Academic journal article Shofar

Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp 1933-2001, by Harold Marcus

Academic journal article Shofar

Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp 1933-2001, by Harold Marcus

Article excerpt

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 590 pp. $34.95.

For all Germans, facing up to their Nazi past has been a harrowing experience and is still far from complete. Even more difficult has been the task of coming to terms with the physical legacy of concentration camps such as Dachau, near Munich. Once feted as pioneer institutions of penal reform, these camps soon became the sites of sadistic horrors inflicted on political or racial victims of the Nazi regime. Marcuse has now given us a full-length account of the post-1945 history of the Dachau facility, first opened in 1933. Its purpose was well advertised, and its proximity to Munich meant that no one could have ignored its existence. But after 1945, the situation changed radically. Marcuse's description of the prevarications, amnesia, and evasions of the local authorities and population is rightly shocking. But he also points to the continued and eventually successful pressure brought by the survivors, especially from abroad. His meticulous reconstruction of the tangled arguments about what to do with the camp illuminates the complexities of trying to maintain the atmosphere of violence and hatred in a museum setting, now inundated with casual and usually uninformed visitors.

Particularly interesting are the three chapters devoted to the Catholics, the Jews, and the Protestants, and their respective efforts at memorialization. The Catholics followed their traditional practice of erecting a shrine over the place of martyrdom and suffering, so that the violence of evil could be redeemed, especially if relics of the martyrs could be found there. The emphasis is on religious pilgrimage, not historical consciousness. The Catholic Chapel, dedicated in 1960, makes no mention of the Nazi past.

By contrast, the Protestants, led by their most famous Dachau inmate, Pastor Martin Niemöller, and supported by a youth group, Aktion Sühnezeichen, stressed the Church's failings in the Nazi years. The need to learn from the lessons of the past was markedly emphasized in Niemöller's speech at the ceremonial dedication of the Chapel of Reconciliation in 1967. Reconciliation could not be assumed to take place automatically, but had to be earned by an active commitment to justice and peace.

For their part, the Jewish survivors of the camp regarded it as a hell-hole. Most fled as quickly as possible to Israel or other refuges. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.