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It's A Gray Area: Dachau death camp revisited

August 07, 2010|By James P. Gray

During the summer of 1965, between my junior and senior years at UCLA, I traveled to Western Europe with a friend and, among other things, visited the former concentration camp at Dachau, in the German state of Bavaria not far from Munich. This event changed my life, because it brought home to me man's potential inhumanity to man.

Dachau was one of the first extermination camps established by Adolf Hitler. It was where thousands of Jews, gypsies and other "undesirables" (in Hitler's mind) were gassed to death, and then cremated en masse. And it was also a place where perverse and sadistic "experiments" were performed on human beings by demented so-called doctors.

In other words, this was a place where terrible things were done with the sanction of the laws of the time. Dachau should always stand as an example of what can happen without the vigilance of good people. Therefore, it is a place that should never be forgotten.

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Recently a friend and neighbor of mine in Newport Beach, whose name is Don Pewthers, spoke with me about his recent and long ago visits to Dachau, and how they compared. I asked him to write them down so that I could share them with you, and he agreed. So the following comes from my friend Don, with a few edits from me:

This past summer my wife, Carole, and I were planning an extended trip to Europe. I wanted her to experience Bavaria, as she had not been there. It was suggested that we include a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. I was opposed.

In 1960, as a recent college graduate, I traveled in Europe for several months and spent a lot of time in Germany, where I had an American lady friend. Driving to Munich from Stuttgart, I had seen a small road sign which said "Dachau 10 km." We decided to visit as I had just finished reading a book on Adolf Eichmann and was interested.

When we arrived at the camp, we found that we were in the area where the gas chambers, the cremation ovens, and a mound with pansies in the form of the Star of David were located. The mound, a circle of some 25 feet across and four feet high, contained the ashes of 6,000 Jews who had been cremated. We were the only people visiting at that time. It was very emotional to enter the area where so many had died. You could see the barn-like building where families undressed, hung up their clothing, and prepared for a "shower," during which they were gassed to death.

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