Journey with John
The image is still so clear in my mind. A large stone marker – a tombstone – greeted my entrance through the iron gate. The epitaph was carved into the stone in eight languages, accenting its universal, all-inclusive message. It was only two words, but carried such power. “Never again!” was the solemn prayer that greeted as I entered the Nazi Concentration Camp at Dachau, Germany. It was the first camp built in 1933. It was the only camp to exist throughout the duration of the Nazi Regime. It became the model on which all the working camps were based. It was known for its cruelty and torture. While it was not one of the notorious Death camps, more than 40,000 prisoners died there. A chill ran through me as we moved into one of the remaining barracks. It told a gruesome story. Originally built to house 200 men, by the end of the war, more than 2,000 men were stuffed inside – literally stacked to the ceiling. Outside was the field where more than 33,000 prisoners would stand for hours as roll call was taken. During the winter, the temperatures would drop below zero and the freezing wind would attack with vicious vengeance. In the summer, the scorching heat burned into fragile flesh. As I stood there, I was overcome by the suffering of those taken prisoner – many never knowing why they were held captive. There is a shower room at Dachau that had the capability to unload deadly gas on its unsuspecting victims. The death toll was so great that human ovens were built to eliminate the remains of those who perished. It felt like holy ground and I mourned the senseless death of 40,000 children of God. “Never again! is the only prayer to be uttered, the only thought to embrace…. I did not sleep well.
What must it be like to be held prisoner against your will? How does it feel to face such heartache without understanding why? What must it be like to fear every breath you take? Reflecting again, on my experience in Dachau, during the recent Holocaust Remembrance week, I remain overcome by the thought of people who remain imprisoned today: in loneliness, in anger, in hatred, in anguish – help captive by their own crippling fears. I see them every day, these prisoners of life. I knew a homeless woman in Tacoma, WA, who would sit on the ground and cover her head with a poncho, as if to make herself invisible. I feel some responsibility for those like her who are imprisoned, because I know of ONE who brings liberation. God is a God of loving freedom. I KNOW that…. I have an obligation to tell… to set free…. “Never again!” It rings in my heart. It burns into my soul. Gracious God, free me to tell your story of love.