There’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach as our bus gets ever closer to Dachau. It gnaws at me as the German countryside passes us by, peaceful. The trees towering above are older than me, but cannot tell the tales of those who have passed by before … en route to their deaths in the gas chamber. Or starvation. Or shooting.
It’s been 70 years since I feebly kissed the shoes of those American men who liberated me. Seventy years of memories. Of telling my story. Of encouraging those to never forget.
And, today, I am going back to that prison, my version of hell. Dachau.
We arrive and I see the walls. The barbed wire. Even having my two daughters, Sherry and Gail, by my side, doesn’t take away that knot in my body.
A whir of memories circle my head. Taking the death train. Being kept in a room next to the gas chamber for days, nearly dead, as the bodies piled up outside. The liberation.
I’m not the only one lost in my thoughts on the bus. The Liberators and Survivors and their families are all silent, to the point where one could hear a pin drop.
There is a sadness that hangs over my head … until we pull up to the gate.
“Why are we so sad?” I think to myself. “We are here 70 year after liberation. We are here with our families. We should be celebrating life instead of being sad.”
I don’t keep this thought to myself.
“Let’s all hold hands and sing Hatikva,” I suggest as we prepare to disembark from the bus and enter into our past.
And, we do.
Our voices fill the air. It’s strong. It’s powerful. It’s peaceful. We grow louder, as if those who were victims of the Holocaust can hear our song.
The rejuvenation, the strength we all feel overcomes us, and we actually walk into the former camp with smiles, rather than sadness.
As we enter Dachau, the press watch us, silently witnessing our song of joy as we step back in time. But, they aren’t the only ones there as we began our journey through the camp, which now looks like a park versus a place where so many perished so brutally.
Bus loads of school children world wide heard our chants. They were curious. Once learned we were a group of Survivors and Liberators they approached us and for hours asked us a stream of questions regarding our history and snapped photo’s for future playback.
They soak up every word.
“This is a time to celebrate life,” I tell them, handing them each a ZACHOR pin so they, too, will never forget, and share our stories.
Despite the history of where we are, the day was inspiring. It only serves to strengthen my desire to stand up and shout out, and encourage others to do the same.
As I leave, my thoughts switch. I feel alive. I am here today because I was liberated. At the time, I was 99 percent dead, and today, I am 100 percent alive. Today is a celebration of life. Despite Hitler, I am here. I am alive. I have succeeded. I have flourished. My family is here. I. Am. Alive.