on the ditch at Dachau

On the edge of Dachau concentration camp is a concrete ditch, about 6 feet across and 6 deep, steeply angled. Two barbed wire fences separate this ditch (which in turn separated the rest of the camp) from the outside world. One imagines a fearful night where a prisoner, desperate for escape or wanting it all to just end (or both), hurls himself across the ditch, scrambling up, only to entangle himself on the wire. Then comes the alarm’s banshee wail, angry shouts, frantic barking, then the crack of rifles, then nothing.

And while it seems some of the prisoners did this just to end it all, clearly the vast majority of prisoners didn’t. I can’t presume to know why, but I would say this at least affirms human life, even if one is forced to live it in hell on earth. Even living through daily torture, suffering, and humiliation, the prisoners treated life as if it were the most important thing. One more bite of stale bread. One more attempt not to get another beating. One more resigned but brave climbing into the cramped bunks at night, ready for the next day. Despite it all, life was treated by the prisoners as precious. And given that this is how most people in most places at most times treat life, it is probably true.

So it really boggles the mind when any ideology, any group, or any system treats life, or certain people’s lives, as if it weren’t precious.

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