The original post can be found on the Salvation Army website.
I‘m not sure which scarred my psyche first: the barbed wire stark against a desolate landscape as I entered Dachau or the haunting feeling that I was walking amidst an aching chorus of memories.
I was midway through a classic backpack tour of Europe, just finishing up university and not quite ready to start a career. It was a time of promise and potential—the world was mine to conquer and define. Dachau was to be one of the things checked off on my Let’s Go: Europe recommendations for things to do in Munich, to be followed that evening with a visit to an Oktoberfest gathering. I never made it to Oktoberfest.
Prior to that day in 1984, war was a three letter word that had lived in history books—rather dry and boring history books at that. In my life, a military presence was the rotation of ‘base brats,’ the local Air Forces base kids, who appeared at school each fall. Conflict was what happened when my younger sister annoyed me.
Maybe my waking to the senseless tragedy of war would have happened anyway, but I’m not sure about that. The hours I spent wandering, and weeping, at Dachau marked my conscience in ways I could not have experienced in the normal rhythms of my privileged Canadian life. I left there that day convinced that if my four-hour tour could be replicated by every young adult in the world, we might actually have a fighting chance for peace. The idealism of youth, yes, but such a conviction, forged in the echoes of a crematorium, is a defining entry in the index of life.
On November 11th, standing with my family in the biting wind at a local Remembrance Day service, I remember. And I pray that we might all be convicted to “lay down our burdens … down by the riverside … and we ain’t gonna study war no more.”