Scrapbookpages Blog

January 7, 2013

A Muslim woman, who teaches in American universities, visits Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 3:55 pm

A blog entry, written by a Muslim woman, which you can read in full here, starts off with this quote:

I am a Muslim intellectual woman who teaches Judaism and Islam, a Muslim who seeks dialogue with Jews, a Muslim who sympathizes with Jews and understands the need for the state of Israel.

The past year has been an intense one for me and my family. On March 30, I gave birth to a beautiful girl, Ruya, who happens to share her birth date with Moses Maimonides, the great 12th century Jewish philosopher and physician. At the end of June, I was invited to present a paper at a conference in Elmau, a small resort town 50 miles south of Munich. The conference was organized by the University of Munich’s department of history and Jewish studies and co-sponsored by University of California. It was titled, “Judaism Through Muslim Eyes and Islam Through Jewish Eyes.” I teach at a variety of Southern California universities, and I was honored by the invitation to be part of such a unique international conference, which included esteemed scholars and intellectuals whose work has had a deep resonance for me, in terms of both my political and religious thinking.

After the Conference, this teacher took her newborn baby on a visit to the Dachau Memorial Site.  This is what she wrote about the trip to Dachau:

As the conference ended, I was asked what I intended to do in Munich for the next three days, and our plan was to visit Dachau and meet with an old German friend. My feelings about the visit to the concentration camp had not been sorted out; I just knew that I wanted to visualize something I had read about in many post-Holocaust testimonies. But my eagerness to go to Dachau was deeper than I thought.

I wanted to go to Dachau because I wanted to pay my respects to the many Jews, Christians, and Gypsies who had perished and been abused there; I went as an act of simple respect for the dead.

Dachau was a Nazi German concentration camp built on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, which is located about 10 miles northwest of Munich, in southern Germany. As one walks toward the camp, there is an iron gate nested in between bushes and tall oak trees with the slogan: “Arbeit Mach Frei” (work will set you free).

When the Nazis opened Dachau in March, 1933, Heinrich Himmler, the police president of Munich, described it as the Nazi’s first camp for political prisoners. One can still visit the barracks where the many prisoners and SS guards were housed: the long, gray buildings with low ceilings today contain exhibitions of old propaganda, art and SS paraphernalia. It is not hard to envision the harsh reality the prisoners had to face or the lives of the SS guards.

When we stepped off the train, we saw the sign for Dachau; I began to see the sadness in the words and wondered how anyone living there today could bear to give out their address. How would the effect of memory and narrative intersect here? As I carried my daughter in my arms toward the front gate, she began to howl in a chilling manner, and I am still amazed at myself for bringing my newborn to one of the most atrocious places on earth.

I am not sure whether this was something I could have predicted, but as we approached, Ruya was exceptionally unhappy — my child who rarely cries — and her shrieks made it all seem even more difficult. The camp was bare, with white pebbles in the square and an empty space that spoke of the horror that lay in the lives of the prisoners, and the terrifying howls of my baby echoed throughout time.

Dachau became a prototype for the Nazi camps that followed, and it retains a bareness and coldness that evokes its history. The exact number of how many passed through the camp is unknown, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, which also reports that 160,000 prisoners were registered on the files and about 90,000 in the camp’s branches. But many more transported there in the last days of the camp were not registered. Some inmates stayed in the camp, some were transported further in “death transports” and others were murdered or died there: as many as 32,000 prisoners died at Dachau of starvation and disease. In early 1945, a typhus epidemic spread through the camp, which led to an evacuation and the death of a large number of already weakened prisoners. Dachau was also the site of the first medical experiments on prisoners.

As Ruya cried, I asked my husband to keep walking so I could stop to feed her, and as I did so at the bottom of the steps of the barracks, I felt the haunting cries of so many children there before us. My daughter sucked on her milk with tears streaming down her cheeks.

As I approached the camp, I found myself saying an Islamic prayer for the dead in the courtyard, and I felt a sense of responsibility to the victims. At that moment, I felt as if I were a witness giving testimony to all Muslims. As someone who has witnessed numerous Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites, I found myself standing alone in the courtyard of Dachau, watching my daughter’s eyes become blinded by the white stones of the camp and thinking to her out loud, telling her that this very act of remembering and sharing the atrocities with others is the only assurance that this will never happen again to anyone. My baby daughter squinted at me with her wet lashes as I held her in silence.

We were led toward the crematorium and she calmed a bit, and I pushed her in her stroller into the gas chamber, a dark room with showerheads looking down upon us. It was as if she and I alone were witnessing the moment before the horror. This was the moment when I saw her scrutinize the ceiling, and I knew there was something uncanny about her newness, freshness and innocence witnessing the closeness of death. I walked out vowing that she too must in some way become a witness for all future generations of Muslims.

My photos of the Dachau gas chamber are shown below.

GasChamber01

Ceiling of Dachau gas chamber and openings on the east wall

Ceiling of Dachau gas chamber and openings on the east wall

She mentioned that the gas chamber was “a dark room.”  Did this woman actually SEE the showerheads?  Or did she just assume that there were showerheads on the ceiling?  I took a photo of the last remaining showerhead in 2001, and as far as I know, all of the showerheads, that were stuck into the ceiling, with no pipes, are all gone now, stolen by souvenir hunters.

Photo of last remaining shower head at Dachau, taken in 2001

Photo of last remaining shower head at Dachau, taken in 2001

Apparently, she did not have a tour guide to point out the two windows on the east wall, through which gas pellets were thrown into the room.  The tour guides at Dachau have given up telling visitors that gas came though the shower heads that were just stuck into the ceiling with no pipes.

Her blog entry continues with this quote:

Dachau is one of the most famous of the Nazi concentration camps and was liberated by Allied forces on April 29, 1945 — less than 10 days before the end of the war. Soon after the British and Americans arrived, images and reports of the camp gave the world the first shocking visions of what had happened there. And now here I was, experiencing it firsthand — not a journalist, not a Jew, not a Christian, not a liberator, but a Muslim sharing this public memory.

I have studied the history of Dachau extensively, and to my knowledge, there were no British soldiers among the liberators of Dachau. You can read about the liberation of Dachau on my website here.

The quote from her blog continues:

Witnessing is, as so many post-Holocaust writers have spoken of it, a form of speaking. And Dachau is a place where silence can be broken and where the atrocities can now be declared openly. I became a witness of the ghosts and survivors of Dachau. But more notably, I felt that even by witnessing just one camp — or one death — it is as if I have witnessed a million camps and a million deaths.

“the atrocities [at Dachau] can now be declared openly?”  I didn’t know that there was a time when “the atrocities” at Dachau could NOT be declared openly. I think that what she means is that the alleged atrocities at Dachau can now be DENIED OPENLY.

Professor Mehnaz M. Afridi teaches Judaism and Islam at various Southern California universities. She also offers public lectures and seminars. For more information, visit http://www.mehnazafridi.com.

What is incredible to me is that this Professor of Judaism and Islam did not prepare for her visit to Dachau.  When I first visited Dachau in 1997, there were no websites about Dachau on the Internet.  I put up the first website about Dachau in 1998.  Since then, I have expanded that website to include lots of information about Dachau, which you can read here.