Yesterday I read that Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her fourteenth year as Germany’s leader, had made a visit to Auschwitz, to tour a concentration camp where Nazi Germany executed more than 1.1 million people during the Holocaust. After reading this story, I was vividly reminded of my experience visiting Dachau, a former concentration camp near Munich.
Linz, Germany is situated on the right bank of the river Rhine near Remagen, Germany, approximately sixteen miles southeast of Bonn. Marietta, Georgia is a city and suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Many years ago, and I don’t remember the occasion or circumstance, the mayors of these two cities visited each other and declared Linz and Marietta “sister-cities”. As part of the celebration, the mayor of Linz suggested to the Marietta mayor that part of the celebration should include a sporting event, and asked Marietta’s mayor to send a soccer team as part of the celebration.
The details escape me but I do remember Rick Skirvin, the founder and leader of Rovers Football Club (RFC), calling me to tell me the news about the new sister cities and that we needed to put together a team to travel to Germany. Rick and I had started Rovers in 1995 with one team of adult players, and at that time we played in an over-30 league. (note: today the Rovers club consists of ten teams..and over the last 24 years over 900 players have played on one team or another). After a good bit of planning, and a commitment of fourteen Rovers to make the trip to Germany, we scheduled a game against a team from Linz and then made plans to visit the areas of Munich. The trip was a great experience with some of players accompanied by their better halves. After the game played at Bonn’s stadium, we ventured south to the Bavarian region and the city of Munich. As a group we made the decision to visit Dachau, to see for ourselves the facility and the horror of the past. The prisoners sent to Dachau were used as labor to expand the complex and served as a training ground for the Nazi military, mainly SS units. The camp was established soon after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933.
As you approach the still intact camp, the walls, barbed wire, and turrets immediately make an impact. As you enter the building, their are photos pre-war of the area, the people, and their history. The eerie part of this initial walk through is the farther you make your way through the walls of pictures, the more silent things become – as the photos of the prisoners, the conditions they lived in, and the infamous massive graves become overwhelming for most, including the men and women of our party. The building spills you into the camp’s center courtyard, barracks, and the oven room. The feeling is one that I have not fortunately felt ever again. I was speechless, distraught, and angry all at the same time. It was no different for my teammates and their significant others – our bus ride back to Munich was silent except for sniffles.
That evening was our last night in Munich so we had planned a visit to the famous Munich Hofbräuhaus, the 3-floor beer hall dating back to the 16th century. As you can imagine, no one in our party had the desire to celebrate our last night in Munich – we did not reconvene until the next morning for our bus trip back to Frankfurt. Not one of our party regretted going to Dachau but the everlasting darkness of that camp kept everyone subdued the entire next day.
As we witness the hate crimes unfortunately published on websites and television networks, the racist overtones spilling into European soccer games, and the never-ending display of terror attacks, the Rovers experience in Dachau has taught me to never forget. I hope all of us do the same.
Adios, pay it forward, and let’s never forget.