Arbeit Macht Frei. Work will set you free.
The words stared out at me from the wrought iron gate, feigning welcome. A lie. A broken promise scrolled into the ironwork for posterity. There I stood, alone, at death’s door, looking in.
Before me lay Dachau Concentration Camp.
Lying on the outskirts of Munich, Germany, underneath a serene blue topaz sky, amidst Spring’s blossoming foliage and chirping birds, birds who, unknowingly, sing angelic harmonies in a home with a diabolical past, I stepped back in time to a place where some of the world’s most heinous atrocities were committed, crimes against humanity anyone would pray to forget but never must.
Single life led me to Europe last month. It was not my original plan to visit Dachau that day. But yet this is where I stood, drawn there perhaps by fate, but more so by a three decade-old yearning to see in person where thousands of people, those just like me who were once caught up in their own day-to-day inconsequence, perished at the hands of some, and because of the indifference of many.
It was not the prisoners’ plan to be there either. Ripped from their lives, approximately 200,000 individuals as young as age 15, mostly males, were catalogued at Dachau between 1933 and 1945. But because so many were never officially registered, the number who actually died remains unclear, but is estimated to be upwards of 34,000.
One life lost is too many.
Since my separation, through my divorce last summer, and for the myriad of troubled days that followed, I have struggled to positively envision my future as it looms ominously before me. It has been a daily, even momentary, struggle finding a place of gratitude in a world where the grass often looks greener elsewhere. Appearances can be disheartening if we allow them. I am sad to admit I have, at times, fallen prey to such trappings. Gone forever I believed was my dignity, my pride, callously stripped away by an adulterous husband who acted with the wanton disregard of a teenage boy while his wife and children looked on in shocked disbelief.
How myopic I was in my thinking.
Divorce has given me a great gift. Each day when I wake, when I watch the sun rise while preparing my three children for school, I am offered possibilities for the coming day. I have a second chance, something most of the prisoners of Dachau never had.
Recovering from the heartache of a broken marriage is undeniably hard work. It is my reality, and the reality for so many others like me. But as I heal, I know I will find my peace one day. That work will set me free is my certitude, and I will never take for granted that luxury ever again.
I walked back through the same cold metal gate two hours later. I am one of the lucky ones. Seventy years ago I would likely have never seen the outside of that work camp again. I left feeling strong, proud, and dignified on behalf of all those who were so much less fortunate than myself.
My life is beautiful.
Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) will be observed beginning at sundown on April 27, 2014.