on a human level, than that.
There is NOTHING more evil than that.
People can argue over whether there is a devil or not, but evil definitely exists and I have seen it and I have felt it.
Since this experience I have become a total pacifist.
I believe it is un-Christian and immoral to take a life for any reason, especially just to resolve a political question.
I admit I don't know what all the answers in life are, but they cannot be that. I don't believe it.
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