What Dachau Concentration Camp Taught Me About All Things Small and the Stories They Tell
Commentary by Lace M. Williams | FāVS News
Let all nonliving things bear the marks of time that show and tell their stories.
We living beings, however, must let go of the past to live fully in the present moment while integrating what has happened into our stories.
Visiting a particular historical site on previous trips to Germany, I had missed it. This time, however, the dulled circular object on the pathway presented itself.
Smoothed by the washing of time, it looked like just another small stone on the grounds where rows of barracks once stood. Objects similar in shape, size, and color, with different functions: one meant to be walked on, the other designed to be worn.
Narrow was the iron gate inscribed with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (work makes you free) at the entrance. I speak of Dachau concentration camp near Munich, one of Hitler’s earliest camps.
An Insignificant Thing
For no understandable reason other than by chance, the insignificant ‘thing’ caught my eye. I had simply glanced down. It had no scent. It made no sound. It could not see, hear, taste, feel or touch. Still, it seemed to cry out pick me up.
I bent down and picked it up, this alloy artifact fashioned into wearable tin. I aligned my full attention to it the way I imagine God attunes to our sadness in the rain.
Positioning it in my palm, I noticed a sizeable dent on the upper side. Turning it over I spotted three small holes spaced evenly apart with a shank obtruding just enough to be pinched between two fingertips. Its circumference shimmered with a black glow. The rest of its body bore a tarnished gray-brown hue.
I found a button! An old-fashion gunmetal-metal shank button.
Its dented top told a story. Gunmetal . . . imprisoned. Metal . . . tormented. Shank . . . dehumanized. Button . . . genocide.
From the ground I raised my new-found treasure to the sky, holding it in a way that blocked the sun as light poured through the tiny hole in the center of the shank underneath. The hole was for running thread to fasten it to a garment or shoe. Perhaps a prisoner’s shirt or coat? A Nazi’s uniform or boot?
Only the button can say.
Reckoning Our Shared Humanity
I write what I cannot say. I was a young teenager when it happened. The event lives on in my memory as shards of glass.
“I am talking about something that is really heavy and weighty and hard to write about,” said poet-in-residence Kwame Alexander. In his book, “The Door of No Return,” the life of a boy in Ghana unfolds. He is like any other kid — pressure from teachers, a crush on a girl, a cousin who likes to bully.
Alexander writes, “On the other side of the door is the edge of the mighty blue that Nana Mosi has talked about, that I have dreamed of — a body of water so awesome and large it could breathe a million clouds, drag the moon across its gigantic waves. But this is not a dream I am trying to climb out of. This roaring blue is an angry nightmare. It is a monstrous mouth. And it is wide enough to swallow us whole.”
Reckoning with our shared humanity is the starting point for understanding each other, which creates connection, said Alexander.
I too seek a reckoning. I continue to work hard to find it within.
A Crush and a Lesson
At the age of 14, I had a crush on a boy at church. We kissed, nothing more, at a youth group event. I don’t know how it came to light. The kiss happened in the dark. For two weeks I was questioned, forcing me into the predicament of not wanting to get in trouble for telling the truth.
Feeling the pointing finger closing in, I fessed up. Like magic, the interrogation and threats and crush ended abruptly. But what followed starting around eight o’clock at night until two in the morning were six hours of torment. If I broke eye contact, either by looking away or glancing down, the cycle reset from the beginning. Over and over it raged on.
In the days, weeks, months, even years that followed, I lived in terror fearing I was going to hell, disobedient to God, dishonoring my parents, grounded and confined to my room except for school, unable to attend youth group, incapable of looking anyone in the eye. Not knowing how my body worked, I believed what I was told, which was I could have gotten pregnant.
When people are targets, those who take a stand for the targeted become targets themselves. Maybe this explains why others stand by in silence, statue-like.
The God of Small Stuff
Scripture reveals God’s concern for the small stuff. I think of Zacchaeus, the mustard seed, the sparrow, children. Despite God’s care, some children endure harm, abuse and torment. All who read “Night” by Elie Wiesel remember his account of the boy hung at Auschwitz who took too long to die. He was too lightweight.
I drew what I could not write or speak about then. I share my drawing with you now.
It captures for me the realm that reaches beyond words, the space where one’s essence connects with the divine, the place in the horizon where ocean and sky become indistinguishable.
Drawing has the power to release people from the torment they live in.
Torment means to inflict or experience great bodily pain or mental anguish. Torment is intentional harm.
Harm drives a person to madness.
Madness leads to isolation.
Isolation can lead to self-separation and separation from God.
I’ve come far in my healing. I see my shards as stained glass — beautiful bits and pieces of various shapes, sizes and colors. I like to think all these fragments create a whole ‘me’ even if I cannot make out exactly what the image is.
Free. Safe. Human. Alive.
Free to explore why we wage wars to restore shalom.
Safe to express my experiences through drawing, writing and speaking.
Human to establish relationships based on loving, high-quality connections.
Alive to embrace opportunities for growth and change, however delicate, by asking and receiving . . .
Where have I been?
Where am I headed?
God have mercy on me.
God help me.